340: How to Be a Safe Place for your Sweetheart// Eli Harwood


Are you in a secure relationship?

We all yearn for secure relationships. We want to be a safe place for our partner and for them to be a safe place for us. 

Sometimes, though, it can be hard to know how to do this. How can I be that safe person for my sweetheart? How can I encourage him to be that safe person for me? 

For the first ten years of my own marriage, I felt like we had a strong, secure relationship, but then life happened, and we got busy and overwhelmed! And, in the last few years, it’s felt like we’ve been less securely attached to one another. That’s why I was so grateful to talk with Eli about this topic. She helped motivate me, as well as give me some actionable things I can do to help Ryan and I have a more secure relationship

Before I jump into Eli’s takeaways, let me tell you why she’s the perfect expert to teach us about secure relationships. As a girl, Eli grew up with insecure attachments, but as an adult, she learned about secure and insecure attachments, and in her words, “every light bulb went off!” This led to her becoming a full-time therapist, and she now has more than 17 years of experience helping people process relational traumas and develop secure attachment relationships with their children and partners. She also recently published an incredible book called Securely Attached: Transform your Attachment Patterns into Loving, Lasting Romantic Relationships. Eli has three children, one husband, two cats, and an extraordinary number of plant babies.


Eli’s First Takeaway for Cultivating a Secure Relationship: Light up when your sweetheart lights up about things. 


Eli started us out with an easy and fun one. It’s this: pay attention to when and where and what your partner lights up about and light up about their lighting up. I love this takeaway! It’s so easy to do this for our kids. Even when I don’t understand why a certain Minecraft building is so unique and incredible, I do my best to show interest and amazement, but I think we forget that we, as adults, need this as well. 

Eli shared her personal example of trying to light up about her husband’s excitement over AI. She told me, “I can’t tell you how disinterested I am.” But she said because her husband is fascinated by it, she makes special efforts to listen to him and be excited with him. And in return, he does the same for her as she shares her writing and other passions. Talk about a great foundation for a secure relationship

I asked Eli what we should do so that we don’t feel patronizing or condescending. How do we fake it but still mean it? I loved her answer:

 “So this is the trick. You’re delighting in their delight. Nothing in the world is better than seeing the people we love full of joy.  So you don’t need to feel joy about this AI picture that your husband is showing you. That doesn’t need to create an emotion for you. What needs to create an emotion for you is watching him watch what he’s done. … what a gift to be bonded with people who are willing to join us in moments where we’re feeling delight.


Eli’s Second Takeaway for Cultivating a Secure Relationship: Be a safe place for your sweetheart to be emotionally tender and vulnerable. 


Eli explained to me that our attachment systems are meant to be a place we go when we’re scared or worried or overwhelmed. We co-regulate with people we have secure relationships with. Eli said, 

“Co-regulate basically means my nervous system is heightened or in a place of dysregulation. I’m going to come to you and I’m going to borrow the calmness of your nervous system through empathy and connection.”

I love the image this creates – of one person in need borrowing calm and hope from another. It makes sense to me why this is a key for having a secure relationship. 

Eli pointed out that it can be especially hard for men to be vulnerable in their relationships because of pre-programming that tells them they need to be tough and take care of their tender wives. That’s why it’s so important, as wives, to make sure our husband’s know that we are a safe place for them to be emotionally tender and vulnerable. 

This takes time. It takes connection after connection of intentionally being present and responsive when our partner shares their tender feelings with us. The more we sit with them in their vulnerable places, the more they will feel confident and secure in sharing their hearts with us. 


Eli’s Third Takeaway for Cultivating a Secure Relationship: Reach for your sweetheart when you are tender or vulnerable and let them soothe and support you. 


In partnership with the second takeaway, we need to reach out to our partner when we are feeling tender and vulnerable. Eli calls this “reach and receive,” and it’s at the heart of a secure relationship. The goal is to have a symbiotic relationship in which you both need each other, reach for each other, and support each other in good times and bad. 

“If we take really great care of our partner’s tender needs and distress, but we never reach for them, it creates an awkward, insecure dynamic. … We need to know that both people are mutually, symbiotically leaning on each other in those sacred moments of pain and uncertainty. … When we take the time to get in sync with each other in those high delight moments, but also in those low pain moments, we’re bonded. That’s how bonding works.”

It takes work to build a secure relationship that is symbiotic and mutually building. It takes prioritizing the relationship and giving time to the relationship, both in good times and in hard times. I’m doing some deep thinking on how I can be this person for Ryan. I’m reflecting and trying to gently tell myself, “Don’t miss it, Rachel. He matters more than all of this other stuff.” 


My friends, I hope learning from Eli was as helpful for you as it was for me. I wish you all the best as you make some changes and work toward being a safe person for your partner so you can have a strong, secure relationship



>>>Are these takeaways from Eli’s helpful? Which one stuck out the most to you? What did you learn about secure relationships? Would you add anything? Tell us in the comments below.





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