Security Questions and Answers
We’ve been thinking since our last post The Gold in “Seeing Through” about how often we misunderstand one another and create problems and pain where these could be avoided.
One way this happens is by not understanding what our partner is really asking of us.
In relationships we sometimes use “security” questions to try to create a feeling of stability and to reduce feelings of insecurity. Stan Takin, an American researcher and clinician, talks about this in his workshops and on his blog.
The sense of stability, safety and security in a relationship can be fragile; and more so when there’s been a breach of trust or a lack of emotional or physical intimacy for some time. When the stakes are high, emotional reactions escalate quickly and both partners can feel more hurt, pressured, or responsible.
So if there’s a tendency for one partner to feel insecure, or if something has happened to push the relationship off balance, then this type of question is something to look for.
Often what might happen is a person will ask a security question and their partner will answer with a reality answer. Sometimes this can be appropriate, but often it just creates a feeling of further distance and heartbreak.
A reality question could be “Which restaurant are we eating in tonight” Or “What time are we expected at our friends house?”
The reality answer would be easy enough to figure out, for example, “That Thai restaurant we went to last month” or “They said we should be there around 6.”
A security question could be along the lines of “Do you love me?”, “Will you keep hurting me?” or, “Daddy, will I die?”
What a person (or child) is looking for in asking a security question is not a literal answer, but connection and safety. If we do not answer them with this in mind we could create a rift, which could take time to heal.
To give a security answer is to reassure, and not necessarily to give the reality answer at all. It is not lying, but it is offering an emotional connection rather than the literal answer. For example: “Of course I love you”, and “No, you will not die for a long, long time.”
Imagine now the difference if one were to answer the security question with a reality answer. The “Do you love me?” question could instigate a disaster.
Exploring the truth
That is not to say one shouldn’t say the truth. One may need to bring things into the open so they can be dealt with, but seeing the difference between wanting your partner to feel insecure and wanting to repair and fix any issues that might be creating the feeling of distance are two different things. Seeing the difference between the issues and the person is important.
For example one might say, “I love you and I find some of the ways we interact hurtful and I want us to work on them.” Or “Yes, I love you and I still want to be able to talk about how we can support each other better.”
Watch whether you stay connected and are feeling that you’re a team rather than opponents. Feeling criticized or not accepted by our partner makes it hard to feel close and want to work on things. Stability is important in dealing with difficult issues.
How long do we have to answer?
Current research says we have only a matter of milliseconds to respond to a security question.
Outside of this time, and/or if we hear a reply that’s over complicated, contradictory, qualified, evasive, or lacking in confidence or seriousness – then things start to feel unstable.
Recognising whether a question is a reality question or a security question can take time and practice. If you’d like to understand more about these dynamics, about feeling closer, and about not keeping the status quo of discomfort, pain or resentment, please feel free to contact us for an appointment. You might also like to read our Attachment Primer for more on secure relationships.
(The image is a detail from Sergey Solomko’s A Serious Question.)