In relationships, we talk about taking them to another level. Maybe it’s the first time you say those three special words, maybe it’s when you take your loved one to meet the parents over the holidays or maybe it’s moving in together.
No matter what phase of your relationship you’re in, you can always take it to another level of depth and strength. But it takes courage and a willingness to be vulnerable.
What is vulnerability?
Being vulnerable in relationships is really opening your heart and letting your partner know your true self. It’s the warts and all. It’s those secret parts of yourself that you may have never shared with your partner…or maybe anyone else for that matter.
It’s the stuff that has stayed hidden away that you really don’t want to say – too scared to say — but maybe are thinking. It’s surrounded by the “if I share this stuff” my friend/partner/lover won’t like me/love me/will want to leave me.
And that is why being vulnerable with our inner world is directly linked to overcoming our fear of how our loved one may react. That is why vulnerability requires the courage to be truly authentic and real, letting your friend/partner/lover know all the sides of you, even the icky parts alongside the fear of the reveal.
Why should I be vulnerable if it is so scary?
Being vulnerable can be really scary. But it is the single most thing that will create trust and deep connection for a relationship to go the distance.
In a healthy relationship, both partners have a sense of connection and trust. Vulnerability creates emotional (and sometimes physical) intimacy and a closeness because you can feel safe to be your true self. It’s what creates a deeper sense of love and understanding.
In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen. And that, understandably, can feel emotionally risky.
In her landmark book Daring Greatly, researcher storyteller Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability as emotional exposure and risk. Given this definition, the act of falling in love is the ultimate risk because it is so very uncertain. It’s inherently risky because our partner could criticize, betray us, stop loving us or leave without a moment’s notice. And that, again, is why love requires courage.
Not being vulnerable, leads most people to be emotionally shut down and leading lives of isolation and loneliness. Oh yes. They can be the life of the party but if they are rejecting their own deepest, inner world then they have made safety more important than being close to others. That leads to a very sad life with many regrets that they never took the chance to be closer to others.
So how do you take that emotional plunge when it feels like a potentially vast emotional liability for a relationship?
Since vulnerability is risky business, there’s no need to move fast. In this digital world, dating can happen in a swipe and people can feel so disingenuous. There’s no need to rush into anything. But if you’re really starting to get the feels for someone then you may want to test the waters and see where a deeper conversation can take you.
What’s something that you’re not particularly proud of? What was one of those real-life lessons that involved loss or pain that can sometimes be hard to talk about? Do you find yourself lying on your bed wondering what to do?
First of all, is this the person you want to share this level of intimacy with and then can you share the experience deeper than a surface account of what happened? What were those feelings you moved through? How did the experience change you as a person? What do you know now to be true about yourself, relationships or the world around you?
Pick the best place and time you can think of to open up
You really need to think about not only whether or not you want to open up to someone, but you also need to think about the timing, the situation, and the place. Here are a few tips that others have found helpful:
- Share in a private setting.
- Maybe go to a park or down to the beach. Maybe in your home.
- Ideally, share your feelings in the moment that they are happening so long as the environment is right.
- Avoid any level of emotional reveal in restaurants or other large social gatherings.
- Try to find the best time. Is your partner more open and available during certain times of the day?
- Let the person know that you want to share something that is a little scary for you. Let them know what you need to feel safe. You can share that you are also feeling a bit anxious and are concerned about how they will react to you.
- Let them know that you may also be feeling some shame and embarrassment about it.
- Ask them to give you enough time to reveal what you want to say before they respond.
- Tell them what you need after you have shared. Maybe a few moments of silence. A hug. Words of affirmation that they still care for you. Your hope that they will not judge you, if at all possible.
After sharing, really reflect on how did your friend/lover/partner react.
- Did you feel heard?
- Did they comfort the pain away? (In a good way or a diminishing way?)
- Did it open up an opportunity for them to share too in a meaningful way?
- Do you regret having been vulnerable?
- Do you feel relief and unburdened?
Expressing feelings can be messy…and incredibly rewarding
Being vulnerable can dredge up all kinds of feelings – embarrassment, shame, fear, anxiety, depression. The real question is, can your partner be with you in all the messy spaces? Do you feel supported even when you don’t have the answers? Or don’t necessarily have it “together”?
If you start getting into the deep waters, you may want to get the additional support of a therapist to help you move through this space. In fact, going for couples counseling is a great way to create opportunities for vulnerability in a safe environment for both partners.
Bottom line: To know that you are seen and loved for simply being your full self, to be with someone else in all of their vulnerability and love them for all that they are may just be one of life’s most fulfilling experiences. When you feel yourself starting to shut down out of fear in your relationship, notice if you can make the choice to be courageous and embrace vulnerability.
There are very specific ways of thinking and behaving that couples need to learn in order to both express love and receive love. Knowing these tools is absolutely foundational to enjoying happy and healthy relationships. This article is the second in my new six-part series: The Core Foundations of Real Love and True Intimacy. You can find other posts here:
If this is something that I can help you and/or your partnership with I would be more than happy than to work with you in this area of vulnerability. Please contact me to see how we can work together.
“Vulnerability is at the core, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”