Love. We want it, we can’t live without it, and we yearn for it daily. From childhood growing into adulthood, love is a constant thing that everyone craves. We look for love, care, and acceptance from those closest to us – our parents, siblings, and our friends and significant others as adults. It’s a constant in any relationship, but love requires vulnerability (letting your guard down), and it is something that is not always easy.
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The honeymoon phase
The beginning of any new relationship is filled with joy, fun, and positivity. You and your partner are learning a lot about each other, and the topics discussed are usually fun and light-hearted. This fun phase is typically known as the honeymoon phase. You are both on cloud nine, and nothing can get in the way of these happy and pleasant emotions.
The honeymoon phase is the surface level of relationships. Difficulties rarely arise, and challenging questions are usually never asked about life experiences or situations that could evoke strong emotions.
As time goes by in a relationship, you start to learn more about yourself and your partner, and big scary and emotional stuff will come up from time to time, where you will have to be open and honest. But why is this so hard for us to do? Why is it so hard to be open and vulnerable in a relationship (even in marriage), especially with someone you love and trust?
Before touching on why it is hard to be vulnerable in a relationship, it’s best to understand what vulnerability is and what it means to be vulnerable.
The word vulnerable means susceptibility to physical or emotional harm. It is the capacity of being physically or emotionally wounded. Being Vulnerable is also viewed as being completely open and unguarded with your heart, mind, and soul.
Vulnerability derives from the Latin word ‘vulnus’, meaning wound. It is a state of being open and exposed to injury, hurt, or pain. With vulnerability, there is an openness and willingness to show emotions or allowing one’s weakness to be seen or known.
Vulnerability in relationships
Author Brené Brown defines vulnerability as the “emotional risk, exposure, and uncertainty that fuel our daily lives.” Psychologist Lee Land says that “vulnerability often involves exposing ourselves personally in a manner that could potentially lead to feelings of shame, embarrassment, self-criticism or other uncomfortable emotions.”
When it comes to relationships, love is one of the main ingredients needed to make the relationship thrive. However, love alone is not enough. You need other elements such as communication, trust, honesty, and balance. But one key ingredient that is also necessary to make a relationship healthy and fulfilling is vulnerability.
Yes, communication is needed, yes you have to give each other space, yes you have to embrace fun, yes you have to limit outside opinions, and yes, you need balance. But, in order for your relationship or marriage to go beyond the surface level, you need openness and vulnerability. It’s the only way for you to achieve true intimacy – not just sexual intimacy but also emotional intimacy.
The idea of being vulnerable is risky and scary! Trust me! I know! It’s not easy feeling exposed and unguarded with our significant others. But when you and your partner become vulnerable, you are becoming secure and confident within each other and opening up your relationship to a much deeper raw level. The rewards of this will be plentiful because you are both more emotionally connected, and there is true intimacy.
So if the rewards to being vulnerable will be plentiful, why is it so hard to do then?
Learn the Five Love Languages needed to make love last in your relationship here.
Why vulnerability is hard
Being vulnerable is often viewed as being weak. For a long time, we were taught that showing too many emotions or being “too emotional and open” is a form of weakness. As a result of this, we feel that it would be safer not to be vulnerable as a way to protect ourselves from emotional pain. But contrary to popular belief, vulnerability is strength and bravery, and we need it for genuine connection.
In romantic relationships, it’s hard to be vulnerable because we fear that if we were to be completely honest and let our guard down by expressing our insecurities, needs, mistakes, and flaws that we would be judged, rejected, cast aside, or deemed unlovable. We are afraid that we would be abandoned, misunderstood and this is all terrifying.
Vulnerability involves us being exposed and showing our innermost thoughts and feelings, whether positive or negative, and this scares us because it may lead to rejection. Rejection is a feeling no one likes.
Vulnerability and pain
When you open yourself to others, you may have experienced hurtful and painful reactions pushing you to close off that openness that was once there. If you’ve experienced pain and rejection from childhood by your caregivers, it would be twice as hard to be vulnerable in relationships because you end up protecting yourself from ever experiencing that pain again.
You make yourself strong and toughen up, so don’t go through such pain and disappointment again.
But here’s the thing about vulnerability, even though it is something hard to do and we close it off and shield ourselves from pain, we then end up shielding ourselves from raw deep connection, love, and true intimacy.
Learn how parenting styles during childhood impact your development well into adulthood here.
How to be vulnerable in a relationship
When your partner is vulnerable with you, you should feel privileged that he/she trusts you enough to let that wall down and let you see the inner parts of who they are. That is something that you should never take for granted.
Learning to be vulnerable in your relationship or marriage means you are saying to your partner, “Here I am, this is all of me, flaws and all. I am delicate, but I trust you, so be careful with me.”
Here’s how you can become more vulnerable:
1. Learn to be true to yourself
To become more vulnerable with your partner, you first have to know who you are. Getting to know yourself is a journey that will take time. But when you have a better understanding of yourself and understand how your childhood and life experiences impact who you are and how you share and respond with others is the first step in being vulnerable. You first have to be vulnerable with yourself before doing it with others. This means being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It also means knowing your emotional triggers, knowing your fears and needs, accepting who you are, and validating your feelings. Once you are aware of these things, you can now start to share them with your partner.
2. Acknowledge and validate
Self-awareness comes with acknowledging who you are and validating your feelings before reciprocating it to others. Once you embrace who you are, you can then embrace, acknowledge, and validate your partner’s feelings.
Conflicts (I like to call them disagreements) often arise when your partner musters up the courage to be vulnerable and share their thoughts and feelings on a situation. When this happens, two things happen – (1) your partner gets defensive, or (2) they try to fix the problem instead of listening. The intent to fix can be well-intended, but your partner, on the other hand, may be hurting because what they really needed from you was to listen.
To validate each others’ feelings, you need to acknowledge each other’s experience – even if you cannot relate or you don’t agree. Once you validate, you gently introduce your view of the situation and work together to develop solutions.
3. Approach is key
When voicing concerns that we may have in our relationship, we often (subconsciously) jump the gun and resort to criticism: “you’re so busy in your world, you make no time for me. You never think about me. You’re always going out or on your game. You’re so self-absorbed.” Comments like these lead to two outcomes: (1) your partner shuts down, or (2) your partner starts to criticize you as well, and then you quickly find yourself in a heated match.
This does nothing but hurt, and it makes it harder to be vulnerable. We are all guilty of this because, in the heat of the moment, our emotions become so overwhelming that we end up saying the first thing that comes to mind before thinking of how it will make our partner feel.
A better and more vulnerable approach is to pause, reframe, and then share your concerns. Your ‘criticism’ is actually you expressing your needs. So rather than attacking your partner’s character, always remember that approach is key.
4. Reflect and share
Now let’s be realistic, none of us are perfect, and from time to time, we will say things to our partner that can hurt him/her. Whenever your partner blurts something out that hurts you, they may not be aware of what they did. Instead of holding it in and building resentment, you have to be vulnerable and let your partner know that their actions/words have hurt you.
Yes, it is scary because you fear what the reaction may be, but you both have to be open to express what you are feeling to bring a healthy change in the relationship.
Take moments to reflect and then have open discussions where you are both vulnerable in sharing your concerns and needs. It’s something my husband has gotten better at over time, and it has brought us even closer.
Here are some starting points for open discussions:
- I feel ______________ about _________, and I would appreciate ___________ from you. It would make me feel ____________.
- I need a moment to vent with you about some things that have been on my mind. There is no ill intent behind it, but you’re my person, and I need a safe place to vent.
- I know I have been distant the last few days, here what I have been going through __________________
- Is there anything that I have done on my end that I did that hurt you?
- Sometimes when you say ________ to me or in front of others, it make me feel _____________
- How can I be better for you? How can I make it easier for you to be vulnerable with me?
5. Ask for what you need
Asking for what you need may be difficult because we do not want to come off as needy or clingy toward our partners, and we fear being rejected. But guess what, a relationship is a two-way street, so you and your partner both have to share your needs so that the relationship can grow and flourish.
When you ask for what you need, you are giving your partner the opportunity to decide whether or not to meet your needs. Asking for what you need requires vulnerability, and when you both do this, you will learn more about each other and the relationship based on how you each respond. The more you share your needs, the more you will feel comfortable, understood, nurtured, and connected with your partner.
6. Dig deep and share your fears
Sharing your fears with someone is extremely hard, and it requires trust. Trust grows over time and when you feel safe with your partner. Once you feel safe, sharing your fears will help create a deep level of intimacy. Share the fact that being vulnerable is one of your fears too. Instead of shutting down or hiding behind a mask, open up and talk with your partner about your fears. We all have insecurities and fears, but when we share this with someone we love, it shows how brave we are.
Vulnerability is bravery. When you show your fears, especially when it is difficult and your partner responds with empathy and compassion, it will help you feel closer to your partner.
There are no guarantees that when you choose to be vulnerable with your partner, the outcome will always be positive. If life was only that simple, right? But what you can be certain about is that your vulnerability is your bravery and the driving force behind deep emotional connection.
The outcome of being vulnerable may not always be great, but trust and believe in yourself that you can cope with any emotional pain that results. It takes practice, and it takes patience. To know that you are seen and loved for who you are in all your vulnerability will make your life experiences more fulfilling and bring a stronger couple connection.
Vulnerability is risky; it’s scary, but take the risk and embrace it so that you can have raw authenticity in your relationships and your life.