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.
I completely agree that vulnarability is also about being open. It’s very thoughtful post, and I think that many perceive vulnarability as a weakness, but in fact, I think that strong personalities may allow being vulnarable and open. Thank you for your thought-provoking post!
Excellent point, strong personalities are more likely to be vulnerable than others. But Like with anything, learning to vulnerable and knowing who you are is something that takes time for anyone. Thanks so much for your feedback.
I like the tips about how to be vulnerable. Its a way to share how you honestly feel and get it out in the open without it seeming like an attack. Both people have to have the right attitude for it to work.
I agree, before even sharing our true emotions with our partner, attitude is key. Being in the right headspace is so important because if you are upset or agitated, then we may end up saying things we don’t mean.
I feel like in the end, your ability to be vulnerable with someone boils down to how much of your trust they have managed to gain. Some people just loathe the idea of being vulnerable and that is a completely different scenario but just as much as vulnerability is really important in a relationship, you need to have that confidence that you can be completely vulnerable with your partner and I feel like most people are not vulnerable with their partners because they don’t have that confidence and trust that their partner would handle their being vulnerable without judgements or without taking it for granted.
Excellent point here. Confidence is an important point when it comes to trusting ourselves and being open in sharing who were are with our partners. Plus those we are vulnerable with can use it against us or as you say not be able to handle it. But what’s important is understanding that those we are vulnerable with, are not expecting them to fix anything, and I think that’s what a lot of people think. Thanks for your feedback, Ruth.
Great advice on why vulnerability is needed in a relationship! I agree as well. Relationships will never work if you don’t compromise and often times, this leads to you being vulnerable and letting your guard down. Thanks for sharing, Rebekah xx
Thanks so much for your feedback Lynn. Compromising a relationship is SO important for a healthy relationship.
This is such a good post. Very well done, I feel that everything you have said is so important. It is a huge reward in a relationship to open up your vulnerabilities, it deepens the connection between you and your partner, or friend, and gives you the chance for discussions about life and fears without judgement. Trust is the key, and trust is earned. Personally I consider myself very fortunate to have a deep and strong emotional connection with my partner, and with a close friend; and this is unusual for men more than women. This would not have happened if I had not opened up about my depression, and since then I have received huge support and found strength to live with my emotional state.
Thanks for this post, it should reach out to a wide audience.
Zac thanks so much for your honest feedback. Vulnerability is really something that men are not open to doing. I wouldn’t say that men do not know how to be vulnerable, but rather some may choose not to do it because of the feedback they may get. For far too long men have been told to man up and not show emotions, because it is a sign of weakness, but this really sets any relationship up for failure. I am happy you are able to be vulnerable with your partner because it is important as a man to be able to do so in a safe place.
This is such a great post. It’s so true about the honeymoon phase. And although that’s an amazing part of any relationship – I felt bereft when ours ended. I now know that the honeymoon phase is only a precursor to the best part. Yes, there are more arguements and disillusions. But if you can build trust by being vulnerable it’s infinitely worth it! This was so insightful and I love how much research and thought you clearly put into it
Emma this is such wonderful feedback! I too was a bit in a rut when my honeymoon phases ended because it let me think that the relationship may be dull forever lol. But it’s just the beginning of all the great things that in store down the road. No relationship is easy, but trust, openness, and honesty, really help to make the difference.
Really nice post Rebekah, I especially like the reflect and share advice! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much for your feedback. I am happy you enjoyed this post.
It’s hard sometimes as some can take it and use it against me…
AGREED 100%. Unfortunately, there are some people that we love and trust who use our vulnerability against us, which makes it even harder to let our guard down in the future.
Vulnerability is hard like you mentioned because of certain factors like broken trust and all, hence, in this case it is one which grows slowly on you, yet there can’t be love without it, love without vulnerability is one leg in, one leg out. Thank you.
Thanks so much for your feedback Abayomi. You are so spot on, love and vulnerability go hand in hand, you can’t be vulnerable without building trust and love, and love requires vulnerability. There are elements that take time to grow and flourish in a relationship, but it pays off in the long run.
Being vulnerable is weird state to be in sometimes, especially if you’ve experienced an abusive relationship before. As you said, love on it’s own is rarely enough to keep a relationship going, but nor is one that can’t accept compromise. If both people aren’t willing to make compromises, then the relationship, no matter will always have issues
I couldn’t agree with you more. Compromise is such a necessary component needed for a healthy relationship. communication, openness, trust, etc are all important, but if both parties are unwilling to compromise or meet in the middle, the relationship will always be lop-sided.
Relationships are HARD, because is two different personalities with two different ways they used to live and you have to compromise. And understanding, forgiving and still manage to love eachother. Becomes more complicated when you have children and having a new relationship. But when you two put love in all situations, care and be there for eachother I think both will be fine. It takes A LOT of effort and understaning, it’s an everyday thing! Thank you for sharing🧡
This is so spot on Catarina, you brought out some core points here. Relationships are indeed hard but when other things come into play into the relationship (work and children), things become a little bit more challenging to balance. Effort, determination, and vulnerability are important to maintaining and keeping a healthy and authentic relationship.
I love this! It’s so hard to be vulnerable. I really enjoyed your tips and how informative this post is!
Thanks so much for your feedback, Natasha. I am happy you found this post helpful.
Beautiful post Rebekah! I think we all go into our relationships thinking love is enough. As time goes on, we realize that is not the case. Unfortunately, most of us have no idea what the missing pieces are. I wish I had read this post 15 years ago, when my husband and I realized a relationship was about more than just love. It would have made life so much easier. It took us a long time to figure out how to communicate and be vulnerable with each other, but it was worth the effort. Thank you for sharing!
wow, 15 years is such a long time! Hubby and I just reached 5 years. Building a strong relationship takes time and the road to it is never easy. But with honesty, vulnerability, and open communication, we lay the path to deepening our relationship.
what a great post! Communication can lead to so much – including the conversation on feelings. Disclosing how you feel is really the first step to a solid relationship – if started from the beginning of the relationship than it is so much easier! Thanks for this!
Sophia thanks so much for your feedback! Expressing our true emotions no matter how hard it may be, is the root of building a strong emotional relationship. Sometimes it’s hard to express ourselves because we fear getting hurt, but when we do it, we are being true to ourselves.
Awesome post! Vulnerability is hard to have sometimes, but most definitely necessary for relationships!
Alexis, indeed it is, indeed. It is hard but so necessary for deep emotional connection.
I like this topic! Vulnerability is indeed needed in every relationship as it is a reflection of your trust in a person. You discussed pretty awesome and real points! This was a lovely read. Thank you so much for sharing this xx
Thanks so much for your feedback Mary. Being able to be vulnerable with our partners depends on the level of trust we have in them. I’m happy you found this post helpful.
Learning to be yourself is so important! I’m sure it’s not a co-incidence that I’m in my most happy and supportive relationship, but because before it I took a year to myself to find me and feel comfortable in my own skin!
Katie | katieemmabeauty.com
This is such a great point Katie! Learning who we are and trusting who we are is the first step in learning how to be vulnerable. We have to open and vulnerable with ourselves because we can do it with anyone else.
Love this! It’s difficult to be vulnerable with family. A lot of wounds stem from childhood. Growing up hurt by certain people who was supposed to Love us; makes it almost impossible to trust anybody. We have to forgive; let go of the pain and take new relationships at Face Value.
Such an excellent point! Childhood wounds really can affect you into adulthood. It’s scary and painful when the person hat was supposed to protect us and love us hurt us. Because that pain was so much, we put up a shield to protect ourselves from ever feeling such pain again. As a result, this makes vulnerability as you mention so hard to do. Learning to trust ourselves is the first step in healing.
I love reading this! I agree it’s so important to be vulnerable in a relationship and get to know each other on a deeper level – this is a brilliant post with so much useful info x
Della, Thanks so much for your feedback. Vulnerability is important for an intimate (physically and emotionally) relationship. I’m happy you found this post helpful.
It’s interesting, and I agree with a lot of your points. A key component of any relationship has to be trust, which operates in several arenas besides just believing they won’t cheat or something else, which I think is the most common association. It’s also trusting that they’ll accept your vulnerabilities, which all starts with trusting yourself, and being honest with yourself, translating into trusting your partner’s reaction
So spot on Tom, trust goes hand in hand with vulnerability. Without it, it’ll be almost impossible to be vulnerable. Trusting ourselves and having self-awareness is the first step in learning how to be more vulnerable. Thanks so much for your feedback.
This is all so true and I’ve had to tell some of my friends this sometimes too. It can be so hard, especially if you’ve been hurt before, but it’s necessary for both parties to be vulnerable and show all of each other. Great post!
Deandra thanks so much for your feedback, and you are correct. Unfortunately some people that we trust and choose to be vulnerable with, end up hurting us and leads us to shield ourselves even more. But with practice and patience, become vulnerable will be less scary.
This is a very profound article about vulnerability. This is a process and never easy because most of the time we shield ourselves from hurt immediately. But by allowing ourselves to be vulnerable will pave the way for a better relationship. With self-awareness is the first step of this process and I learn that journaling really helps.
Thanks so much for your feedback Vinn. I agree with you, it is a natural instinct/reflex action to protect ourselves from any emotional or physical pain. Vulnerability is not easy and very scary, and it will take some time for anyone to get used to because trust is a component that goes hand in hand with vulnerability.
Fantastic post as usual Rebekah! I feel like you were this one just for me. Being vulnerable is definitely scary but I see how important it is. I have always had trouble asking for what I need from my partner for fear of seeming needy. It’s something I’m still working on. Thank you for the reminder of how important this is!
Clarissa, thanks so much for your feedback! Vulnerability is never easy and it is very scary. But as you mention, it is something that we all have to work on daily. By doing so we build a deeper emotional connection with our loved ones.
It can definitely be hard to be vulnerable. Thank you for your tips!
Thanks so much for your feedback :). It’s definitely hard but it is also bravery.
This is a really lovely piece about a very important topic. The relationship I am in now is by far the healthiest I have been in. So this is a healthy reminder.
Thank you for sharing your tips.
Thanks so much, Lauren for your feedback. Happy to hear you are in a much better space now.
It’s so important to express how you feel to your partner, it’s easy for feelings to build up and amount to much more. Being vulnerable and saying exactly how you feel can do the world of good! Great post.
Love this post. A Lot of things I recognize in my relationship! I also think that learning to be vulnerable starts with yourself so points 1, 4 and 6 seem most impactful to me. Great post. It’s written nicely and packed with valuable info!
Beautifully written! I believe vulnerability in a relationship is the most important ingredient of having a trusting, intimate companion. Thanks for sharing!
I agree with everything that you said. Vulnerability is needed in a relationship. It generates kindness and sincerity.