Being Better Series: Vulnerability
One of the biggest challenges that couples face is being vulnerable with a romantic partner. Shame and fear of rejection often cause us to shut down emotionally, preventing emotional intimacy within the relationship. The key to a deep and engaged relationship is the ability to be vulnerable with one another. It can enrich and strengthen your relationship beyond measure. If you struggle with vulnerability, as many of us do, here are a few topics of thought to help spark bravery in sharing parts of yourself otherwise hidden.
1- Getting Comfortable with You
In my last blog, Being Better to Yourself, I talked about how to honor your relationship with yourself, learning to cultivate a world where you matter as much or more than anyone else in your life. A large part of that process is checking in with yourself and doing some honest self-assessment about where you are at in your emotional world. How do you tend to handle your feelings? Do you feel comfortable expressing emotion? Do you find that you often hold back? Can you tell your partner what you need from them? If you feel you are holding back a good place to start would be to pay attention to the thoughts are that stop you from sharing. A next step would be to visualize yourself sharing your thoughts and feelings. How might that look? What words would you want to use to describe your inner world to your partner? This is a great first step in learning to be vulnerable in your relationships. In imagining it for ourselves, we take a first step towards action.
If you have a hard time with vulnerability or aren’t really that familiar with what it means, check out Brene Brown, who is a leader in the discussions around the importance of vulnerability and shame resilience. Her books are a great place to begin learning about vulnerability and how it plays a role in our most important relationships - these are a great place to start:
Gifts of Imperfection
If you are going to start with one, I would suggest Daring Greatly. I recommend this book to my clients all the time. It is a wonderful conversation around shame and vulnerability with practical everyday life examples that help make it relatable.
3- Start Small
In starting on your journey of vulnerability it may be best to take small steps. Since it can pretty scary to put our most personal thoughts and feelings out for another to handle, lets start small. Every person is unique in what they consider to be personal or difficult to share with a loved one. Often the biggest barrier to sharing is a fear rejection or judgement from someone we love. With that said, it is important to share with a person that has shown they are reliable and trustworthy — someone who tends to be critical of you is probably not the best candidate. In starting small you can test the waters of the person you are sharing with… for example you may decide to share something that was hard for you that day or a small win you experienced that made you feel special. How do you feel after sharing? It may feel a bit awkward the first few times you do it, but it does get easier with time. If the person responds in a way that makes you feel heard, thats great. Next time you can increase the risk and share something even more vulnerable such as a deep fear you have or asking for help with something.
4- Awareness and Practice
After you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable and (hopefully) it went well, notice what that felt like? How did it feel immediately afterwards? Awkward? Exciting? How did it feel the next day or the next time you saw the person you shared with? Did you feel a deeper connection to them? a different feeling? It is important to pay attention to what vulnerability can do for you. And just as important what it doesn’t do for you.
As with anything we want to improve in our lives, practice is key. Practice, practice, practice. The more you share and have successful interactions, the easier it will be to share your vulnerable side with your partner. It also may inspire your partner to reciprocate - ultimately the deepest levels of intimacy come from both partners in a relationship allowing themselves to be vulnerable and meet the other with empathy.
I hope these topics will inspire thinking around how you can increase vulnerability with your significant other. If anything, it could be a good conversation starter for creating more balance and connection as a couple. If you need help in connecting with your partner or are seeking counseling around your relationship, don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist in your area.
Melissa Grohs, MA, LPCC Relationship Counseling for Individuals