Do you struggle to let your guard down and be vulnerable with your partner? Or are you afraid to expose yourself for fear of getting hurt or rejected? If so, you’re not alone.
Opening yourself up and showing vulnerability can be scary, but it’s also incredibly meaningful and rewarding.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, experts say here are ways to help you be vulnerable in your relationship:
Acknowledge your vulnerabilities first
Let’s take a minute to understand what it means to be vulnerable. People tend to frame vulnerabilities as exclusively negative.
Vulnerabilities are often seen as a sign of weakness. However, that is really a matter of perspective.
All of us have vulnerabilities, yet some of us either don’t want to accept that or will not admit it. Different people will have different vulnerabilities, so much so that what some might see as a vulnerability, others may identify as a virtue.
Charity and kindness are good examples of this. These are both virtuous traits.
However, if practiced to excess or if exploited by others, they can become vulnerabilities. That is why we often hear people refer to someone as “kind to a fault.”
Vulnerabilities aren’t specific acts but rather our response to the acts of others. Vulnerabilities are reflections of who we are. Some of our vulnerabilities may stem from embarrassment.
Here again, what is embarrassing to me, may not be of embarrassment to you. Certain vulnerabilities are information that others may use against us in some way.
Any strength can be twisted into a weakness, and vice versa. It is a matter of the given situation.
Our vulnerabilities are of our own choosing. Who we are determines which vulnerabilities we select. Likewise, the vulnerabilities which we select are what mold us into who we are. It’s a feedback loop.
Our vulnerabilities direct us in how to act and react. They are our sense and sensibility and our personal values.
When others challenge our vulnerabilities, we may become guarded or defensive to try to protect our identity. When others accept our vulnerabilities, we may feel safe and tranquil and that our identity is being nurtured.
Just as vulnerabilities are a choice, so too is the act of being vulnerable. We are only embarrassed if, and by what, we choose to be. The fact is that others can only use information against us that we ourselves allow them to use.
The saying “have you no shame?” indicates a person who refuses to accept responsibility and therefore refuses to be vulnerable in that way. It is a personal decision whether to be vulnerable, as well as how to be vulnerable.
Exposing our vulnerabilities to others is a scary proposition. We risk being embarrassed, humiliated, or worse yet, having our own thoughts and feelings used against us.
I will allow myself to be vulnerable with you, but I will not allow you to use my vulnerability as a weapon against me.
It’s difficult to believe that being vulnerable can actually have great rewards. Only with great risks can we achieve great rewards.
The benefits of being vulnerable
Of course, it isn’t easy being vulnerable. There are potential hazards in allowing others to have access to our true identity. Only a few certain select and special people can know the real identity of the superhero.
The more that we know about each other, the healthier our relationship can be. We can’t connect in a significant and meaningful way if we don’t honestly know who it is that we are in a relationship with.
Shared vulnerabilities allow for a richer understanding of another person’s values. Sharing vulnerabilities requires and denotes a level of trust.
We would not be able to find or bond with others who share our values if we ourselves did not share our values with others. That is, if we aren’t vulnerable to others, they won’t be vulnerable to us. And if no one is allowing themselves to be vulnerable, then no one could ever build relationships of any consequence or worth.
The act of being vulnerable gives us the ability to experience people in new and unique ways. Not sharing our values with others leads to isolation, and isolation leads to a lonely existence.
By the same token, if we didn’t have any vulnerabilities, we would be emotionless, callous, impenetrable, and cold.
Nothing would matter to us, as we would take no responsibilities, and there would be no personal consequences for any of our actions.
What vulnerabilities are not:
Vulnerabilities are not automatically or necessarily weaknesses.
- Being vulnerable isn’t an act of submission.
- Being vulnerable isn’t opening oneself up for abuse.
- Being vulnerable isn’t sharing everything and anything.
What vulnerabilities are:
Vulnerabilities are values.
- Being vulnerable takes an act of courage.
- Being vulnerable requires, and is a show of, strength and confidence.
- Being vulnerable allows us to be compassionate and empathetic.
How to be vulnerable
First, we must be able to acknowledge our vulnerabilities. That acknowledgment provides us with the ability to be self-aware. We can’t have influence over those items, such as vulnerabilities, if we don’t either know what they are or accept that they exist.
Related: How to Get to Know Yourself Better
Once we ourselves understand our own vulnerabilities, we can then decide:
- Whether to be vulnerable at all
- What to be vulnerable of
- How to express our vulnerabilities
- How much of those vulnerabilities to share
- Who to be vulnerable with
My Rules of Reciprocity are to give a little and wait to get the same in return. Continue to give only so long as you continue to get. Don’t give too much too soon. And don’t expect to get more than was given.
A word of caution, “curiosity is not caring.” Simply because someone shows an interest doesn’t mean that they are invested.
Where vulnerabilities are concerned, it is best to progress slowly.
I created an app, “The Good Together Game,” that can be used to assist in trust building. Sharing vulnerabilities requires trust. The app allows us to explore various aspects of one another, including vulnerabilities.
Related: Trust Building Exercises for Couples
You choose to share as much, or as little, as you feel comfortable with. The best way to be vulnerable with others is to be comfortable with yourself.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and Psychologist, Thoughts on Life and Love
Being vulnerable in a relationship means rebelling against our biological hardwiring.
In order to stay safe, our brains tell us to avoid any chance of failure or rejection, yet being vulnerable inherently involves risk.
For many of us, the threat of rejection is a very real fear and can confirm our innermost insecurities if it becomes a reality. So how do you make yourself vulnerable when it feels so scary?
Stay in ‘adult mode’
When you feel threatened in a relationship, it’s easier to become defensive and say the wrong things. Transactional analysis is the method used to analyze communication in relationships.
Three modes exist:
- Child mode
- Adult mode
- Parent mode
When our partner hurts our feelings, we sometimes respond in ‘child mode’ and act as if we don’t care. Tit-for-tat behavior is typical of child mode behavior, but it stifles vulnerability.
If, for example, your partner takes ages to return your text message, you may want to do the same to them to show them how it feels. Assuming reasons for your partner’s negative behavior is unwise.
Try not to assume that they acted deliberately and respond as you normally would. This is difficult to do when your feelings are hurt, but it will promote peace and minimize resentment on both sides.
True vulnerability means finding the courage to stay in adult mode and treating your partner as fairly as possible, even when they are misbehaving. Talking about the issue at hand also shows vulnerability.
Open and honest communication is one of the best predictors of success in relationships.
Parent mode consists of judgments or condescending transactions and creates barriers to vulnerability.
For example, “I am right, and you don’t know what you are talking about.” Both parent and child modes are indirect ways of communicating, and they muddy the waters.
Cut the mind games out and respond assertively and reasonably. It’s very tempting to respond passive aggressively, but in the long term, it will hurt your relationship, not help it.
Related: How to Stop Being Passive Aggressive
Wear your heart on your sleeve
Talking about feelings is a wonderful way to connect with your partner. What stops us from revealing our inner world is the fear that our feelings won’t be reciprocated.
Uncertainty can place a firm lid on being vulnerable, but those brave enough to reveal and express their emotions will also reap the rewards.
Opening up builds intimacy and deepens empathy between two people.
As Professor Brene Brown puts it, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Be the first one to stick your head above the parapet and shift your pessimistic ‘what ifs’ to the promise of a deepening attachment. Take calculated risks and congratulate yourself for being brave.
Most people regret what they didn’t do rather than the things they have tried.
Use ‘Opposite Action Theory’
If you always clam up when it comes to asking for what you want, try asking for once. If you normally escape or avoid, try approaching.
Old habits die hard, but they will also prevent you from self-growth.
Vulnerability takes practice — you can start small, for example, “I really enjoyed your company today,” and work your way towards increasing your vulnerability goals.
The more your experiment, the more your confidence will grow. Either the outcome will be as you hoped, and if not, you will soon realize that the world continues turning. You will be okay.
Work on your self-esteem
The higher your self-esteem, the more likely you are to express your feelings. If someone with high self-esteem is rejected, it still hurts, but fundamentally that person will still see themselves as worthy.
Another person’s opinion of you isn’t fact, and your opinion of you is the one you must live with every day.
When you feel at ease in your own skin, you will feel less threatened by the behaviors of others. It’s when rejection equates to feeling worthless that vulnerability takes a back seat.
Vulnerability can be likened to a hermit crab without its shell. Protecting our feeling and avoiding emotional pain is high on most people’s agendas. It’s exquisite, though, when you venture out of your comfort zone and connect on a deeper level with someone.
We are social creatures, and connecting with others is one of life’s fundamental purposes.
The stars seem to align, our brains release the ‘hug hormone’ oxytocin, and the feeling is pure bliss. It’s at moments of vulnerability that we truly feel alive.
Rachel Davidson, MA, LPC-A
Therapist, Malaty Therapy
Begin by sharing something small with your partner
Vulnerability can be incredibly scary.
In a relationship, it means showing your partner the real you. For many of us, the idea of being vulnerable brings on feelings of anxiety. There are so many what if’s.
- “What if they don’t like the real me?”
- “What if I’m too weird?”
- “What if they can’t handle knowing about my past?”
- “What if we don’t share the same values?”
It’s hard to be vulnerable because it increases the risk that the relationship we are pursuing might not work out. The more we know about one another, the more likely we are to find out that we might not be a good match.
For those of us looking for a lasting relationship, that fear can be enough to prevent us from showing our partner who we really are, even if that means limiting a deeper connection.
How vulnerability can help
When we’re getting to know someone in a relationship, it’s natural to want to present ourselves in the best light. This can mean not being entirely honest, avoiding asking for what we really want, or doing things just to make our partner happy.
However, when we make decisions that limit vulnerability, we stand in our own way when it comes to developing meaningful relationships.
While it can be scary to put yourself out there, doing so with a healthy and supportive partner can be validating and help us feel more connected.
When we share something personal and our partner shows interest, empathy, or encouragement, it feels like we’re not alone; like someone understands and accepts us for who we are.
How to be vulnerable
- How do we know when it is safe to be vulnerable?
- What is the first step to take?
- How vulnerable should I be with my partner?
Asking ourselves these questions is a healthy way to prepare for vulnerability in a relationship.
Healthy vulnerability in a relationship should be a give and take. It should also be built on trust. Ask yourself whether you can trust your partner.
Have they generally responded in a supportive and positive manner when you have asked them for help or shared your thoughts and feelings with them? If your answer is yes, you have likely built a level of trust with your partner.
When it comes to being vulnerable, it is healthy and often less scary to start small. Begin by sharing something small with your partner.
Maybe something embarrassing that happened when you were a kid or a mistake that happened at work. Notice how they react to your vulnerability. Do they laugh, change the subject, or become angry? These responses indicate that your vulnerability was not well-received.
It might be worth having a discussion about their reaction, but it also may signal that more trust needs to be built before it is healthy to be vulnerable with them on a deeper level.
If your partner does react to your vulnerability in a way that makes you feel heard and affirmed, this is a sign that you can feel safe sharing more with them.
Remember to take baby steps, only sharing as much as feels comfortable.
Be sure to build trust and move slowly
Healthy vulnerability can be a lot like a dance, a give and take between partners.
When we trust our partner enough to share something personal, the level of closeness and mutual trust increases, and our partner likely will feel more comfortable sharing when they feel we have been open and vulnerable with them.
Connection and trust are built as we take turns supporting one another and allowing our partners to become comfortable being fully transparent.
When we show our partners through our actions that the more we know about them, the closer and more secure we feel in the relationship, it encourages vulnerable behavior.
Getting comfortable being vulnerable takes time, and being hesitant to do so is normal.
Vulnerability between partners can have an enormous positive impact on a relationship but be sure to build trust and move slowly as you let down your walls and allow someone to see what makes you uniquely you.
Co-Founder, Select Date Society
Vulnerability is the ability to express exactly what you are feeling without trying to hide your emotions. To be vulnerable in a relationship means to let your guard down and get honest with yourself and with your partner about what you are thinking and feeling.
When I’m helping clients to be vulnerable as they navigate a new relationship, this is the advice I give them:
Reframe what vulnerability means
People often think of vulnerability as a weakness, but vulnerability is actually a strength. When you are willing to be vulnerable in a romantic relationship, you draw your partner in and strengthen the bond between the two of you.
It’s important to think of vulnerability as a strength and view it as a necessary part of a healthy relationship.
Stay focused on honestly communicating what you are feeling
In the beginning stages of a relationship, people are often guarded. When it comes to saying “I love you“ or even “I like you,” it can be a real struggle to be the first to put your feelings on the table.
Being vulnerable means being willing to say how you are feeling without worrying about the response you’ll get from the other person.
Instead of focusing on what your partner will say in return, stay focused on honestly communicating what you are feeling.
State your needs clearly
Vulnerability isn’t just about communicating how you are feeling; It’s also about communicating what you need.
Practice by stating small needs and gradually work your way up to clearly expressing your expectations and boundaries in a relationship. Your partner will appreciate your ability to express what you need and be drawn to your confidence in being willing to tell them what those needs are.
Embrace your flaws
When you are dating, you want to impress your new romantic interest and put your best foot forward. While you don’t want to lead with your flaws in the beginning stages of dating, once a relationship starts to develop, it’s time to talk about your imperfections.
When you are willing to discuss your insecurities, your partner will feel a sense of relief as they feel less pressure to be perfect for you.
As human beings, we are drawn to each other’s imperfections. When we share our own feelings of inadequacy, it fosters a deeper connection.
Stop avoiding conflict
You may see conflict as a sign of trouble in a relationship, but the reality is that a lack of conflict is the real red flag.
Relationships will face challenges, and being vulnerable means being willing to talk through those challenges and not shy away from difficult conversations. All long-term relationships have conflict.
The key to a lasting relationship is to be able to work through the conflict, not avoid it.
When you learn to embrace vulnerability as an essential part of your relationship, you will strengthen the connection you have with your partner. You will both learn that being vulnerable is a beautiful part of love.
When you provide a safe space for your partner to be vulnerable, you are giving them a gift beyond measure.
Dr. Ketan Parmar
Psychiatrist and Mental Health Expert, ClinicSpots
Vulnerability sounds like a scary concept. It’s not exactly something that comes naturally to everyone.
In fact, many people find it quite difficult to be vulnerable around the person they love and care about the most. It is essentially letting your guard down and opening up your heart and soul to another human being.
Whether you just started dating someone or have been in a relationship for a while now, this article will help you understand the importance of being vulnerable in a relationship and how to do so without scaring away your partner.
What does it mean to be vulnerable in a relationship?
Vulnerability is being able to show your true self to your partner. It means being authentic, open, and honest.
When you are vulnerable, you have nothing to hide, and you feel connected to your partner. You are allowing them to see the real you — the good and the bad, the ugly and the beautiful, the strengths and weaknesses.
When you are vulnerable in a relationship, you trust your partner and feel like you can rely on them and vice versa.
You feel like you can be yourself — good and bad, beautiful and ugly. You feel like you can explore your partner without putting up a facade or covering up certain aspects of yourself.
Why is being vulnerable important in a relationship?
Being vulnerable is one of the most important aspects of a healthy relationship because it allows you and your partner to be honest and open with each other. It allows both of you to connect on a deeper level and feel more comfortable around each other.
Vulnerability is not something that you should do randomly. It should happen naturally as you spend more time with your partner and gain more trust in them over time.
How to be vulnerable in a relationship?
Choose to be present
This is one of the best ways to be vulnerable. When you are present, you are completely focused on your partner and what they are saying.
You are not thinking of anything else; you are not distracted by your phone or other things. You are fully in the moment, and there is nothing that can pull you out of it.
Let go of your ego
Your ego is the part of you that always makes you want to seek validation from others. It makes you always want to win arguments and always be right.
When you let go of your ego, you allow yourself to be vulnerable and open up to your partner. You don’t always have to be right.
Honesty goes hand in hand with vulnerability. You can’t be vulnerable without being honest with your partner.
Being honest means, you are truthful about your feelings, thoughts, desires, and actions. You don’t hold back and are completely transparent with your partner.
Have a heart-to-heart talk
Heart-to-heart talks are completely open and honest. There is no pretense, no show, and no facade. It is just you being totally and completely transparent with your partner.
Be vulnerable and honest with your partner even if you feel like there is something that you can’t tell them. Show your partner that you are confident in your relationship and trust them by being vulnerable.
Regularly communicate with your partner. This will help both of you stay connected, build trust, and be honest with each other.
Being vulnerable in a relationship is extremely important. It allows both partners to connect with each other and build a stronger bond truly. When both partners are vulnerable, they will feel more confident in each other and in the relationship.
However, being vulnerable is not an easy task. It takes time to build up trust and become vulnerable with your partner.
If you are having a hard time being vulnerable with your partner, try to focus on the positives and the things that you enjoy about your partner.
International Keynote Speaker
Set clear core values for your relationship
Every relationship we have — with ourselves and others — includes a set of core values. Whether we define them or not, those core values make up the foundation of who we are.
Core values are the rules we live, work, and play by. They allow us to find stability in decision-making, heart-to-heart conversations, and meaningful visions for our lives.
Most of the time, our core values are unwritten, but as we get clarity on them, we end up with more stability and, truthfully, vulnerability.
We’re able to interact with others from a place of love, support, and honesty — knowing we’re being true to ourselves and our relationships with our coworkers, friends, and family.
When my husband and I were first dating, we took some time to set clear core values for our relationship.
We are both entrepreneurs, so core values were something we made for our businesses, but neither of us had ever had a long-term relationship built on a strong foundation.
We wanted to give our relationship the same chance of success as we gave our businesses.
Core values for a relationship must be well-rounded, cover all different kinds of topics, and be able to stand the test of time. For us, they have become trusted rules to play by.
At any moment, one of us can whip one out to make a point, celebrate ourselves, or share if things are off-track. We are heading in the same direction with the same set of rules, and we know that when one of us brings up a core value, it’s from a place of love and respect.
Be the mirror
One of my favorite core values of ours is “Be The Mirror.” To us, this means that we are reflections of each other — in good times and in tough ones.
If one of us is getting crabby, we can say, “Can I be the mirror for a moment?” It gives us a solid place to have a conversation from a place of vulnerability on both sides.
Neither of us has to be the “better” person; we’re just showing a reflection of what we see from our own perspective. On the contrary, if one of us is celebrating success, the other can “Be The Mirror” and dance around the house.
Vulnerability is typically characterized and even defined as being exposed to a potential attack.
I think vulnerability is such a gentle offer in a relationship — a way to show ourselves as authentically as possible. It allows us to let our guard down and give the other person a fully unfiltered view of who we really are — warts and all.
Vulnerability can come with beauty and tenderness in a place where most never find it.
As you think about vulnerability in your own relationships, I’d advise setting core values — for yourself, for your team, and for your personal relationships.
To do this:
- Take time by yourself, with your partner, your team, or even your friends.
- Sit down and write down what’s most important to you and why.
- Share words and phrases that make you, you.
As you define them, add a little more vulnerability — go deeper. And then start defining why these are coming up for you.
There is no right or wrong — core values need to be able to stand the test of time, but there’s no exact formula. (Also, if they need to change, change them. You are growing, and you’re allowed to change your mind.)
Once you’ve defined them, think of scenarios where you’d want to call on them, use them, or share them.
You’ll want to make decisions from them, stop fights with them, grow with them, and know that they are there to guide you, not keep you trapped.
Here’s a bit more vulnerability from me. Our marriage core values have remained unchanged. Here are the five core values and their definitions. (Feel free to borrow from this list.)
- Start with sunshine: Our relationship is organic, starts fresh every day, and is never “canned.”
- Squish over hustle: Our relationship always wins over our businesses.
- Be the mirror: We are reflections of each other.
- Do epic things: We do things our way — together.
- Dance: In the kitchen, on the street, at the beach, anywhere we can be together.
As you find the words, the phrases, and the vulnerability to share more of yourself, you’ll find your relationships in a deeper and more beautiful place.
Your core values will allow you to go deeper, share more of yourself, and not worry about the risk of attack. I promise it’s worth it.
Therapist, Downtown Somatic Therapy
Relationships are never ‘perfect,’ instead, they are complicated. There’s no one ‘right’ way to sail through the emotional bonds that form a relationship. As such, being vulnerable is one of the most crucial factors in making a relationship successful.
However, opening up to the partner can be the biggest challenge partners face in a relationship.
Childhood traumas and past relationships can lead to an unwillingness to open up with the partner. But, not communicating can lead to insecurities and doubts between partners, causing issues in the relationship.
So, how to resolve these blockages in order to turn relationships into healthier ones? Here’s what you can do:
Investigate the root of the reluctance
Many people distract themselves in order to avoid their thoughts of incidents that have hurt them or made them want to stay away from relationships.
This avoidance creates an inability to process and determine the reasons behind their unsuccessful relationship correctly.
During our therapy sessions, we often ask people to examine their bodies as they speak about their past trauma. This realization often allows for the recall of the original trauma that caused this breakdown in a patient’s emotional connection-making skills.
It is common and essential for the emotions that come with the memory to be felt now in the therapy session.
Sadness, anger, and any other emotion that is caused by the memory are welcome in the safe space of the therapy session.
Energy and emotions associated with this kind of memory need to be released. Core emotions connected to memories that are not felt or experienced can lead to long-term emotional blockages.
Talking about these past experiences and releasing them from the past can help patients to move on.
Being able to recognize where the feelings are originating can make people feel more confident in sharing their feelings rather than repeating patterns of the past.
Identify and realize your own needs
When people are in a relationship, they tend to forget their personal goals, ambitions, and emotions. This is because they prioritize the relationship over their wants and goals.
While this compromise is healthy in certain cases, the relationship should not overtake each individual’s needs all the time.
Healthy relationships require sharing of:
If this does not happen, the relationship will either lose the ‘happy’ bond, or one partner will have to submit to the will of the other completely.
All this is just as unhealthy as suppressed emotion. This can lead to a downward spiral that could have been avoided. Hence it is important to realize our own needs.
Being able to recognize the origins of our feelings makes us feel more confident in sharing our feelings and supporting ourselves, and we don’t tend to repeat patterns of the past.
Also, we are able to trust our partners and share our feelings with them as well.
Here partners should give space to one another’s traumas to allow the relationship to grow and bloom into a deeper connection.
Start small by simply focusing on easing into it
Remember that vulnerability is a strength that not everyone is capable of. And it’s contagious.
As human beings, we’re innately social. It is normal to want to be liked and approved of. Showing vulnerability can be particularly tricky in a society that celebrates individualism, productivity, self-sufficiency, and stoicism.
But without vulnerability, what are we, really? It’s the essence of being human.
Not only does showing vulnerability show confidence, but it also normalizes the human experience. The more you practice and ‘model’ it, the more the people in front of you will feel it’s acceptable for them to do the same.
It starts a really beautiful chain reaction.
People begin to feel safe and more comfortable opening up in return and sharing the more ‘raw’ parts that reside in all of us. It’s what sparks connection and meaningful bonding.
Start small, and remember: You are creating the kind of connectivity you wish to have by demonstrating vulnerability.
In the beginning, focus on simply easing into it. Pick a safe person and share something that scares you a little bit or puts you outside of your comfort zone but doesn’t feel too unmanageable to speak of.
Pay attention to what you’re feeling and what bodily sensations arise for you. Ask the person you’re with how it was to hear it. Ask if they’ve ever had a similar experience or thought.
Notice how it feels to you to hear them share their personal story. Do you feel increased empathy or increased understanding for them? Is there an element of surprise, of relief?
Vulnerability is a skill you can build upon. It will soon begin to feel empowered to know that you can show your true self and experience others as their unfiltered, authentic selves.
Being vulnerable doesn’t mean being “out of control”
Actually, it’s a conscious choice. It means being comfortable with choosing to show certain sides of yourself. You dictate the beginning and the end of it.
The boundaries are set by you. Choosing to show a moment of vulnerability means that there is the potential for a real trusting relationship to grow.
Many people of all genders come to psychotherapy wanting to grow comfortable expressing their vulnerabilities. Understanding that it is an option can be very liberating.
Lauren Masopust, M.S.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Lauren Masopust Therapy
We probably all know that vulnerability helps relationships and fosters intimacy. However, putting this into practice can actually be quite complex.
There are a couple of steps that can help a person be more vulnerable in a relationship.
Self-awareness is key for a person to begin to practice vulnerability
All of us enter into relationships with roadmaps and patterns from pre-existing relationships or developmental periods.
If we are not aware of how these encounters impacted us, we are doomed to react to them, even if they are years past.
Oftentimes when I work with couples, it is helpful to do a thorough interview of their attachment history so that I can best understand where ruptures occurred early in development.
Typically, these ruptures form protective and adaptive strategies to help a person survive the painful encounter.
Later in life, these once effective and protective strategies now inhibit vulnerability, lead to frustration, and land many couples in therapy.
As such, it is essential for partners to be aware of what they are bringing into a relationship so that they can have agency instead of reactivity when touching on a “hot-button” issue.
Primary vs. Secondary emotions
Oftentimes when I meet with couples, at least one partner will complain about their interactions being “too emotional.”
I usually respond, “Yes and no,” and go on to explain about primary and secondary emotions (taken from Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy).
Oftentimes, individuals who are not aware of the cycles of conflict in their relationship will become reactive and express protective secondary emotions like anxiety and reactive anger, or they may behave defensively, dismissively, or contemptuously.
Like anything that is protective, however, these emotions and behaviors are typically hiding something valuable underneath — primary emotions.
Fear, sadness, and pain are typically the primary emotions that do not get expressed when couples first begin therapy. However, with time, when partners learn to communicate clearly from these primary emotions, something magical happens.
The wall that had kept the two disconnected and frustrated with each other vanishes, and they are able to hold each other in vulnerability and trust, sometimes for the first time. It’s a remarkable thing to witness.
To summarize, vulnerability takes time, practice, and healing.
Typically, people who have experienced significant ruptures in their past benefit from the professional support of a psychotherapist.
In the context of a safe environment, a person or couple can become aware of their cycles of conflict and communicate with clarity and authenticity. Vulnerability is risky business, but it is also the only way we can grow in intimacy with those we love most.
Jeremy Schumacher, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Wellness With Jer, LLC
Being in a relationship makes us vulnerable, whether we want to admit it or not.
By connecting emotionally to another person, we naturally run the risk of being hurt when that person does not act according to our wants and needs. But being vulnerable does not need to be scary; if done well, it can be an enriching experience for a couple.
Set the mood
Oftentimes couples do themselves a disservice by not giving emotionally fraught conversations the time and space that they need.
If you struggle to let your guard down, you may naturally be defensive and want to undersell your true vulnerability by acting cool or only bringing up something important in passing.
While I never recommend the dreaded “We Need To Talk” phrase, I think carving out some significant time and setting a place for tough conversations makes it easier.
Something to the effect of “I have some things on my mind that I would really appreciate talking with you about” can signify the importance of a conversation and give that conversation the space it needs to have a positive outcome.
Stick to the point
No one needs to validate your emotions, and you don’t need to justify feeling the way you feel (people pleasers, read that line again!).
A lot of us will share something that makes us feel vulnerable and then defend why we feel that way and list 15 examples in the last decade that make us feel that way. That is way too much for most partners to be able to process in real-time.
Trust your partner to ask the questions they are curious about, rather than preemptively responding to anything you fear they might disagree with.
You don’t need to print out a formal business agenda, but you do need to know your main talking point, and you need to hit that point and then let the conversation flow from there.
If you or your partner tend to get emotionally flooded easily, or you’re in a rut of continual arguing, it can be helpful before you get to your main sharing to set some expectations.
- Do you want immediate feedback?
- Do you want to answer questions in real time or after you are done sharing?
- Do you want to keep this conversation to a certain time limit, so it doesn’t blow up?
Setting expectations can alleviate a lot of your fear and your partner’s fear.
If they know, they don’t need to respond but can just support you by listening; that may relieve a lot of pressure they feel to “fix anything” at the moment.
If you give them permission to ask questions, it allows them to be curious rather than to have their initial reaction be the one they share.
Having a blueprint for how you would like the conversation to go can act as a sort of fire escape plan for your brain if the conversation starts to go off the rails.
Share your feelings, concerns, and desires
Most communication in our culture is conducted on the level of thoughts, opinions, and beliefs…the same level that is used to conduct business.
The quickest way to be vulnerable is to share one’s feelings, concerns, and desires.
For many, sharing their feelings is like diving off a high dive into unknown water. It’s scary. That’s why so many people avoid sharing their feelings. It leaves one far more vulnerable to judgment or rejection than sharing one’s opinion…or carrying on a surface conversation.
Yet, sharing one’s feelings about the relationship, the job, the family, and the circumstances is the quickest way to get the answer to this essential question,
- “Is this person ready to take our relationship to a deeper level?”
- “Will they hear my feelings with respect?”
- “Will I be heard and understood?”
For example, to say, “I think this restaurant does a good job of hiring friendly wait staff,” is open to debate.
But when you say, “I feel welcome and comfortable in this restaurant because the wait staff is so friendly,” it is more vulnerable, yet it can’t be argued because your feelings are your feelings.
Another example, “Thank you for being so thoughtful,” is nice, but “I feel cared for when you treat me with such thoughtfulness“ is more vulnerable.
Vulnerability gives the other person a peek into your heart, not just your mind.
NYC Relationship Therapist
Vulnerability is what makes relationships meaningful. It can be frightening at first, but paradoxically it is the glue to all relationships. It’s really about truly being yourself.
Opening up to someone (scary at times) and allowing yourself to be seen (very satisfying). Emotional openness is essential for all healthy relationships.
When we are more defended and guarded, it hurts our connections to ourselves and others. When you aren’t vulnerable in your relationship, it keeps it superficial and often unsatisfying.
Be aware of your emotions before you can open up
One must begin to look at oneself, your wants and needs.
You can’t really share deeper parts of yourself without knowing what they are. It takes a level of knowledge about yourself, your strengths, and your weaknesses. You must be aware of your emotions before you can open up and allow yourself to be seen.
Accept that you might feel afraid
Name it to tame it. Letting your partner know that you are feeling afraid will help you to keep talking and be honest. It may also increase their empathy and understanding.
Sharing your fears may give you a feeling of relief and will build authenticity in your relationship. Self-soothe if you need to.
Breathing, positive affirmations, or mantras can help you to regulate and get the courage to open up.
Believe in yourself
Work on building your self-esteem. The ability to be vulnerable is really trusting in yourself. Central to this is believing that you deserve to feel understood and heard.
Take your time
It is a process of revel yourself. Go slowly. Start by sharing smaller feelings, and go deeper in time. Decide what you want to share and what you don’t.
Ask for what you need
Be in touch with yourself and ask for what you want. Speak up and be honest. This helps you to feel more connected to another person.
Think of a timing to be vulnerable
Think about when you will have this conversation. Is your partner available to hear you? When are you both at your calmest?
Exposing yourself to hurt, even rejection, ultimately allows you to get what you have been looking for in your relationship. When you are able to be vulnerable, you open a window into the quality of the relationship.
You will see if your partner can be receptive to you.
Dr. Alejandro Alva, MD
Founder and Chief Medical Officer, Pacific Neuropsychiatric Specialists
Find a balance between being open and honest
I’ve worked with relationship issues for many years and have found that one of the most important things in a relationship is vulnerability.
In order to have a deep connection with someone, we must be vulnerable with them and allow them to be vulnerable with us. However, being vulnerable can be scary, especially if we’ve been hurt in the past. We may fear that we will be rejected or taken advantage of if we open up.
The key is to find a balance between being open and honest with our partner and also setting boundaries so that we feel safe.
It’s important to communicate with our partner about what we’re comfortable sharing and to make sure that we’re on the same page about what is considered private.
If we can be vulnerable with our partner, it allows for a deeper level of intimacy and connection.
We’re able to share our fears, doubts, and insecurities and know that we’ll be accepted despite them. We can also be more open to hearing about our partner’s thoughts and feelings, which can lead to a better understanding of them.
If you’re struggling with being vulnerable in your relationship, or if you’re not sure how to start, consider seeking out therapy.
Director, Personal Farewells
It can be tough to open up and be vulnerable in a relationship. You might worry about being rejected or hurt if you share your true feelings with your partner.
However, being vulnerable is an essential part of any close relationship. When you can openly share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with your partner, it can help you build a stronger bond.
Experts say that you can do a few key things to make it easier to be vulnerable in your relationship.
Remember that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness
It takes courage to open up and share your deepest fears and secrets with someone, but it is worth it if it means being able to connect on a deeper level. When you are vulnerable, you also allow your partner to be there for you and support you through your challenges.
So if you want to build a stronger, more intimate relationship, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable.
Don’t try to be perfect
We all want to be seen as perfect, but the truth is that no one is perfect. Everyone has flaws, and everyone makes mistakes.
When you’re in a relationship, it’s essential to be able to share your imperfections with your partner.
This doesn’t mean that you should “air all of your dirty laundry” as soon as you meet someone, but it does mean that you should be honest about your flaws and shortcomings.
Being open and honest about who you are will allow your partner to understand and accept you for who you are. And when you’re able to be vulnerable with each other, you’ll create a stronger and more intimate bond.
Make sure that you trust your partner
Being vulnerable in a relationship is only possible if you trust your partner. If you don’t trust your partner, you’ll never feel comfortable sharing your deepest thoughts and feelings.
So if you want to be vulnerable in your relationship, it’s necessary to make sure that you trust your partner. This means being honest with them, being open about your feelings, and not keeping secrets from them.
When you’re able to trust your partner, you’ll be able to feel more comfortable being vulnerable with them.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner
If you’re struggling to be vulnerable in your relationship, it’s okay to ask for help from your partner. This doesn’t mean that you’re admitting defeat or can’t do it alone. It simply means you trust your partner enough to ask for their help.
When you can ask for help from your partner, it shows them that you trust them and value their opinion. Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness, so don’t be afraid to reach out to your partner if you need some assistance.
If you’re looking for ways to be more vulnerable in your relationship, here are a few tips from experts:
Don’t try to bottle up your emotions
It can be helpful to share your worries and anxieties with your partner. This can help them to understand you better and provide support. Be honest about your feelings. Tell your partner if you’re feeling hurt, scared, or sad. Don’t try to bottle up your emotions.
Share your thoughts and experiences
It’s important to communicate openly with your partner. Share your hopes, dreams, and memories with them.
Practice being vulnerable
It might take some time to get used to being vulnerable. Try practicing with a friend or family before you open up to your partner.
Being vulnerable can be scary, but it’s also vital to any close relationship.
If you’re struggling to be vulnerable, remember that it takes courage and practice. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your partner. With time and effort, you’ll be able to build a stronger bond with them by sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Founder, Relation Counseling
Don’t be afraid to share your feelings
Vulnerability is the display of true emotions without hiding them. It helps to maintain individuality in the relationship. By formulating vulnerability, mutual understanding is developed. It helps the partners to understand each other’s points of view.
Thus, serious growth of vulnerability in the relationship saves from conflicts and helps to live a hassle-free relationship life.
Vulnerability is a double-edged sword. It can be the source of much-needed intimacy and closeness in a relationship, but it can also leave us feeling exposed and insecure.
When we open ourselves up to someone else, we are taking a risk that they may not reciprocate our feelings or may even use our vulnerabilities against us.
But without vulnerability, relationships would be much shallower and less meaningful.
Why is being vulnerable important in a relationship?
If you want your relationship to last, you need to be vulnerable. It seems counterintuitive—wouldn’t you want to put your best foot forward and keep things buttoned up?
But the ability to be open and honest with your partner is what will create a strong, lasting bond.
When you’re vulnerable, you’re letting your partner see the real you—flaws and all. And that’s a good thing. It shows that you trust them enough to be honest about who you are.
In turn, this vulnerability fosters intimacy and closeness in the relationship.
Plus, being vulnerable allows you to be yourself—and who doesn’t want that?
How to be vulnerable in a relationship?
In a relationship, both partners need to feel safe to express their thoughts and feelings openly. This can be a challenge, as we all have fears and vulnerabilities.
Here are some tips:
- Communicate your needs and desires. Your partner must know what makes you happy and what makes you unhappy. If you keep your feelings bottled up, they will eventually explode. Be assertive in a kind way, and let your partner know what you need from them.
- Don’t be afraid to share your feelings. It’s natural to want to protect ourselves from being hurt, but if we never open up to our partner, we can never truly connect with them.
- Don’t try to be a mind reader. If you have a feeling that something is wrong, it s important to ask your partner what s on their mind.
- Understand that conflict is healthy. It s normal to argue and disagree sometimes.
Be willing to believe that you deserve to receive what you ask for
An important piece to being vulnerable in a relationship is willing to believe that you deserve to receive what you ask for.
Often, people hold back from sharing their truth or needs because, deep down, they feel like they aren’t worthy of receiving it. That will limit the growth of a relationship because it prevents an open line of communication and trust between the participants.
Recognize that your partner is also vulnerable to their own fears
A key piece towards allowing yourself to be vulnerable is by recognizing that your partner is also vulnerable, with their own fears. You are not alone in your vulnerability; it is part of the human experience.
- Accept that your vulnerability doesn’t make you fragile or weak; it makes you human.
- Accept that all people have self-preservation-based fear around being vulnerable.
- Accept that opening that door to a trusted partner will make it easier for both of you to share and let your relationship deepen.
True intimacy takes root when there is a shared space of vulnerability — trusting that you are safe with this person and behaving in a way where they know they are safe with you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are common obstacles to vulnerability in a relationship?
Common obstacles to vulnerability in a relationship include fear of rejection, past emotional trauma, low self-esteem, and societal pressures.
These factors can cause people to avoid emotional openness because they may feel that hiding their true feelings and experiences is safer. Overcoming these obstacles often requires self-reflection, therapy or counseling, and consistent efforts to create a safe and supportive environment in the relationship.
Can too much vulnerability be harmful to a relationship?
While vulnerability is critical to a healthy relationship, finding a balance between openness and maintaining healthy boundaries is essential. Sharing too much and too soon can overwhelm your partner and create an unhealthy dynamic.
Also, vulnerability should be reciprocal; partners should feel comfortable sharing and listening. When you find the right balance, vulnerability can be a powerful tool for building strong, enduring relationships.
How do I distinguish between healthy vulnerability and oversharing in a relationship?
Differentiating between healthy vulnerability and oversharing involves being mindful of your partner’s boundaries, the balance, and the relationship stage. Healthy vulnerability is based on mutuality and respect and promotes emotional intimacy.
Over-sharing, on the other hand, can occur when one partner shares excessively or inappropriately, overwhelming the other or creating an unbalanced dynamic. Pay attention to your partner’s reactions and maintain open communication about each other’s comfort levels.
What if my partner is resistant to being vulnerable in our relationship?
If your partner is resistant to being vulnerable in your relationship, it’s essential to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. Acknowledge that your partner may have fears or past experiences that make it difficult for them to be vulnerable.
Encourage open communication and reassure them that you are committed to providing a safe, supportive environment. You may also consider couples therapy or counseling to help you both manage the process of building vulnerability and trust.
How can I tell that I’m making progress in my relationship and becoming more vulnerable?
Progress in becoming more vulnerable in a relationship can manifest in greater emotional intimacy, better communication, and greater trust between partners.
You may notice that you and your partner feel more comfortable discussing sensitive topics or expressing your feelings and that conflicts are resolved more effectively. Ultimately, the strength and satisfaction of your relationship can serve as an indicator of progress in vulnerability.
How can I support my partner in their vulnerability journey?
To support your partner on their journey to vulnerability, you need to provide a safe and empathetic space for them to share their feelings and experiences.
Be patient, non-judgmental, and actively listen to your partner when they open up to you. Offer encouragement and support as they navigate their feelings and fears. Also, be willing to have open and honest conversations about your vulnerability.
How can I work on my vulnerability if my partner and I have different communication styles?
Working on vulnerability when you and your partner have different communication styles involves finding common ground, being patient, and actively listening to one another.
Acknowledge the differences in your communication styles and be willing to adjust your approach to foster better understanding. If you’re empathetic and flexible, you can create an environment where vulnerability can thrive despite differences in communication styles.
How can I tell if my partner is genuinely vulnerable to me?
To identify genuine vulnerability in your partner, you need to pay attention to their emotional expressions, body language, and the content of their communication. Genuine vulnerability often means being open about feelings, fears, and insecurities and being willing to take emotional risks.
Your partner’s body language can also indicate sincerity, for example, by maintaining eye contact, adopting an open posture, and showing genuine emotion. Trust your intuition and observe your partner’s behavior over time to gauge their authenticity in being vulnerable.
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