My introduction to vulnerability in a relationship came in the most embarrassing of forms. The first time my girlfriend said she loved me, I pretty much ran in the other direction. Two years later, a similar situation arose – obviously with a different girl. This time I was better prepared. I had spent a good deal of time in the intervening period wondering “what does it mean for me to be in love?” – the answer was surprising.
A host of us grew up in an environment where we were taught everything about being good and nothing about being happy. Practically everything around us reinforced the idea that being “good” meant sacrificing your own joy. We have been conditioned from a very early age to believe that we don’t deserve happiness and love unless we keep struggling for it. Consequently, we create a protective cocoon of aloofness and emotional unavailability around us. This makes it that much more difficult for us to stop and consider – “Is vulnerability important in relationships?”
Since most of us have a hard time facing vulnerability in a relationship, we also have a hard time comprehending the true happiness of real love. We sabotage our relationships even when we really want them to work. Not because we don’t see light at the end of the tunnel, but because we find comfort in the darkness that engulfs us.
Let’s get some expert guidance to get through this maze from emotional wellness and mindfulness coach Pooja Priyamvada (certified in Psychological and Mental Health First Aid from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Sydney), who specializes in counseling for extramarital affairs, breakups, separation, grief, and loss.
What Does It Mean To Be Vulnerable With Someone?
Emotional vulnerability in relationships is accepting that the people you care about have the power to hurt you. That doesn’t mean you are weak, or that everyone will be a jerk and deceive you. Vulnerability is a testament to the strength in a relationship, not weakness. To show vulnerability in a relationship is to put yourself out there and risk giving another person the opportunity to hurt your feelings.
We often set misdirected examples of being vulnerable in a relationship. When a man is vulnerable, he is expected to get drunk and call his ex-girlfriend slurring how much he still loves her. When a woman is vulnerable, we expect sappy posts on social media for anyone to see. Real vulnerability needs context and relevance. It is consciously baring your innermost emotions to someone special.
Is Vulnerability Good In A Relationship?
When you ask, “Is vulnerability important in a relationship?”, you must first decide which type of vulnerability is under the scanner here. Financial vulnerability? Nope, keep that covered. Emotional vulnerability? Yep, need that one. Every relationship has moments where we feel as though we can’t trust our partner or that they’re letting us down. The moments where we’re unsure if we are good enough. These moments show the power of vulnerability in a relationship.
Instead of focusing on the fear of vulnerability in relationships, we should remember how often it has helped us be stronger, more honest partners. It should also be considered how often it has proved that our fears are unfounded and our partner is right there with us, holding our hands and helping us get through bad times.
If we see vulnerability in relationships as something that makes our relationships better, it will be easier to let our guard down. And then, perhaps, we could experience the beauty of being vulnerable. When you are vulnerable with someone who cares for you and respects your boundaries, you build true intimacy.
9 Expert Tips To Stimulate Vulnerability In A Relationship
Trying to be vulnerable with someone who is incapable of receiving your vulnerability is a disaster. But the right person will treasure your vulnerability and even more strongly commit to you because of it.
I was recently in a conversation with my partner, and she was talking about the challenges she had faced at work. She had just been promoted to the position of manager and the transition hadn’t been without stress. There were multiple factors contributing to her stress, but the underlying issue had to do with her relationship with her boss. In this moment, I wanted nothing more than for her to open up, trust me and tell me what was going on. But she didn’t.
The challenge in the situation wasn’t that she didn’t trust me or that she didn’t want to be vulnerable. She literally did not have the words to express her vulnerability. Isn’t that so common in moments of vulnerability? Being vulnerable is not a constant state, even in the most intimate relationships. It needs to be stimulated time and again. Here are some expert tips to help you feel more comfortable with vulnerability in your relationships:
Related Reading: Connect With Your Partner On A Deeper Level
1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions
The best way to show vulnerability in a relationship is to take risks and ask significant questions to your partner. Start by asking yourself some tough questions like “Is it okay to ask for her help?” or “Should I let him know how much fun I’m having right now?” Even if you’re afraid of the answers, simply asking questions can relieve a lot of that fear.
2. Practice makes perfect!
Pooja explains, “Even in our most intimate relationships, we often do not expose our vulnerabilities. Because of innate fears and our childhood traumas, we are scared that if we let someone in the innermost chambers of our mind, they will leave us or worse, judge us. But if you are brave enough to practice sharing these vulnerable spots with your partner, then it will strengthen your relationship in the long run.”
The more you practice being vulnerable, the easier it will get. The fear of vulnerability in relationships – like any other fear – draws its power from the unknown. The only way to beat it is by facing it head-on. Make it a point to open yourself up to your partner till it becomes second nature.
Related Reading: Fear Of Intimacy: Signs, Causes & Ways To Overcome It
3. Find someone who wants the same things as you do
It’s important to find someone who won’t judge you for being vulnerable. Your partner should be someone who wants the same things as you do. They won’t share the same thoughts – nor should they – but they must be willing to accept and understand how you think. When someone understands your feelings about the situations in your life, they can help you better deal with them. More importantly, a partner who understands you will help instill true vulnerability in a relationship.
As Pooja puts it, “Compatibility is all about finding someone who wants the same relationship as you do. If at all, you find someone with a similar wavelength, then that companionship will be more rewarding and long-lasting.”
4. Admit what you’re afraid of
There are so many fears that hold us back from being vulnerable with our partners: being rejected by the person you love, being laughed at, being seen as weaker than they are. It’s important that you admit these fears so you can talk them through with your partner. Otherwise, those fears will get in the way of the intimacy you both want and crave. It’s also helpful to accept that vulnerability isn’t always easy or comfortable – your partner might not react the way you’d hoped, but when you do it anyway, it shows them how serious you are about your relationship.
5. Talk about what you need from each other
If you’re feeling hurt or angry in a relationship, chances are that there’s a gap between what one person is giving and what the other needs. To get vulnerable with each other, you’ll need to fill those gaps through communication. Tell your partner what you expect from them the most and ask them to do the same.
6 Be vulnerable with yourself
Pooja says, “It takes as much courage to expose one’s vulnerabilities to your partner as it does to realize them yourself. But once you do that, the relationship becomes truly transparent.”
Like every meaningful change in life, being vulnerable is something you need to start doing with yourself first. When you are truly comfortable with your vulnerability, developing vulnerability in a relationship will become much easier.
7. Don’t become defensive
When your partner brings up an issue that they are insecure about, don’t argue or interrupt them. It would hamper the overall process rather than impact it positively. Let them know that you are listening and that you’re willing to explore constructive ways to solve your relationship problems together.
8. Focus on what you gain from being vulnerable with each other.
To overcome your fears of being vulnerable, think about how much you have gained from being open with each other. People change and grow through relationships, and they get hurt sometimes too. If you are willing to be vulnerable with each other, you can deal with pain in a healthy manner. Vulnerability is a strength in a relationship because it means the couple wants to work through things together.
9. Respond appropriately to breach of trust
Pooja shares, “Yes, sometimes your partner might reject, misuse or shame you for your vulnerabilities. It is a very sad situation to be in. But it is not your responsibility to accommodate what they don’t understand. You need to draw clear boundaries, remain in your own safe space, and renegotiate the overall sharing aspect of the relationship.”
If ignored or rejected – or worse, abused – by the person you love, then it is imperative that you find an outlet for your feelings quickly after the event so that they don’t fester within you.
Emotions are complex and confusing. Sometimes we just don’t know what we want, let alone how to explain it to others. But by exposing your true self, you increase the number of people in your support network. It gives you more resources to draw on when making decisions – and more opportunities to find someone who can help you with your emotional struggles.
Vulnerability in a relationship is crucial to your love life, and it can be easy to forget how important it is when you’re focused on other facets of the connection. If you and your partner are struggling with this issue, try approaching it from all angles. Talk to them openly and honestly and take their needs into consideration just as much as you expect them to. You must learn about practices that make both of you feel safe in being vulnerable with each other. You’ll get through this together if you both put in the effort. The expert panel at Bonobology can help you do that, and it’s just a click away.