This post was updated on Jan 13, 2023
We usually think we protect ourselves by not showing vulnerability. People can’t hurt us if they don’t know our weaknesses is a phrase many have expressed. However, to truly understand what vulnerability is and its impact on our emotional well-being and relationships, we must first explore why so many people are afraid of it.
Despite the persistent cliché that the fear of intimacy is typically a male issue, the truth is that women fear intimacy just as much as men. Even though both men and women may initially seem more attractive when they present themselves as mysterious and enigmatic, that usually doesn’t work in the long run. Reality eventually sets in. Healthy relationships require honesty and openness. Without them, all the challenges of lasting romantic partnerships or marriages can become unsurpassable obstacles.
This doesn’t mean you need to completely forget about having any boundaries. The types of relationships we have with people in our lives are significantly different. Setting healthy boundaries is equally important as being open and vulnerable as it protects us from getting into abusive or otherwise unhealthy relationships. Vulnerability doesn’t mean allowing ourselves to be manipulated by people who know precisely how to hurt us. So, all the more reason to understand what vulnerability means.
Is Vulnerability Bad?
Why do so many people feel instant unease at the very thought of vulnerability? Does it mean it’s bad if it feels scary and uncomfortable? There certainly are situations and people that would prove this point. Maybe bad experiences have already happened too many times to be able to expect anything else. Meaning, you opened up and shared how you really felt with a partner and it was weaponized against you. Or you shared how you felt about a friend who hurt you directly to them and they ghosted you for it. Many examples show how for some, being vulnerable and then hurt by it makes the concept of vulnerability confusing to many. At PIVOT we talk about transparency with discernment.
It’s not uncommon for vulnerability to be marked as a weakness, even in early childhood, and those feelings become so deeply rooted in our subconsciousness that we feel such a strong urge to resist revealing our fragile emotions to anyone, even the people we’re closest with.
Ask yourself this: Who knows your deepest fears and what hurts you the most? How many people truly know you? You can even have great friends, long-term relationships, and even let people in up to a certain point. Still, your bare, most genuine selves remain buried deep, causing challenges you might not be aware of.
Can Vulnerability Improve My Relationship?
Allowing yourself to be completely truthful with important people in your life, like your family, close friends, and particularly your romantic partner, may feel like exposing all your weaknesses and giving them a chance to hurt you. However, think about all the times you wished someone was more open about their emotions. So many conflicts can be solved more easily if both sides share their true thoughts and feelings.
If you allow yourself to be open to this type of change, you might find that people in your life feel more confident to do the same. For example, in partner relationships, sharing your feelings, needs, and pain, and having your partner do the same might help you understand new perspectives and turn miscommunication and quarrels into seeing each other’s point of view and doing your best not to cause them any unnecessary heartache.
What Are The Positive Effects Of Vulnerability On Relationships?
One of the most apparent benefits of vulnerability in relationships begins by releasing the burden of all the hidden emotions and unspoken words you’ve been pushing down for years. This can make us deeply unhappy and resentful toward others. However, if you liberate your vulnerability, you liberate yourself to be a better friend, partner, or parent.
Romantic relationships particularly benefit from the intimacy and closeness that vulnerability can create. This is, of course, a two-way street. If your partner doesn’t seem ready to open up just yet, you can lead by example. Your openness may give them the initial feeling of control and allow them to show their own vulnerability.
Letting someone genuinely know you can deepen your relationship. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of your relationship and makes communication more accessible and straightforward. You will be able to understand why your partner acts in a certain way, what drives their reactions, and, more importantly, you will know how to be there for them when they truly need you. Hopefully, you’ll experience these positive effects too. The big question for you is, do you know yourself well enough to share all of what makes you, you?
How Can I Be More Vulnerable In My Relationship?
You might be thinking that all this sounds great in theory, yet real life doesn’t work that way. Like many other complex tasks, this one also requires determination, persistence, and maybe even a leap of faith. The truth is that being vulnerable carries the risk of getting hurt. However, so do many other things you couldn’t imagine your life without.
Let’s look at steps you could take to slowly start building this habit, step by step, in a way that won’t overwhelm you. If building vulnerability in your relationship is a goal you strive for, this is how you could begin by:
- Being introspective. Getting to know yourself first is essential if you wish to let another person in. Explore your feelings and the reasons behind them. Many childhood or past life experiences could be the underlying issues affecting your current behavior towards your partner. Look for your emotional triggers and the way you respond to them. You might realize that you’ve been blaming your partner for things they have no control over.
- Taking your time. Sharing your deepest feelings requires trust. Take it one step at a time and feel out the responses you get from your partner. Begin with revealing one thing you’d like to share. Try not to emotionally bomb your partner with all that you have to say in one setting! As you start feeling safe and understood, you will be able to share more, and your partner will too.
- Speaking up. Give your partner insight into significant moments while they’re happening. If they do or say something you’re uncomfortable with, let them know. If you’re the only one who knows that you’re hurt, how can you work on changing the behavior patterns that bother you? Be respectful when you speak-up. Criticizing your partner won’t help.
- Sharing fears. However scary it may feel to bare yourself like this, remember that shutting down can make you feel insecure and influence your reactions and behaviors in unhealthy ways that could send a wrong message to your partner.
- Expressing your needs. If you let your partner know what you need, you will allow them to decide how to respond and meet those needs. And, realistic expectations matter.
- Not running from conflict. Instead, allow yourself to feel some discomfort. This will enable you to practice healthy communication and behavior patterns. Stand strong with an open heart and stay in the uncomfortableness of it all. You WILL get through it the more you practice.
How To Achieve True Intimacy In Your Relationship By Learning To Show Vulnerability
If you’re not sure what actual vulnerability in your relationship is or how to influence it in a way that will improve your communication and intimacy, you’re not alone. This issue is a tough one for many people and learning to share your feelings, even the difficult or painful ones, does require courage. If you’re prepared to take this risk, know that it can bring incredible benefits to your relationship, PIVOT’s relationship advocates are there to guide you through this process. It’s important to remember that you’re not the only one feeling reluctant or even terrified of the prospect of showing your true self to other people. You’ll realize how many people battle these same issues by attending one of our small group workshops guided by experienced Glass House coaches. The first steps might be hard but deepening the connection with your partner is worth it.