By Hailey Heil
Perhaps there is a disconnect in your relationship, but you are unsure of the source. You may feel distant from your partner, or like they don’t know how to support you. How can you gain more understanding of yourself or your partner? How can you foster more closeness and intimacy? It could be that a lack of vulnerability is the cause of this disconnect. Maybe your emotions are often hidden or pushed away, rather than exposed and explored. Vulnerability asks us to increase our self-awareness in order to feel more “seen” by our loved ones. Find out here what vulnerability looks like, why it’s important, and how to foster more of it.
What it looks like
Vulnerability consists of exposing a part of yourself. This could mean a more emotional side, like sharing a certain feeling or how you’re dealing with a difficult situation. It could also mean gaining more awareness of your own opinions and reactions when faced with life’s challenges. Vulnerability can be difficult because it often involves some uncertainty, such as your partner’s reaction to your openness. Courage is a necessary factor in being vulnerable, because fear stunts our ability to be fully open with ourselves.
“Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering, “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.”
Consider your ability to be vulnerable with your partner, as well as your partner’s ability to be vulnerable with you. If you are struggling with your own vulnerability it could be because you have not been honest with yourself. For example, you might be filled with anger and hatred, criticizing others and magnifying their imperfections, when in reality, you are the one struggling with low self-esteem. Perhaps your partner is struggling to understand you because you don’t yet understand yourself.
So what does fostering vulnerability look like?
The Huffington Post tells of the “8 Habits Of Actively Vulnerable People” in their article here. Some of their tips include embracing negative emotions, practicing acceptance, and valuing emotional intimacy in relationships. Easier said than done, right? I agree that acceptance is a key factor to focus on in relation to one’s own vulnerability.
Acceptance can mean more letting go and a bit more self love. It can be manifested in yourself, your emotions, or your experiences. A term called “psychological flexibility” is foundational in the practice of acceptance. It means holding our thoughts and emotions a bit more lightly. A world of black and white thoughts can be rigid and confining. Psychological flexibility is an understanding that a thought is not always good or bad, that it is not permanent, and that it might not even be true. Psychological flexibility can take a thought like “I will fail” and turn it into “I might fail”, “I am scared I will fail” or “failure is unfamiliar territory for me”. Acceptance comes into play here because when our thoughts are more flexible we are accepting that there are other perspectives to our views and other alternatives to reaching our solutions.
Alright, so more acceptance and self-awareness will aid in fostering vulnerability- got it. By now you may be wondering how exactly is vulnerability going to improve your relationship?
Why it’s important
Being vulnerable allows you to feel “seen” by your partner, as they gain more insights about you. With each bit of information you share, your partner is gaining knowledge of you and how you operate. This leads us to our most important factor: vulnerability is the crucial element in forming emotional connections with others. Your ability to be vulnerable creates the messages that become the shared knowledge which bond your relationship.
Vulnerability aids in fostering emotional safety and security between partners too. Once a relationship has established a foundation of vulnerability, the process of sharing becomes easier. Meeting your partner with trust and respect is the first way to foster this sense of security. But there’s more!
How to encourage vulnerability from your partner
We have covered some of the ways to become more vulnerable with yourself, but what about accessing vulnerability in your partner? If you are looking to develop more vulnerability within your relationship, begin with a curious perspective. Show interest in the situations that seem to be causing your partner stress. Ask questions when something seems off, or you can tell they are having a bad day. These invitations to share set the tone for an open conversation where vulnerability is more likely to occur.
Acceptance is also key in this other half of the vulnerability equation. If your partner is sharing something sensitive, try your hardest to meet them with acceptance, rather than judgement. When practicing acceptance, vulnerability with your partner can flow more easily, strengthening your bond. This exchange creates healthier patterns of disclosing information where issues are on the table and secrets are not necessary.
Kyle Benson authored a post for the The Gottman Institute on speaking with awareness. This highlights how to express vulnerability, especially within the setting of an argument. The first rule of thumb discussed is using “I” statements, which promote sharing rather than blaming. These statements allow you to focus on yourself and shift the focus away from your partner. While you are setting the stage for more sharing, your partner will be more inclined to listen.