Vulnerability in relationships isn’t easy, but it’s possible to make it easier. We asked therapists for a few tips on how to open up.
If the idea of pouring your heart out to someone sounds scary, you’re not alone.
But to develop deep relationships with others, it’s necessary to show up authentically.
Vulnerability is a skill that you can develop. It’s possible to change the dynamic of your relationships with some intention and practice.
Vulnerability is allowing your partner to see the real you.
“It involves the ability to openly express your needs and preferences, reveal your emotions honestly, and set and maintain healthy boundaries,” says Liza Gold, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City.
Some examples of vulnerability include:
- asking your partner for a hug
- apologizing for a mistake that you made
- making a request for no phones at dinner
- asking your partner for help with something
- disclosing something that makes you feel insecure
Vulnerability is an act of courage, says Gold.
Being vulnerable with a man or any partner can be challenging, particularly if you have been taught that vulnerability is a weakness.
You may have grown up in a family or culture where certain topics were taboo, or it wasn’t safe to share your values, ideas, or feelings.
“It can be incredibly difficult to be vulnerable in relationships, particularly when you’re afraid that your vulnerability will be met with ridicule or criticism,” says Gold.
“If you have a history of abandonment, rejection, shaming, or neglect, then it becomes considerably more difficult and frightening to continue to open yourself up to others,” she adds.
In short, vulnerability helps bring two people closer.
A 2018 study found that when we perceive someone else is going out on a limb, we can appreciate it and focus on the positive aspects of vulnerability.
“Vulnerability is another word for intimacy. I like the breakdown of the word intimacy as into-me-see,” says Dr. Timothy Yen, a licensed clinical psychologist in Dublin, California.
“It’s important for your partner to interact with the vulnerable version of you because that’s the only way to connect in a real way, experiencing true acceptance for our whole selves,” he explains.
There are many benefits of vulnerability, including:
- affirming your self-esteem
- building trust
- conflict resolution
- developing resilience
- deepening your bond
- emotional safety and security
- feeling “seen”
- promotes mental and physical health
You may find it helpful to try a few approaches to determine which one works for you.
Sit with your emotions
Just the thought of being vulnerable may bring up all kinds of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or self-doubt. You may find it empowering to learn to sit with these sensations in a mindfulness practice so that they feel less intimidating.
Some activities may include:
- tai chi
It’s OK to build trust a little at a time, says Yen. “You’re evaluating your partner’s response to see if it’s wise to continue sharing even more vulnerable aspects of yourself.”
For example, consider sharing something you wouldn’t mind other people finding out, such as a score you got on a recent test or a story from childhood.
“Love is given freely; trust is earned,” adds Yen. “Someone may love you (as defined as wanting the best for you) but may not be able to handle the truth about who you are based on their own contrary beliefs or character differences.”
Practice writing it down
It can help to write down your key thoughts on a piece of paper or as a note on your phone, which you can then read aloud to your partner.
Use ‘I’ statements
In any relationship, effective communication takes practice. Using “I” statements can help prevent your partner from getting defensive.
For example, “I feel insecure about that woman at the gym who keeps hitting on you.”
Consider a time limit
Perhaps ask your partner for 5 or 10 minutes to express yourself. Set a timer and have them listen until the alarm goes off. Then give them the same amount of time to respond.
Reach out to a therapist
Therapy can provide an emotionally corrective experience around building trust and give you practice being vulnerable, says Yen.
“Due to the therapist’s expertise and presence, people get to take a risk and experience the care that comes from truly being seen without judgment,” he explains. “Therapy can also help people learn more about their vulnerable parts and how to communicate it in the healthiest way.”
If you’re unsure where to start, you may find it helpful to use Psych Central’s hub for finding mental health support.
Try couples therapy
A mediator can be helpful during vulnerable moments. Perhaps consider asking your partner to join couples therapy so you both have a safe space to speak openly.
Vulnerability is one of the key ingredients of success in a relationship.
It allows your partner to see the real “you,” deepen your connection and increase your chances of getting your needs met.
For further study and inspiration, here are some resources on the subject:
- “Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead” by Dr. Brené Brown
- “Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love” by Sue Johnson
- “Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love” by Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller
You may also enjoy Brown’s Ted Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.”
It may take time and effort, but it’s possible to develop this relationship skill like any other.