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What Does It Mean to Be Vulnerable in a Relationship

A couple who learned how to be vulnerable in a relationship leaning against each other with their eyes closed.

Vulnerability has now become one of those trendy words we see pop up on social media feeds thanks to the rise of counseling apps, Instagram memes, and, of course, the work of Dr. Brene Brown who’s spent close to 20 years studying vulnerability. Brown has countless books, and even a Netflix special, on the subject.

So what is vulnerability? Brown says it means, “to show up and be seen. To ask for what you need. To talk about how you’re feeling. To have the tough conversations.”

For too long vulnerability has been viewed as a weakness. Expressing one’s emotions, revealing one’s deepest flaws and concerns, in short, showing one’s soft underbelly was believed to be an opening for attack. So instead we toughen up and get strong and numb our emotions and/or live behind a hard shell because we don’t want to be judged or shamed or rejected, right?

However, shielding ourselves from vulnerability doesn’t help our relationships. In fact, we should be getting vulnerable with our partners and love interests as much as possible. Why? Because that’s where the magic happens. Humans are built for connection. And connection ripens with vulnerability. We can only talk about surface level things and go on endless road trips and farmers’ markets for so long. In order to deepen a relationship and get to that sweet spot of a relationship — where we start to feel safe, secure, and fully loved and accepted for who we are — we must be willing to break open and be vulnerable.

But what does being vulnerable in a relationship look like?

Communicate your fears.
Entering a new relationship is scary! Everyone has fears. Even your cool, level-headed date is freaking out about the possibility of you rejecting them and running away. We all have past wounds and triggers that come up in relationships and it’s up to us to communicate to them to our new partners (they aren’t mind readers). Begin to reveal some of your insecurities, doubts, and fears to your partner. It could be something that you’re currently struggling with or a hurdle from a past relationship that you’re having trouble getting over. Maybe you’re scared that your new love interest doesn’t like you as much as you like them. Sharing those deep parts of you with your loved one deepens your connection as well as brings more clarity and truth to your relationship, which can only strengthen it. The best part? When you start opening up about your fears, your partner will probably feel comfortable enough to do the same.

Own your past.
Everyone has a past. Childhood trauma, past bad relationships, drug addictions, money problems, not having certain things by a certain time (savings, a house, a well-paying career) these areas tend to hold the most shame and it’s what we most often hold back from our loved ones. We are terrified they will reject or judge us harshly if they knew the truth. But in order for a relationship to thrive we must be willing to own up to both the bad and the good parts of our lives. True intimacy is achieved when our partners are able to know and see every part of us. But first, true vulnerability can only happen when we are able to love and accept where we are and who we are. By not owning up to your past and letting its shame define us, you are basically letting it interfere with your growth. When you accept our past and let others know your shame, you allow yourself to surrender to the possibility of being truly accepted who you are.

Open up when you feel like shutting down.
If your go-to is shutting down and not letting anyone in, especially during the tough moments, then that’s your sign to do the exact opposite. Communication can clear up so many misconceptions or any other obstacles that are standing in the way of maintaining a connection with your partner. Start opening up with how you feel and why. If your loved one did anything to confuse or hurt you, express that to them. If you’re being triggered by something and it’s causing you major stress and anxiety, say so to your partner. Silence kills a relationship. It’s only through clear communication that you’re able to bond truthfully with your partner so that you can come up with solutions and breakthroughs together.

Share your passions and joy.
Too often we think what lights us up, including our hobbies or even our wildest dreams, sound silly or stupid so we clam up. But what if all the things that you love and the long list of goals you have are exactly what your partner would love to hear? Not only that but if all those things are what they would love even more about you? Yes, that’s what vulnerability looks like too. When you let your partner know what you love, it makes them love you more. Plus, they’ll want to do those fun things with you and will want to support you on your journey.

Vulnerability is scary and feels uncomfortable for those who haven’t practiced it regularly but it’s not only the best thing you can do for your relationship but it’s the most important thing you can do for yourself. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to speak our truth, we show the world, including ourselves, that we deem ourselves worthy of having a healthy, happy, and fulfilling relationship. We begin to believe that only true and authentic connections are worth our time and energy, and then we are able to receive only great, fierce, magical love in return. Because we know we deserve it.

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