By Vicki Tidwell Palmer LCSW, CSAT, SEP
Vulnerability is defined as:
the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally.
The definition alone tells you everything you need to know about why vulnerability is so challenging. The thought of being exposed, attacked, or harmed leaves most of us hesitant, unwilling, or even frozen. And that’s why vulnerability is one of the most challenging of the intimacy skills — and at the same time — one of the most rewarding.
How is vulnerability rewarding?
When you reveal your innermost thoughts and feelings, others feel more comfortable with — and closer to — you. In fact, people who truly care for and love you will naturally be drawn to you as they witness your vulnerability.
Sharing with another person your truth, especially when it reveals your humanity, your fallibility, or a quality about yourself that you perceive as weakness, opens the door for others to do the same with you.
And that’s how vulnerability builds intimacy.
Vulnerability is sometimes mistaken for permission to share your most raw and unedited truth. But this is not true vulnerability.
Sharing emotions like anger are rarely expressions of our most vulnerable self, because what’s often just underneath anger are feelings of pain, hurt, and sadness — our most vulnerable emotions. Anger feels powerful, while pain and hurt make us feel weak or less than.
If you’ve been hurt by your spouse, or you are locked into a pattern of being behind a wall or in a power struggle, you may avoid showing tender feelings with him.
Here are 5 reasons partners struggle with vulnerability:
You believe he doesn’t deserve your vulnerability.
You tell yourself, “He’s not vulnerable with me, why should I be vulnerable with him?”
You believe that if you’re vulnerable, he’ll take advantage of you.
It’s scary to be vulnerable! (True)
It takes courage to be vulnerable. Let’s face it, it is much easier to stay behind a wall of defensiveness, anger, or blaming.
Of course, there are times when vulnerability is simply too frightening and you need to protect yourself by not sharing your most tender feelings. And by all means, you have a right to protect yourself so that you feel safe. However, partners sometimes get stuck in expressing anger, and have difficulty dropping down into emotions like pain or sadness.
The more vulnerable expressions of a partner’s wounding — like pain and hurt — are closer to her heart, and create an opening for her spouse to experience empathy and remorse, which are crucial for healing.
And if you’d like to experiment with vulnerability, here are a few suggestions you can try over the next week:
Express gratitude to your spouse for his recovery or self-improvement efforts like going to 12-step meetings or therapy, for example.
Tell him how much you enjoyed a past event with him that was especially meaningful to you. For example, “I was thinking about that camping trip we took last year. It was so fun, and I’d love to do it again!”
Tell him what you trust about him or how you count on him. For example, “I love that I can always count on you to (pick the kids up from school, come home on time, go to work, etc.).” And if you want to take it one step further you can say, “I completely trust you to .” The truth is that most partners trust their spouses for many things. When you express trust in your spouse, not only are you practicing vulnerability, you are also acknowledging a quality in him that you would like more of, which is always more powerful than focusing on what you don’t want.
Tell your spouse you would like (or love!) a hug. This is one of the best ways to receive comfort and reassurance when you’re feeling insecure or fearful, and most men know exactly how to do it!