Sitting on the couch in my office, Jessica, 32, shares her struggle with opening up to her fiancé Stephen, 36. She says, “It’s like I freeze when we are talking about sensitive topics. Since we are engaged, I worry that my difficulty sharing my true feelings with backfire later on.”
If we have been let down in the past, the prospect of needing someone can be frightening. Opening up to our partner can make us feel vulnerable and exposed but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting, long-lasting intimate relationship.
While Jessica fears being open about her feelings and needs due to being rejected in the past, her tendency to clam up keeps her at a distance from Stephen. In a sense, she is sabotaging their relationship by keeping him at arm’s length.
It’s unfortunate that we often equate vulnerability with weakness. In her landmark book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Given this definition, the act of falling in love is the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It’s inherently risky because our partner could leave without a moment’s notice, betray us, or stop loving us. Dr. Brown cautions us that putting ourselves out there also means there’s a greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt.
Take a moment to consider that you might be sabotaging relationship after relationship if you don’t get to the root of your fear of being vulnerable. If you are afraid of showing weakness or exposing yourself to your partner, for instance, you might not be aware that fear is preventing you from being totally engaged in the relationship. You may be freezing out the opportunity for love because you are afraid to let your authentic feelings reveal themselves, and to share your innermost thoughts and wishes.
What drives your fear of being vulnerable with your partner?
- Are you fearful of exposing parts of your personality that your partner may find unacceptable?
- Does keeping a distance make you feel safe and in control of your emotions?
- Are feelings of shame stopping you from exposing your true feelings or talking about tough topics?
- Do you fear that your partner will abandon or betray you?
What can you do if you are paralyzed by fear or unable to risk being vulnerable with your partner? First, you need to acknowledge it. Fear doesn’t go away on its own – it tends to morph into something else. But if you want to build intimacy, keep reading for more reasons why it’s important to let your shield down.
4 Reasons Why Vulnerability Leads to Intimacy:
- Vulnerability increases our sense of worthiness and authenticity.
- It helps us to feel close and connected to our partner – yet achieve our own sense of identity.
- It allows us to build trust in others and to become fully engaged in an intimate relationship.
- Being vulnerable allows us to open our heart – to give and receive love fully.
Trust and vulnerability are essential aspects of achieving intimacy in relationships. According to Dr. Brown, disengagement is the most dangerous factor that erodes trust in a relationship. The only way to avoid this is to risk being vulnerable with your partner by asking for help, standing up for yourself, sharing unpopular opinions, and having faith in yourself and your partner. The ultimate risk is allowing yourself to fall in love – which requires letting go of control and fear of being hurt or abandoned.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Her book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Feel free to ask a question here.
Terry’s book, The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around, was published by Sounds True in February of 2020.