Imagine this scenario:
You notice your partner seems anxious about something. You’re not sure what’s going on, but all day they’ve been acting agitated and on edge. How do you respond? Is there a part of you that begins to worry or perceive their mood as a rejection of you? What do you say to your partner about your concerns—if anything? Do you reach out, even if you’re not sure how?
Part of the way you respond to situations like this is related to how able you are to access and express your vulnerability. Far from a weakness, vulnerability—our willingness to tell the truth and be ourselves, even in the face of uncertainty—is an innate gift we can all learn to develop, and a gift which can greatly benefit our intimate relationships.
Here’s what prominent researcher, author, and speaker Dr. Brené Brown has to say about it (and she has quite a lot to say about this topic):
- “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity.”
- “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.”
- Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”
Keep reading to learn why living with vulnerability is such a key element to a fulfilling relationship.
3 Ways Being More Vulnerable Can Strengthen Your Relationship
1. Vulnerability Improves Your Relationship With Yourself
Remember the classic airplane metaphor of putting on your own oxygen mask before helping someone else? The idea that we need to help and heal ourselves before we can truly transform our intimate relationships has profound wisdom in it.
Being more vulnerable can boost your sense of self-worth, since the (sometimes scary) experience teaches you how to stand up for yourself even in the face of things you can’t control. By facing and working through uncomfortable situations, rather than turning away or shutting down, you’re teaching yourself how to be resilient…and increasing your self-confidence in the process.
In this way, you may even start to feel less dependent on the opinions and perceptions of others—since your compass becomes your own inner wisdom, rather than the thoughts of other people which are out of your control. This promotes an inner sense of security that serves as a solid foundation upon which you can connect meaningfully and lovingly with your partner.
2. Vulnerability Helps Establish Trust With Your Partner
When we act and speak with truth—including the truth of how we’re feeling and what we need—while also giving space for our partners to be truthful, then we build the bridge of trust between one another.
Can this feel uncomfortable sometimes? Absolutely. But the risk in acting dishonestly comes at a much higher price, since it drives disconnection. As reported by Psychology Today, one Stanford University study found that when people try to hide their feelings, other people can “sense” the inauthenticity—as indicated by a rise in their blood pressure!
By showing each other a willingness to be vulnerable, you and your partner are communicating that your relationship is a safe space to love, take chances, and learn together. Trust is also essential for discussing and establishing healthy boundaries regarding money, intimacy, parenting, and any other area in life.
3. Vulnerability Strengthens Your Bond
When we deepen the trust we share with our partner, and continue to express our vulnerability (continue to do challenging things), we help foster a sense of teamwork. We learn that we can show up as ourselves in our relationship without fearing rejection or shame, because we are emboldened by our mutual support for each other.
Your relationship can then become a powerful container where you can work together to heal past hurts, honor each other’s needs and wants, and work through conflict with respect, humility, and lovingness. Partners who are willing to be vulnerable with each other are often motivated to heal and be happy, rather than be “right.” They see each other as equals and as teammates, not just lovers.
If a relationship is like a garden, then a couple’s shared vulnerability is like fertilizer, or manure. That is to say: even if being vulnerable feels a little uncomfortable or “icky” at times, it can truly help a relationship grow and thrive.
Of course, deciding to be more vulnerable isn’t about oversharing, disrespecting privacy, or always “putting it all out there” with your partner. It’s also not about being weak or a pushover. Vulnerability IS about telling the truth—not only to your loved ones, but to yourself, too.