By their very nature, intimate relationships invite couples to be vulnerable with one another—allowing us to express and share our deepest selves. For this to occur, you need to feel safe enough to shed the roles, personae and protective armor typically inhabited in your daily lives. It is indeed a gift to feel safe enough to relax your defenses and allow your spouse/partner access to your inner world—a world that others may never or rarely see.
This level of vulnerability has the potential to deepen emotional intimacy (for many, emotional connection and closeness is the hallmark of a fulfilling marriage/relationship). But despite the trust that may exist in your marriage or relationship, emotional vulnerability isn’t always easy to achieve. For some, it may feel like a never-ending slippery-slope with treacherous turns and hidden dangers.
Unfortunately, couples too often fall into complacency and forget to nurture the relationship conditions needed to support a shared vulnerability. This occurs at a significant cost to the relationship. To counter complacency, couples need to be mindful and nurture the seeds of vulnerability.
Relationship Help: 5 Conditions That Support Vulnerability
Here is a summation of what couples have shared about vulnerability and intimacy during my couples communication workshops:
1. Please tread lightly, I’m taking a risk with you whenever I’m emotionally open and share myself—even if I don’t or can’t name it as such, this is a real challenge for me;
2. Choose your words carefully. Your words and demeanor (especially when I’m vulnerable with you) have the power to lift my spirits, to make me feel emotionally safe and loved. And your words—in particular words of judgment and criticism—can send me reeling and set us back;
3. When I’m vulnerable, I’m sharing the often unseen parts of myself with you because I trust and love you. I’m doing this because I want to feel close to you—I want to feel seen and accepted.
4. Part of me feels uneasy and uncomfortable when I’m vulnerable. But I also feel deeply connected to you when I allow myself to be open with you in this way. Despite my discomfort, I will try to stay present and not retreat emotionally. Please stay present with me in this space. If I sense that you’re distracted, bothered, indifferent or disengaged, I’m likely to close myself off to you as a means of self-protection. If this occurs, it may not be easy for me to open myself up again.
5. Vulnerability should be a two-way street—a shared, mutual experience that allows us each to see, honor and protect the other’s deepest dreams, longings and fears. So please be vulnerable with me. Let me know what you need from me for this to happen.
The conditions needed for emotional vulnerability and intimacy are co-created by couples, whether they are fully aware that this is happening or not. Rather than leave this important process to chance, couples should try to understand what they require from one another in order to feel emotionally safe enough to take the risks inherent to intimacy.
A healthy relationship is built upon a foundation of effective communication. The good news is that you can make healthy communication a regular part of your marriage or relationship.
For more information, check out my communication workbook (The ABCs of Effective Communication.)
Wishing you a strong and fulfilling relationship!
Dr. Rich Nicastro