Being vulnerable in love is scary. And it is the number one way to grow
more deeply connected in your relationship.
I’ve observed the fear of vulnerability repeatedly in my work with couples. Krystol and Trey had been married for 19 years when they came to see me.
Trey: We haven’t had sex in months. Every time I initiate she rejects me, so I stopped asking.
Krystol: For a while now you’ve been on me about gaining weight. I thought you weren’t attracted to me. I started feeling ashamed of my body.
Trey: I didn’t know you felt that way. I was trying to help you stay in shape. Why didn’t you tell me that before?
Krystol: I didn’t feel safe. I was afraid of how you’d react.
Lori: It sounds like you both felt vulnerable and held back from talking about the deeper feelings.
Trey: Krystol, I’m still very much attracted to you. I’m sorry I hurt you.
Krystol: I’m sorry you felt rejected by me.
When we hold our fears back and hide our vulnerability, emotional distance grows.
Just why is it so hard to be vulnerable? The definition explains it all. Webster’s defines vulnerability as: “capable of being physically or emotionally wounded; open to attack or damage.” Being vulnerable is scary. It leaves us in a state where we risk feeling deeply hurt.
We’re wired to protect ourselves from hurt and danger. Way back in caveman days, people who were vulnerable were eaten by the wild beasts. And those of us who remained had a robust physiological reaction to defend ourselves against vulnerability.
The Fight or Flight Response is an adaptive mechanism that prepares us to meet danger by fighting it off or running away. Our bodies are programmed to respond this way for the survival of our species.
Being vulnerable in relationships at times of stress goes against our physiology and our nature. When every cell in your body is screaming to protect yourself, building closeness in relationships requires you to stay open to being wounded. It’s not a task for the faint of heart.
The paradox is that being vulnerable is necessary if you want to truly be emotionally close. That’s what Alfred Lord Tennyson meant by:
“Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”
Dr. Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, is one of the foremost researchers on vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame. Dr. Brown’s TED Talk on vulnerability is one of my favorites. Please check it out.
Dr. Brown has written several books. I highly recommend the following:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.
Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow, a connection that can only be cultivated between two people when it exists within each one of them – we can only love others as much as we love ourselves.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.”
We are available to work with you and/or your partner. You can call us at 410-363-2825 or email LHollander@RelationshipsWork.com. We would be delighted to help.
Image Copyright Fabio Formaggio