vulnerability in relationships

Vulnerability in Relationships: How to Cultivate True Intimacy

Some crave, even chase vulnerability in relationships, while the mere mention of vulnerability will send others running for the hills. Yet, if you or a partner desire intimacy, including physical lovemaking, then you will find yourself well served to recognize that vulnerability isn’t as scary as you might imagine. It might actually surprise you to know that our capacity for vulnerability lies at the heart of our availability for true love. Our most exquisite sexual experiences will also find themselves rooted in vulnerability. 

Your courage first to understand what vulnerability in a relationship means and, then, secondly to genuinely embody it, will determine the lifelong quality of your love life. Seriously. 

This may come easier, and even be more appealing, to a feminine being. Yet truly powerful masculine beings realize that their connection to their heart, and their tender vulnerability, rests at the center of their success in all that they do, in love and life. And, that kind of powerful vulnerability may not be what you think it is. 

What is vulnerability in a relationship?

Let’s give the concept of vulnerability some depth and muscles. Vulnerability in a relationship does not differ from vulnerability in life. While it might seem that it requires another person to be vulnerable, or to be intimate for that matter, we would be mistaken. Vulnerability and intimacy exist when one person chooses them. In other words, both people do not have to choose to be vulnerable for vulnerability to exist in the shared moment. When one person embodies vulnerability it exists between them. This is where the strength and power of vulnerability enter.

Vulnerability in a relationship means that we are willing to risk discomfort, uncertainty, and loss. Being vulnerable means you willingly accept the risks of love and connection. You realize and embrace the risk of pain – knowing it is a possibility, not a guarantee. Embracing the discomfort of potentially feeling or being misunderstood, unseen, rejected, abandoned, unloved and the like constitutes vulnerability.  With that, we must also realize that we cannot experience genuine love in the absence of vulnerability. It is only through our willingness to risk not being loved that we can actually feel loved. By definition, if we love we will be vulnerable, even if we try to convince ourselves that’s not true. 

By definition, if we love we will be vulnerable.

Vulnerability in relationships, along with its close sibling intimacy, says “I’m willing to let you see into me. I’m willing to let you see who I genuinely am beyond my persona’s and projections.” It also says, “I’m willing for you to know the good, the bad, and the ugly of me.” In this authentic, and vulnerable, sharing of self, true love becomes possible.

To love is to risk loss. 

To be seen is to risk being disliked.

To be free is to risk falling. 

These are true definitions and examples of vulnerability.  

What is emotional vulnerability in relationships?

Looking specifically at emotional vulnerability in relationships we move deeper into the realm of our willingness to feel uncomfortable feelings. For some this is a tall order in today’s society. We typically find ourselves continually rewarded for keeping our emotions in check; we are celebrated for being stoic. We imagine that if we close ourselves off, that we’ll stop feeling. Yet, closing off simply changes the feelings, and, if we’re honest, they usually hurt more. 

The biggest challenge with emotional vulnerability in relationships arises because while we have been conditioned not to feel, emotions are the language of intimacy. Intimacy in a relationship happens when, and only when, two people choose to reveal how they genuinely feel. Has a partner ever said to you, “I’m scared,” or “I’m embarrassed,” or  “I’m feeling insecure right now,” or “I screwed up,” and, if you were in a good place yourself – your heart melted and you felt your love for them more strongly in that moment. That’s emotional vulnerability in action. 

It also shows up when a couple works through something difficult together – a significant upset, a big loss, an unexpected life change. If couples practice being emotionally real in tough times, instead of closing, withdrawing, or remaining stoic, they will come out closer on the other side. Their relationship will get stronger. Doing hard things together bonds a relationship. Yet again, in order to do hard things together, the two must share a willingness to reveal true feelings.

Fear of vulnerability in relationships

Of course, fear of vulnerability will often arise in romantic connections. In the presence of that fear we naturally move deeper into vulnerability itself. Fear and vulnerability in a way are actually synonymous. Would we ever feel afraid if we didn’t sense a risk or potential loss? Realizing that, fear of vulnerability does not cause a problem. Our ownership of that fear, or any fear, will actually strengthen our vulnerability muscles and make us more available for love.

If you fear vulnerability, share it with your partner. Tell them what you feel most afraid of. Share the stories of what you make up in your head. If you watched “This is Us” when Randall and Beth would share their “Worst Case Scenarios” they were truly practicing courage in the face of their perceived life vulnerabilities. You can of course use this practice too and you can modify it so that you’re sharing your fears of, worst case scenarios, of being vulnerable with each other. You might even find yourself laughing as you share the stories you make up in your head.

This practice leads us right into an exploration of examples of vulnerability. 

Examples and practices

Because vulnerability isn’t commonly consciously practiced, because it is often so feared, understanding what real vulnerability looks like in love can support your growth individually and in a coupleship. Let’s look at several examples of vulnerability in relationships and the intentional practices conscious couples use to cultivate it. 

Examples of Vulnerability

  1. Telling the truth 
  2. Being genuine / authentic 
  3. Loving someone 
  4. Admitting you’re falling in love
  5. Saying “I love you”, especially the first time
  6. Feeling your feelings
  7. Saying “I’m depressed, I’m hurting”
  8. Admitting when we feel insecure
  9. Saying “I’m mad at you” (without blaming)
  10. Admitting you’re falling out of love
  11. Saying “a part of me wants to walk away right now, but I’m not going to”
  12. Sharing a creative expression – poetry, art, even woodworking, a garden design, or painting of a room.
  13. Intentionally and lovingly creating a meal for your partner
  14. Sharing dreams
  15. Saying “I’m afraid”
  16. Saying “I don’t know”
  17. Saying “I think I might be losing myself in our relationship…”
  18. Saying “It hurts when you ______…”
  19. Remaining quietly present when another is upset (especially when they are upset at you) 
  20. Admitting mistakes
  21. Committing to a relationship 
  22. Being seen, especially when you feel down, ill, ugly, or challenged
  23. Saying “I’m sorry”
  24. Apologizing
  25. Owning your “weaknesses”
  26. Asking for help
  27. Expressing your needs
  28. Sharing sexual desires, especially ones you’re not sure they’ll like
  29. Setting a boundary
  30. Listening openly to your partners challenges or frustrations in your relationship
  31. Speaking openly to your partner about your challenges and frustrations in your relationship
  32. Expressing your opinion (especially when you think the other person doesn’t see things the same way
  33. Trying anything new – a new dinner, a new city, a new way of communicating, a new sexual position

Now, seeing all these examples of vulnerability in a relationship, how can you effectively practice building your vulnerability muscles? As we have said above, vulnerability starts with you, so first we’ll list some individual practices, followed by practices you can do as a couple. 

When practicing vulnerability as a couple, be sure to remain conscious and non-judgmental of yourselves and each other. Vulnerability thrives in a conscious safe, but truly imperfect, space. 

Individual vulnerability practices 

  • Become Ecstatically Authentic
  • Spend time with you. Get to know you so you can share you. 
  • Feel 
  • Discover your needs and boundaries
  • Learn what it feels like to have an open heart
  • Realize your worth, lovability and deservedness
  • Become part of authentic communities with like minded beings that share similar fears and desires
  • Yoga poses that open the heart center

Coupled vulnerability practices 

  • Share authentically with phrase like…
    • I feel
    • I desire
    • I wish you saw _______ in / about me…
    • I love about me
    • I’m afraid of
  • Try a new activity that doesn’t come easily to either of you
  • Do something creative together and share your experiences and creations with each other 
  • Partner yoga
  • Slow sex
  • Discovering the difference between making love and having sex
  • Eyes open lovemaking
  • Eye gazing
  • Discuss the answers to the 21 questions for a new relationship, even if your relationship isn’t new
  • Anything that makes your feel vulnerable

Remember when it comes to vulnerability in relationships, hurt is possible, but not guaranteed. Just because you’re willing to risk feeling hurt does not guarantee you will get hurt. And, practice will not only help you be more vulnerable in love, the mere act of practicing cultivates vulnerability. 

In final reflection, consider, if you have trouble loving, you now may have a possible clue as to why you struggle in relationships. As we have said, Love, real love, only happens in the presence of vulnerability. If you want to feel love – loving another or being loved by another – you must make friends with, and embrace the experience of, vulnerability in a relationship. 

Without vulnerability you will be forever lonely, even in marriage, because closeness and connection are birthed in this open revealing of self. Yes, being authentic, being yourself, offers great risk, but as Thomas Jefferson said “with great risk comes great reward” – the reward of an ever expanding relationship of ecstatic love. 

*At Ecstatic Intimacy, an all-inclusive website for singles and couples, we welcome all sexual orientation(s), gender(s) and relationship expressions. In this article we utilize the pronouns he/she/him/her.

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