Butterfly on an outstretched hand representing Vulnerability in Relationships

What Does It Mean to Experience Vulnerability in a Relationship?

Have you ever seen the movie “What Women Want” starring Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson? There is a moment at the end of the movie (after a rollercoaster-ride romance) where Mel Gibson’s character says that he needs to be rescued and that he needs Helen Hunt’s character to help him do it.

I felt a sense of uneasiness when I first watched that scene because of the depth of vulnerability that Mel Gibson’s character expresses. Since then, as I’ve grown as a person, and as a couple’s counselor, online marriage counselor, and relationship coach, I’ve come to feel respect and admiration for his vulnerability… and how much strength it takes to go there.

Being Vulnerable in Relationships

Vulnerability means opening yourself up to another person, which means risking being hurt by them. Vulnerability is difficult and often does not come naturally, however it is an essential part of healthy relationships.

Vulnerability builds bonds between us as humans. When we open up and share something special to us with another person, whether that’s a look into your soul, creativity, or shadow self – we are saying, “Hey, I want you to know something about me that’s raw – it’s not quite perfect – and it’s uniquely me.” These moments of vulnerability extend an invitation to another person to share their vulnerable self as well. We choose to be vulnerable – it’s not necessarily something that comes naturally, especially in Western culture but it has bountiful benefits when shared with the right people.

Sharing at the right time with the right people is important. It takes emotional intelligence to recognize when sharing is appropriate, and to differentiate between authenticity and oversharing or emotional dumping.

Why Being Vulnerable Feels So Hard

I’ve noticed that oftentimes there is a fear of vulnerability within relationships that is coupled with shame. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” 

Has shame ever kept you from expressing your deeper thoughts and emotions to someone you care about?

Although it is difficult, facing your fears and allowing yourself to push past your shame and open yourself up to another being, often results in a more fulfilling relationship.

Three Reasons Why Vulnerability is Essential

  1. Vulnerability Fosters Connection

We are made for connection with each other. If we weren’t, we would never experience loneliness. Vulnerability allows our relationships to be more fulfilling because it allows for more depth. Even though it feels uncomfortable at first, a relationship that is safe allows room for vulnerability that deepens our connection to each other and fosters growth.

  1. Vulnerability Leads to Opportunity

When we are vulnerable, we get to share our lives with another person as well as give them the opportunity to share their life with us. Vulnerability is risky, however, it is often a risk worth taking as it allows us to experience community with others in a way that goes far beyond the surface level. This vulnerability can also be seen as an opportunity to escape toxic generational cycles that show up as a lack of communication, patience, or validation.

  1. Vulnerability Brings Healing

Lastly, vulnerability is often associated with healing. When we are able to let someone else into our dark and hidden places, and have them let us into theirs — and feel loved in spite of our flaws — something wonderful happens. All of a sudden, those dark and hidden places don’t seem so bad, and our shame can be replaced with joy. We are able to experience a sense of freedom and deeper intimacy with someone we care deeply about, all because we took a risk and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable.

I hope these ideas help you cultivate the power of vulnerability into your life, and your relationships.

PS: For even more inspiration on the importance of authentic vulnerability, check out this Ted Talk by the thought-leader on this subject: Brené Brown.

The Power of Vulnerability: Ted Talk | Brené Brown

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