One of our deepest needs as human beings is to feel connected with another person. When we enter a marriage or relationship, we want it to be with someone who sees us for our true selves. To make it happen though you need to build honesty and trust, and that means revealing not just our joys but our fears and pains, too.
The vulnerability is the glue that holds intimate relationships together, according to Brené Brown, a research professor at University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and expert on social connection (you may know her from her viral TED talks).
“It’s about being honest with how we feel, about our fears, about what we need, and, asking for what we need,” said Brown in an interview with Spirituality and Health. It’s showing and telling your partner, not just how much you love him, but also that you’re afraid of losing him.
Relationship coach Kyle Benson gave a good example, in an article on The Gottman Institute, of how vulnerability works in everyday situations. Say for example that you and your partner are in an argument. In the middle of the heat of the fight, he dismisses the discussion by walking away.
You might yell out something like, “You’re always like this!” in angry response. But, if there were vulnerability in your relationship your response would sound something like, “I feel scared and inadequate when you leave the room during our fight. My fear is that I’m not good enough for you to fight for. Is there a way I can bring up a conflict so you and I can work through it together?”
In this situation, the partner reveals that the action of her loved one was hurtful, but she did it in a gentle, vulnerable manner. To show vulnerability is to admit weakness for some, however, and that's why it is easier said than done. “Being vulnerable is no easy task. It’s much easier to blame or attack our partners for the problems in our relationship, rather than express how we are feeling,” acknowledged Benson.
But letting walls crumble is necessary for healthy relationships. By being vulnerable, “you help them to understand why you feel the way you do. As a result, you feel more emotionally connected, which builds trust [and] increases intimacy,” he explained.
According to Brown, vulnerability takes courage because there’s a fear of being shamed or getting hurt. Instead of being vulnerable, people usually get angry, they walk away from the conversation, or they blame themselves for the conflict. But saying your feelings out loud will make you feel better, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the moment. “Shame can’t survive being spoken,” said Brown. Once you’ve said your true feelings out loud, shame goes away. You might even be proud that you were able to express yourself.
And yes, you can start practicing this in your relationship. Everyone can become more “shame resilient” and vulnerable, Brown encouraged. She shared that those with higher levels of shame resilience are rewarded with deeper relationships with others.
“We must become open to the experience of pain to be open for the amazing experience of love,” said Benson.