Do you ever wonder if your relationship has what it takes to stay together? According to self-described researcher and storyteller Brene Brown, “Vulnerability is the glue that holds intimate relationships together.” But vulnerability is also one of the most misunderstood ingredients in a good relationship.
Too often, we view vulnerability—our willingness to be open with our feelings—as a weakness.
We think, “if I am vulnerable, I will get hurt,” and so we hide our true selves from others: friends, family, and especially significant others. But according to Brown, this hiding prevents us from experiencing any feelings: positive or negative. She writes:
“To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe that vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”
In other words, to feel anything at all, we have to be open and vulnerable. If we fear certain feelings or emotions and close ourselves off, we risk feeling nothing at all including gratitude, joy, and happiness, Brown points out.
So what if instead we saw vulnerability as a strength? What if we saw it as the key to helping us find and keep love in our lives?
Vulnerability allows us to accept ourselves for who we are right now (both the good and the not-so-good) and paves the way for strengthening your relationships.
Of course, vulnerability can be scary. Even the research participants Brown studied said that being vulnerable was often uncomfortable. But they also said it was a choice they made because of its benefits. They found the courage to be open even when nothing was guaranteed because it helped them to live and love more fully. The following are some suggested ways to be more vulnerable and live more fully in your relationships.
01) Accept Yourself. Before you feel comfortable enough to open up to others, you first have to be comfortable with yourself, including your imperfections. Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, writes that accepting yourself is a crucial first step to practicing vulnerability. It is only after you accept yourself that you can be confident enough to be vulnerable with others. Remember, no one is perfect. Brene Brown says in her TED talk, “Have the courage to be imperfect.” Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your imperfections.
02) Identify Your Dreams. Look past your fear of vulnerability and acknowledge your dreams for yourself. Fear is what holds us back from achieving great things, says Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. And in this case, it is preventing you from having a deeper and stronger relationship with your partner. Someone once told me that that they frequently ask themselves, “What would I do today if I wasn’t afraid?” What would you do in your relationship if you weren’t afraid? Think about how that fear is holding you back from what you want in your relationship and have the courage to stretch yourself beyond your fears.
03) Start Small. Change is always hard but you can increase your chances for success by taking small steps towards your dream. Each small step will help you stretch your heart so that it will become more open and will expand your capacity to love. For example, when your partner asks you if anything is wrong and you usually say “it’s not a big deal,” try instead to open up and share with them what is bothering you.
04) Look for Examples. Sometimes we might not have a good idea of what being vulnerable looks like. Think of people in your life who have relationships you admire. Identify qualities in their relationship that foster openness and vulnerability and seek to emulate them in your own relationship. If you are having trouble thinking of examples, you can check out Brene Brown’s amazing and inspiring 20-minute TED talk where she talks about the qualities of “wholehearted people.”
Allowing yourself to become more vulnerable in your relationships will take courage and hard work. But remember that making the decision to be more vulnerable will mean that you are making the commitment to increase your capacity to love…and that is an amazing thing!
This article is not intended to be a substitute for or serve as professional counseling or treatment.
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