With Valentiane’s Day fast approaching, people’s minds turn to love and romance.  As a marriage counselor, I am struck by number of couples who would like their relationship to be more romantic.  Fortunately, there are many how-to books and blogs designed to help folks increase the romance in their marriages. (5 Ways to Rekindle Romance in Your Marriage)  and  spice-up a flagging sex-life.  (A Valentine’s Day Primer for Couples who want more Romance in their Marriage . | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY(revmichaelheath.com)  While these resources are helpful, there is an important aspect of romance which is often overlooked: being vulnerable.

What does being vulnerable mean?

Vulnerability is the physical or emotional state of being unprotected and exposed. Being vulnerable is letting your partner know when you feel this way.  Being vulnerable is uncomfortable and something that we try to avoid in most situations. Obviously, being vulnerable is something that should only done with a special person.  Even with the person you love, it can be difficult.

It needs to be clear, however, that not being vulnerable with your spouse can cause serious misunderstandings because it prevents your partner from fully knowing or understanding you. Therein lies the problem. The goal of marriage is to achieve a deep intimacy with one’s mate. Intimacy, in turn, requires knowing and understanding one’s partner as much as possible.

One can’t really know the other person without knowing their vulnerabilities.  Thus, communicating one’s vulnerability is an essential part of an intimate relationship. And here is something that is not always understood: true romance springs from the satisfaction of really knowing one’s love.  That said, given the risk of letting down our emotional defenses, it is important to remember the joys and satisfaction which comes from taking the risk and being real with your partner.  Indeed, the reward makes taking the risk worthwhile.

Given that learning to be vulnerable is the key to deeper intimacy, romance and great sex, let’s look, in detail, at some of the reasons why people have trouble being vulnerable and some tips that can make revealing themselves easier.

Why is being vulnerable so hard?

In general, fear interferes with a person’s ability to be open and vulnerable.  Our fears are not all the same, however. Different people fear different things.

— For some, the fear stems from bad experiences in childhood when they were exposed and then learned that it was better to hide their feelings and pretend to be fine.

— For others, especially men, being vulnerable means being weak.  Traditionally, men have been socialized to be strong and, conversely, that showing vulnerable feelings is a sign of weakness.

— There are still others who avoid sharing their inner worries because they are burdened with shame and an intense belief that something is so wrong with them, that, if anyone knew the truth about them, they wouldn’t be liked and would, instead, be rejected.

How to become more vulnerable with your mate? 

To be clear, choosing to be vulnerable with your partner assumes that your mate is trustworthy and won’t attack you when you are the most exposed and defenseless.  Given these assurances, here are some tips:

Increase your self-awareness.  What are the thoughts which keep you from revealing your troubling thoughts and feelings to your partner? 

— Understand the source of your shame and/or rejection Think about past experiences which have shaken your confidence about being honest about yourself. Ask yourself, “Where did you learn that being open was a bad idea?” 

— . Realize that you are normal.   Recognize the differences between then and now.  Although how you felt about yourself was shaped by various factors when you were a child, as an adult you can update your emotional resume and correct the distortions. 

Reality-test the reliability and trustworthiness of your partner. Are your fears of being criticized or being rejected coming from your partner or are the coming from you?

Take a chance and risk talking openly. Seriously, you know that being honest and open with him or her is what you really desire. 

Learning to become vulnerable and revealing upsetting parts of yourself to your partner is a difficult but achievable goal and one which is well worth the effort.  With practice you will find that by taking the risk to be open, you will experience increased closeness and intimacy with your mate which will add immeasurably to your overall life satisfaction. The ultimate spark which we get from romantic encounters comes from that deep sense of connection which only vulnerability can supply.  Oh. yeah, another thing.  Sex with a partner with whom you are deeply emotionally intimate is the BEST!

Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow AAPC               1/31/2022