Vulnerability in Relationships: How To Be More Open

Relationship Rules
19 Sep 2023
11 min read
Building More Vulnerability in Relationships: Your How-To Guide

The subject of vulnerability in relationships can bring up a lot of emotional “stuff.” For so many people, the thought of being vulnerable is downright scary. They feel as though they are putting themselves at emotional risk without being sure of the outcomes.

They’re right. That is exactly what being emotional vulnerable means.

While vulnerability in relationships is risky, it certainly isn’t a sign of weakness. There are not too many things braver than to practice vulnerability in your romantic relationships. Fortunately, the rewards for allowing yourself to be vulnerable are worthwhile. It leads to a deeper emotional connection and more fulfilling relationships.

Vulnerability would be hard enough if it was something you only had to do once. Unfortunately, you must continually share this emotional openness throughout your relationship. Not everyone is capable of doing this. Those who can put aside their personal insecurities and be truly authentic with their partners will enjoy a deeper level of connection and trust. We’re here to provide you with the necessary steps and valuable insights on the subject.

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What Does It Mean to Be Vulnerable

Vulnerability means putting yourself out there and exposing your deepest feelings in hopes that the other person will meet that vulnerability with love and support.

Being vulnerable in the context of romantic relationships means risking hurt, loss, abandonment, or some other negative consequences due to lack of protection. You are practicing vulnerability when

  • You say I love you before you are sure about your lover’s feeling
  • You are sharing parts of your life story that you haven’t told anybody else
  • You describe your greatest fears, giving another person the key to what can potentially hurt you the most

In the end, simply asking someone out on a date when your last breakup destroyed you on the inside is an act of vulnerability. That’s why being vulnerable is so important for true romance and genuine connection.

How Does Vulnerability Lead to Healthy Relationships?

93% of people are looking for vulnerability in their future partners.

You can’t have healthy relationships with any romantic partner if you have walls up:

  1. Your vulnerability starts important conversations
  2. It gives both of you a way to connect and learn about one another
  3. It grants emotional connection that is a clear sign that you feel safe around one another.

When the two of you practice vulnerability, it elevates your relationship.

Vulnerability in relationships: How to create a safe environment for both?

What Happens When a Romantic Partner Can’t Practice Vulnerability?

Healthy relationships are only possible when both people can be vulnerable. If one of them doesn’t feel safe doing that, the couple isn’t going to be able to get through challenging situations that people in love often face.

Forget about forging a close bond. The two of you will always feel disconnected in some way. That’s to be expected when you can’t even share your deepest fears and other emotions with one another.

Without vulnerability, your relationship will be surface-level and lack depth and connection. Fights will be worse because you won’t have the trust and understanding to work through issues as a team. It will be that much easier to end things when it gets hard.

If you both are interested in casual sex and fun, you don’t have to be vulnerable with your partner. But, if you want more, you’ll figure out how to get past your fear of intimacy and even learn to risk rejection.

If you are unable to be vulnerable in a relationship, that doesn’t mean you are in control of your emotions. People who feel as though they can not or should not be vulnerable often engage in toxic behaviors because those difficult feelings come out one way or another.

Have you ever flown off the handle over something small and seemingly meaningless? Chances are that was really a build-up of unexpressed emotions. People who are passive-aggressive often don’t know how to be vulnerable and have difficult conversations with loved ones.

Related reading: Toxic Love: Are You Feeling It?

Why is Emotional Openness Difficult?

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brene Brown, research professor and writer

Embracing vulnerability is hard. For some people, it’s nearly impossible. When someone is plagued with self-doubt, mistrust, relationship trauma, or simply believes that being vulnerable in a relationship makes them weak, it can be difficult for them to overcome.

A lot of toxicity in dating culture tells people, particularly men, that they should never accept vulnerability as a valid option. Sadly, men who spend too much time in certain circles on the internet may have it deeply ingrained that vulnerability is equal to weakness. If they show even the smallest amount of it, they are ridiculed as simps or warned they are only going to attract gold-diggers and other problematic women.

Related reading: Male Maturity – When Does It Kick In?

Don’t think women are immune to this, either. Their reasons may be different, but many women struggle to be vulnerable. They operate in a world in which they must be constantly on guard to protect their emotional, physical, and financial safety. Vulnerability requires letting that go.

Vulnerability is also the act of overcoming a fear of judgment or worse. Nobody wants to be honest about their desires, feelings, or needs only to be ridiculed.

Seeing a Family Therapist When Vulnerability Is a Struggle

If you or your partner are unable to be vulnerable in your relationship, it may be time to see a family therapist or relationship coach. They will help you understand what is going on so that the two of you can’t connect on a deeper level. Then, they will work with both of you to create some strategies to be more emotionally honest with one another and share your true thoughts and feelings.

Things you can do to increase emotional openess in your relationship

9 Action Steps to Increase Vulnerability in Relationships

Vulnerability encourages a strong sense of connection, but it doesn’t just happen. You have to work at being vulnerable in a relationship. If you are committed to improving your relationship by sharing your feelings and making your emotions accessible, start with these action steps.

1. Meditate and Journal

Before you can share your most vulnerable feelings in your relationship, you must understand yourself well. Vulnerability requires personal insight:

  • What are your dreams for your life with the person?
  • What are your fears?
  • What makes you feel loved?
  • What makes you feel isolated?

Engaging in activities like journaling and meditation makes you more aware of your deepest emotions. Also, you do it in a way that gives you a clear, healthy understanding of yourself and what drives your feelings. This gives you a foundation to be emotionally honest with your partner in a productive way and helps them truly understand you in more depth.

2. Model Being Safe and Supportive

Does your partner experience you as somebody who is safe for their most vulnerable moments? Before you answer that, remember that they aren’t simply forming their opinion based on their tender, loving interactions with you. They also see how you:

  • Handle frustration
  • Respond to criticism
  • Treat other people when they are struggling
  • Show empathy to others when they need it

Imagine the following scenario. If you see yourself in one of these behaviors, consider whether you would be vulnerable in a relationship with someone like yourself.

You and your partner get up in the morning and take a drive. Someone in the next lane merges over without leaving quite enough room. You honk and scream at them for being an idiot. Later, a harried counter worker gets your coffee order wrong. Your partner reminds you that she is clearly busy and appears to be the only person working. In response, you snarl that it isn’t your problem, and the worker is clearly incompetent. Later, you’re watching a movie together, and the main character shares some past trauma. You grumble about him being pathetic and a crybaby.

If you want emotional intimacy, you have to be an example of empathy and understanding. Otherwise, your partner will never express themselves around you honestly. If you are on the other side of this issue, talk to your partner about their actions and reactions and how those make it difficult for you to express yourself around them.

3. It’s Okay to Start with Something Small

You can be vulnerable in your relationships without oversharing. For example, you could try sharing about a hobby you have that’s a bit unique. Then, see how your partner responds.

If they ask questions or seem supportive, this is a good sign that you can talk about other sensitive topics. In this case, be sure you respond similarly when they share.

4. Share an Unfiltered Opinion

You can’t censor yourself and reveal your feelings at the same time. When committing to vulnerability, you should share what you think without editing yourself out of fear of rejection or criticism. Answer honestly when an important topic comes up.

If you can’t out of fear your partner will respond negatively, consider whether vulnerability is a possibility between you.

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5. Be Honest When They’ve Hurt You

One of the most vulnerable things you can do is tell another person they’ve hurt or disappointed you. This is also a test of your trust between the two of you.

Are they able to hear negative feedback from you without being defensive, invalidating your feelings, or making things about themselves? If they respond positively, let them know you appreciate that, and that you feel supported by them.

Related reading: How to Build Trust in a Relationship: 15 Tips

6. Encourage Communication With Open-Ended Questions

Ideally, you should be as comfortable having a conversation with your partner as you do with a close friend. This takes practice. Simply put, you have to talk to one another. It’s something you have to prioritize and build into each day you spend with one another.

These conversations don’t have to be emotionally deep. Vulnerability is important, but that doesn’t mean you have to unload your emotions every single day. Talking to one another should be enjoyable. It’s okay to keep things light from time to time. You want to enjoy the time you spend communicating with each other. For example, you could try taking one of those online couples quizzes.

Related reading: 43 Questions to Ask Your Girlfriend
42 Questions to Ask Your Boyfriend: Grow Your Relationship Gradually

7. Communicate Your Needs

Share your physical and emotional needs to be vulnerable in a relationship. Tell your partner how you are feeling and what you need. This is meant to be solely about sex and your relationship’s emotional needs.

Vulnerability is opening yourself up to tell the other person when you need attention, affection, or even solitude. Don’t disregard the possibility to get what your heart strives for, dare to be vulnerable!

8. Show Vulnerability to Help Your Partner Do the Same

In a relationship, vulnerability is a two-way street. You have to show it in order to expect it from your partner.

Be vulnerable yourself:

  • Open up about your past experiences
  • Talk about your feelings
  • Let your partner know when you are hurt

You have to accept some emotional risk if you want them to express themselves around you in the future.

9. Build Intimacy Through Deeper Vulnerability

You and your partner have begun to practice intimacy with one another. You are able to truly hear each other when you express yourselves and share your fears and pain without fear of rejection.

Remember: being vulnerable is a process. You have to practice it throughout your life. Keep working on this, and you will grow closer together over time.

When Vulnerability Can Hurt You

“When you love someone, truly love them, you lay your heart open to them. You give them a part of yourself that you give to no one else, and you let them inside a part of you that only they can hurt-you literally hand them the razor with a map of where to cut deepest and most painfully on your heart and soul. And when they do strike, it’s crippling-like having your heart carved out.”

Sherrilyn Kenyon

If you decide to trust, be bold about that; but check the person you’ve decided to trust carefully. If your partner is abusive or toxic, your vulnerability can hurt you. What you see as a moment of closeness becomes a matter that they can weaponize against you later.

So be vulnerable, but protect yourself.

If you have doubts about your relationship, trust your instincts. Don’t share emotions or information that an abusive person might use to hurt you in the future. More importantly, be aware that manipulative people will make you feel happy sharing your intimate thoughts and feelings. When you do that, you aren’t teaching them empathy and understanding. They are simply gathering information to use to hurt you.

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Figuring Out Why You Can’t Be Vulnerable

You want to practice vulnerability, but it’s like you have a wall up. What can you do now? If you want your relationship to be meaningful, you have to take ownership of the vulnerability process. This kind of work requires a lot of self-reflection. You may need to work with a counselor on your own to resolve past pain that is keeping you from being truly authentic in sharing your emotions.

It may also help if you and your partner can work with a licensed marriage or couples therapist. You will both find that your lives improve immensely when you treat this as a matter to work on together. In a way, this becomes its own form of intimacy.

Relationships Require Vulnerability to Thrive

Vulnerability matters. It is our ability to drop our defenses and be truly open with one another. Doing this is messy, risky, and hard, even more so if we are working through trauma in order to have better relationships. Still, it is worth every bit of effort when you realize that you have the kind of relationship that other people only dream of.

In the end, relationships require both people to be authentic and emotionally honest. Otherwise, any connections are shallow and often transactional at best.

Relationships Author
Geoffrey Williams
After taking a required Intro to Psychology course as an undergrad, I have never looked back. Since my doctoral program, I have specialized in adult relationship therapy. Through my studies and clinicals, I wrote several articles for professional journals and currently in the midst of writing a book.
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