While self-sufficiency and autonomy can help us weather the storms of life, they can also rob us of true intimacy. For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel that they are needed and appreciated for the support they give. If we have been let down in the past, the prospect of needing someone can be frightening. Opening up to our partner can make us feel vulnerable and exposed, but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting, intimate relationship.
Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, but it's actually a strength. Dr. Brené Brown, a renowned expert on vulnerability, explains that it's really about "sinking into" the joyful moments in life — daring to show up and let ourselves be seen. She writes, "When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives."
In her landmark book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Given this definition, the act of falling in love is the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It's inherently risky because our partner could leave without a moment's notice, betray us or stop loving us. Dr. Brown cautions us that putting ourselves out there also means there's a greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt.
Take a moment to consider that you might be sabotaging relationship after relationship if you don't get to the root of your fear of being vulnerable. If you are afraid of showing weakness or exposing yourself to your partner, you might not be aware that your fear is preventing you from being totally engaged in the relationship. You might be freezing out the opportunity for love because you are afraid to let your authentic self shine and to share your innermost thoughts, feelings, and wishes.
What drives your fear of being vulnerable with your partner?
- Are you fearful of exposing parts of your personality that your partner may find unacceptable?
- Does keeping a distance make you feel safe and in control of your emotions?
- Are feelings of shame stopping you from exposing your true feelings or talking about tough topics?
- Do you fear that your partner will abandon or betray you?
For many, a fear of intimacy may translate into testing a relationship by picking a partner who is wrong for them — people play it safe by distancing themselves. One of the first questions I ask my clients is, "What is it that stops you from being vulnerable and intimate with your partner?" Notice that I don't ask, "What do you think your partner should do differently?"
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