Being vulnerable in a romantic relationship.
Throughout my experience working in France and now in the United States, I have observed partners going from regularly fighting and talking about breaking up to being close to one another and having a strong and secure attachment bond. So, what has helped them go from a stage of defensiveness and verbal attacks to a more peaceful lifestyle? I have noticed that couples that have learned and accepted to be vulnerable with each other were more prone to connect on a deeper level. Communicating from one’s personal experience, rather than accusing the other person for the lack of attention or other issues they might genuinely be experiencing in the relationship is actually key. Being vulnerable with loved ones help partners be more compassionate and understanding of each other’s needs. This allows for a stronger and more secure attachment bond within the relationship. Of course this takes time and practice, it requires for the couple to take risks at being vulnerable, as well as to accept holding the other person in moments of fragilities and insecurities. But first, let’s talk about what vulnerability really is.
What is vulnerability?
According to Merriam-Webster, being vulnerable is being “open to attack or damage.” I find this definition extremely meaningful in the context of relationships. Indeed, how would one accept to be vulnerable if it could result in more pain and damages? It sounds scary and extremely risky to let ourselves become vulnerable in a society that promotes the opposite. Indeed, we live in times where we are told to be strong and “perfect”, where we avoid showing vulnerabilities as they might be seen as weaknesses. We live in a society where feelings are not always spoken about, and where we have learned not to share our emotions. We sometimes even repress them as if they did not exist. And yet, letting ourselves be vulnerable might be the key to connection, love and belonging. As Brené Brown shared in her study about human connection: “Vulnerability is the core of shame and fear, and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it is also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging and love.”
The struggle of being vulnerable.
Some people can more easily be vulnerable and let their partner emotionally hold them in complicated times. This can be due to the way they were raised, to the model they had from their attachment figures, or maybe it us due to their past experiences that have led them to become more talkative about their feelings. But for others, it can be extremely challenging to be vulnerable, even with the people they love the most. I believe this can be related to multiple reasons, one being that if we have learned to be guarded our entire life, especially if this is what our culture encourages, then it is not easy to act differently in our relationships. Also, we often want to present in a certain way with the people we love the most. We want our loved ones to be proud of us, we want them to admire our strengths, but not see our weaknesses. Furthermore, some couples feel that they cannot be vulnerable in their own relationships as the relational bond might be fragile, causing the individual to be afraid of losing the other partner. Finally, some people might not even be aware of their deepest fears within a relationship, making it harder to communicate about it. Indeed, as discussed earlier, we have learned to live in a society that promotes perfection. Therefore, hiding our insecurities has become a norm, a natural way of relating to others. It is actually a defense mechanism to repress one’s emotions, it helps us better protect ourselves from pain and potential disappointments. So you might ask, how can we easily confine our deepest fears and strongest needs to our loved ones if we are not consciously aware of our own emotions to begin with? This is where couple therapy can help.
Couple counseling for a stronger relationship.
First of all, a therapist can help you identify your feelings by looking at your reactions, but also by looking at the patterns and the repetitions occurring in your life and your previous relationships. Bringing these emotions to your awareness will help you get a deeper understanding of what triggers you in your current relationship, and consequently better manage your reactions. This therapist can then assist you in sharing your deepest needs with your partner. Feeling exposed is often hard, as one might be afraid to be seen as they really are and fear rejection. In couple counseling, the therapist will navigate these insecurities with both partners and facilitate a conversation about vulnerability. This will support couples in connecting on a deeper level and feeling more secure with each other. We all have insecurities that we are afraid to reveal, but there is nothing more repairing and reassuring than having a partner that can listen to them and accept us the way we are. Couple therapy will also allow you to get a deeper awareness into your partner’s own needs and doubts. This will help you understand your companion’s reactions and open a conversation about it. Finally, learning how to emotionally hold your partner in difficult times will deepen your connection to one another and create a safe and secure attachment bond.