11 Tips For Getting In Touch With Your Vulnerable Side In A Relationship

When it comes to the itchy topic of vulnerability, slow and steady wins the race. Being vulnerable is so challenging for most people that just the thought of being vulnerable insinuates preemptive fear. So, in an attempt to avoid discomfort, a simple cycle of avoidance develops, and vulnerability always seems out of reach.

Going slow in all relationships is essential to build a strong foundation. Intentionally taking the time to get to know your partner (and really get to know them, not just what kind of dog they want or their favorite wine) in order to build trust, respect, and emotional intimacy will pay off.

Don't be tricked into believing that personal growth has to be developed in a linear fashion or that there is a perfect way for a story to unfold. The dominant narratives fed to us emphasize a one-size-fits-all approach to adult life. In reality, there is no perfect way to get in touch with your vulnerable side, but some tips and tricks will allow you to better serve your relationship with yourself and your partner. 

Put yourself first

Personal vulnerability is an important part of your own personal growth and emotional health. It wouldn't make sense to attempt interrelationship vulnerability without first exploring what that means on a personal level. What does vulnerability really mean? "Daring Greatly," a book by Brené Brown, defines vulnerability as having the courage to "dare to show up and let ourselves be seen."

Brown's words serve as a reminder that being seen and showing up for ourselves is important work. This means serving main-character energy, full-time with zero days off. It means holding onto that radical acceptance that you are unique and worth being celebrated. This may not be simple, but it can ultimately be transformational. The good news is that the easiest place to start is with yourself.

Personal vulnerability is an important part of personal growth and emotional health, especially because it helps us connect with other people and build community. Connection with others to establish bonds and deep interpersonal relationships is what most people strive for, whether it is from friends, family, or romantic partners. The importance of vulnerability cannot be overstated. Starting with yourself and your own hang-ups over vulnerability will put you in a better position to tackle the tough stuff with your partner. 

Beware of imposter syndrome

Evaluating your personal vulnerability in relationships is important; the journey toward vulnerability should be both inward and outward. This is an easy place to start, giving you a good barometer of your next steps. A major challenge with opening up and considering adopting a practice of radical vulnerability is fear — and of course, the ever-present imposter syndrome. Borrowed from academia, the term imposter syndrome has recently gone viral and become part of the conversation around mental health.

In 1978, researchers Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, while at Georgia State University, published a groundbreaking study. The qualitative research showcased their multi-year findings culminating five years of interviews with women who had lived similar experiences and perceptions but had yet to find a commonality or a term for the phenomenon.The pair interviewed over 150 women from various backgrounds to ask about their personal career experiences, aiming to figure out why so many accomplished women faced the same inner fears.

From medicine to law to social work, the successful women in the research lived in perpetual fear that "some significant person will discover that they are indeed intellectual impostors." Imposter syndrome has now become part of the pop culture vernacular, and while decades have passed, the "internal experience of intellectual phoniness" still strikes a visceral cord with millennials and Gen X women. Reminding yourself that imposter syndrome is real and that overcoming self-doubt might be a lifelong journey doesn't mean personal or interpersonal vulnerability is off the table.

Accept (all of) your emotions

If imposter syndrome has made you numb to your feelings, you're not alone. Many people don't realize they suppress their feelings and avoid vulnerability until it is pointed out to them. If you haven't had this pointed out to you yet, here is your sign to take some personal inventory. Do you walk through each day masking? Are you afraid to tell your partner when you are struggling? Can you ask for help when you really need it?

Stop suppressing what you feel — don't fear your feelings; learn to understand them instead. Ugly cry if you need to — whatever you need to do to recognize and accept your emotions, even if they are uncomfortable. Suppressing your feelings can also send mixed messages to your partner. Putting superficial distance between yourself and your emotions can lead to emotional numbness and make it harder to be vulnerable with yourself and your partner.

Cairo-based psychotherapist and licensed marriage and family therapist Jessica Saleh spoke to Glam about the topic of vulnerability, saying, "The fear of vulnerability could be a result of past experience, trauma, or fear of rejection. It can cause a person to withhold from being vulnerable in their relationship, which could quickly (or slowly) lead to a decline in their relationship satisfaction." Humans are complex, and the older we get, the more baggage we carry. It is impossible not to have wounds from past relationships, but learning that those are the exception — not the rule — will make vulnerability easier. 

Practice compassion with yourself and your partner

Once you acknowledge your feelings, you might develop secondary emotions, which can make the whole experience overwhelming. Instead of tackling the situation, take a step back and be open to losing some control. Practicing self-compassion during this period will put these experiences into perspective. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself, even when you're struggling or experiencing difficult emotions; remind yourself that the journey will not be easy. Treat yourself with the same care and understanding you would offer your partner or a close friend. You can do this by validating your own feelings instead of judging yourself or ignoring the feelings that bubble up. Be kind and compassionate to yourself, practicing self-care when things get tough. 

It is also important to be compassionate with your partner. Saleh says to Glam, "Partners who are patient with vulnerability, open up to one another and express their feelings about each other's reactions also have to make sure that their responses are met with safety, security, an environment of understanding and appreciation, and accountability." She furthers her statement by adding "... this is how to have a deep, safe, and meaningful connection. Each partner in the relationship will also personally thrive when they feel like they can go home to someone who accepts them, listens actively, shows interest, and cares about their feelings, unconditionally." Remembering that you deserve compassion and love will help you put things into perspective when challenges arise. 

Take time to reflect intentionally

Now that you are understanding yourself and are showing some self-compassion, you can delve into the real work. Yes, the clichés are abundant, but they absolutely ring true. Perhaps you react squeamishly when you see blood or laugh at inappropriate times. Reflect on your positive and negative experiences, and try to identify the underlying emotions and thoughts driving your behavior. This can help you better understand yourself and your motivations.

Ideally, reflection should be active rather than passive and can be done by creating space each day to reflect intentionally. It doesn't have to be a long time, five minutes here or 10 minutes there, but setting the time and space in an intentional matter will make the practice an eventual habit. If you like to write, then journaling is a great way to process thoughts and give some introspection to emotions and experiences.

If you are not much of a writer, then meditation or mindful self-reflection practice can be another way to gain clarity and insight into your experiences without distraction. Instead of spending time doom scrolling through social media, download a meditation app with your partner and track your progress. Push each other to reflect and strive for more vulnerability.

Silence your negative self-talk

One of the most commonly-avoided topics when it comes to vulnerability is that of the inner voice. Some call it an inner critic, and researchers have even called it "chatter." Semantics aside, we all have that little voice in our head that is either pushing us down or lifting us up. So what is the deal with this static electricity bouncing around inside your brain, telling you who you are and what you believe?

Notice when you're being self-critical or judgmental, and try reframing these thoughts more compassionately and accepting. For example, instead of telling yourself, "I'm such a failure," try saying, "I'm struggling right now, but that doesn't mean I'm a failure." Breaking the habit of negative self-talk might take some time, as it is often learned subconsciously at a young age.

Many parents teach their kids that self-talk and pass it down without realizing how toxic it can be. In his book, "Chatter: The Voice in our Head, What It Matters, and How to Harness It,"  Dr. Kross explains chatter by saying, "The voices of culture influence our parents' inner voices, which in turn influence our own, and so on through the many cultures and generations that combine to tune our minds. We are like Russian nesting dolls of mental conversations." The faster you can deal with negative self-talk, the easier you can be vulnerable with yourself and your partner. 

Is it a good idea to see a therapist?

The journey to vulnerability is non-linear and will often be messy. It can often feel cyclical, which of course, is going to be frustrating. But knowing your worth makes all the difference. You may have gotten through some of these steps and feel overwhelmed by the undertaking. It is normal to have highs and lows‌. The process of vulnerability often requires a guide or roadmap, especially if you have never done this type of introspective work before.

So, in the same way that you would seek help for a physical ailment, it's just as reasonable to seek professional help either alone or with your partner. It is highly recommended that a professional licensed therapist be the one to step in on the journey to vulnerability. Is it worth seeking a professional?

"A therapist could help teach active listening skills such as using I-statements and responding with clarification that they understood rather than rushing with an answer," Saleh explained to Glam. "Also, understanding that if a partner is not used to vulnerability in the relationship, deciding to open up will not automatically change the partner's behavior, so patience and consistency are key. Most importantly, processing how each conversation made the partner feel, and how things could get better from their point of view." Whether it is on a therapist's couch or your own, remember that vulnerability is a process.

Communication is key

The next step is to take your vulnerability on the road — outside your comfort zone, at least. If you are done with a personal inventory and feel that you may be ready to become vulnerable with your partner, then you want to take it slow and ensure you are both on the same page. You need to assess if the relationship is ready for vulnerability.

Struggling with trust doesn't mean that you and your partner are a bad fit. Many of us have had bad past relationships, so being vulnerable might trudge up some past memories. If there is trust between partners, there should then be open lines of communication. Each relationship is different and is comprised of a million moving parts. Jobs, family dynamics, age differences, health, and economic challenges all become part and parcel of the experience. Not all relationships are the same, so starting with a clean slate is the fairest approach because not all couples will communicate the same way.

Hopefully, there should be a common wavelength and shared understanding that communication can be the key to unlocking other intimate parts of the relationship. Communication styles differ, and what is normal in one person's opinion might be completely foreign to another. If one partner is vocal with their emotions and another suppresses theirs, this might open up new conversations about how to develop as a couple. The good news is that you can still have a successful relationship with opposing communication styles

Lean into conscious vulnerability

 "Conscious vulnerability is a vulnerability you choose to lean into. When you get serious about taking a personal, professional, or social risk, you open yourself up to being hurt ..." is how Dr. Joan Rosenberg explains the concept of conscious vulnerability in a Psychology Today article. The fear might bubble up again, but choosing conscious vulnerability as a path to overcome past traumas or rejections can go a long way. "The reasons for fear of vulnerability are complex but center around the person not feeling safe enough to open up," Saleh tells Glam. This fear could be due to a past negative experience or general fear of rejection or invalidation altogether.

She goes on to say, "Vulnerability often takes time and practice as many people only get to know each other to a certain degree, then stop once things start to get difficult." She compares relationships to books, saying, "... the cover and first few pages would give you an idea about the story, but if you don't invest time and effort into reading the rest of it, there would be so much that you do not understand." Taking steps forward might be hard and, at times, might seem impossible because you might not know as much about your partner as you thought. Knowing yourself and your partner intimately by choosing conscious vulnerability daily will make vulnerability a more natural practice. 

Vulnerability in conflict and disagreement

Vulnerability is a process, and it may take time and effort to build a strong and intimate relationship with your partner. Assessing these factors can help you determine whether your relationship is a safe and supportive space to be vulnerable. However, there might be times when conflict or disagreement arises. No matter how long you have been together, your relationship status, or your foundation, there is a chance that there might be some friction when navigating new waters.

Glam asked Saleh about her experience working with couples from a myriad of backgrounds and how they can navigate vulnerability when the waters get rocky. "Even if vulnerability leads to conflict, couples should try their best not to close off from their partner," Selah says. "They should try to catch them at a good time or ask them to schedule a time to talk about their feelings. Once they are able to sit together, they should both lay out all the issues at hand and choose to discuss one issue at a time." Being patient, open-minded, and attentive during the process will make those disputes few and far between. 

Practice makes perfect

The entire process of opening up will take time, but practice makes perfect. The more you work on your personal vulnerability, the easier it will be to overcome your fears. How do you know if you are on the right track? Checking for examples of emotional vulnerability is a start.

Allow yourself to experience difficult feelings such as shame, guilt, rejection, sadness, or fear. And show courage! Have the courage to process said feelings with a professional or with your partner. Make sure you let your partner know when they have done something that bothered or triggered you. It is okay to set boundaries and speak your mind during the process. Your partner loves you, but they cannot read your mind, so don't expect them to be able to. Take responsibility and accountability for mistakes you have made. It is a learning process; you might say or do something hurtful along the way, but being accountable for your words and actions is important.

Last but not least, open up, be transparent, and don't be afraid of sharing things that are personal. The idea of vulnerability is to become closer to yourself and, thus, your partner. In the end, vulnerability will become a habit, and sharing your inner self with those closest to you will be worth the journey.