Intimacy is emotionally delicious.
When we have it, we want more of it. When we don’t have it, we put it high on our lists of needs and go searching for it.
But intimacy is a funny thing.
When we get love in front of us, and we’re ready to dig in, get close, and enjoy…we often hesitate and back away from the relationship table. Why?
A lot of us just get scared. We are unnerved by what it takes to really be intimate, totally known, and deeply understood.
What is it that seems so scary? In a word: vulnerability.
Why Being Vulnerable Freaks You Out
Don’t judge yourself too harshly if being vulnerable makes you anxious. Generally, vulnerability has a pretty bad rep. Just Google the definition and this is what you get:
susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.
“we were in a vulnerable position”
synonyms: helpless, defenseless, powerless, impotent, weak, susceptible
“he was scared and vulnerable”
Nobody wants to be weak or powerless in their relationship, right? If you look at vulnerability that way, pursuing intimacy might seem pretty terrifying.
However, this definition is not the one to apply to your relationship. Instead, consider relationship researcher and author Brene Brown’s definition put forth in her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead:
“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”
So, it comes down to this: love is scary at times.
And it’s scary because being intimate requires you and your partner to create an atmosphere of absolute trust. Intimacy doesn’t happen if you’re not “all in.”
Why Being Vulnerable is an Act of Bravery
Intimacy is built as you choose to test that place of trust between you daily. Mutually sharing your most sensitive insecurities, deepest needs, and the parts of your humanness you might hide from other people comes with the territory.
Relationships aren’t static. Therefore, you must choose to continually generate a closer, deeper connection despite the fact that you have no control over your partner’s response to you. You must trust that they value you as much as you value them and share yourself openly or risk drifting apart anyway.
Thus, choosing vulnerability in any relationship is not submissive, powerless, or weak at all! Choosing to be vulnerable is definitely an act of bravery–one that prioritizes your mutual connection over your fear of rejection or being misunderstood.
Why Being Vulnerable is Worth the Risks
Vulnerability means stating what you need or desire.
Personal Risk: Perhaps you experienced unmet needs in the past and fear similar rejection now. You may keep your needs close to the vest for fear they will be dismissed or unaddressed. But aren’t they still unaddressed if you aren’t sharing them?
Relationship Reward: You want to be known and understood! It is the beauty of being loved and belonging to each other. Also, when you let down your guard, your partner feels safe to reciprocate. Neither of you is at a disadvantage, rather you likely become more appreciative of your bond and the freedom to be yourselves.
Vulnerability requires the ability to listen to, accept, and value your partner’s needs and perspectives
Personal Risk: You don’t know what your partner will share. You may struggle with his or her perspective on you and your relationship. Or be pleasantly surprised. The uncertainty can be unnerving. Thus, the desire to shut down and self-protect can be hard to resist.
Relationship Reward: Once vulnerability is a part of your relationship, you accept that engagement is paramount. Essentially, your ability to be vulnerable inspires you to bravely face each other, good or bad, and listen well. Not in walling yourselves off from each other to keep the peace. Intimacy is built by responding to your partner’s honesty with a willing spirit, tolerance, and respect.
Vulnerability agrees to relinquish control and love each other where you are
Personal Risk: You accept that engagement is vital, but that agreement is not always possible. It can bother you. Things get messy. Conversations go awry. Plans get upset. You and your partner get real.
Relationship Reward: You and your partner learn to put your relationship first. You realize your relationship isn’t all about you and how you like things to go. It’s okay to agree to disagree and live with a certain amount of disorder.
Vulnerability improves your ability to have a more mindful, present connection. Also, you can relax, and let go of anxious what ifs. Enjoy not controlling or limiting your emotional exposure. By building intimacy one interaction at a time, your willingness to get messy communicates commitment and fosters a more resilient bond.
Finally, beyond just sharing who you are, vulnerability fosters intimacy by teaching you to be open and emotionally available as you consider who your partner is and what your partner needs. Even if it freaks you out, even if things get challenging, continuing to be bravely vulnerable keeps your relationship in a place you can both trust is yours. All in all, you can be confident you’ll be heard, you’ll be valued and you’ll know you’re in this thing together.