3 Steps to Learning How to be Vulnerable in a Relationship

Learning how to be vulnerable in a relationship is essential for building intimacy and fostering deeper connections with our loved ones. This involves being open and honest about our feelings, fears, and vulnerabilities, even if it feels uncomfortable or scary. By sharing our true selves with others, we create opportunities for empathy and understanding to flourish, which can ultimately lead to greater intimacy and fulfillment in our relationships.

While it can be challenging to let down our guard and reveal our innermost thoughts and emotions, the rewards of vulnerability are immeasurable and can help us build more meaningful and satisfying relationships.

Ready to learn how to be vulnerable in a relationship? Use these three steps to get started.

Step 1: Understanding What Vulnerability Is

Learning to be vulnerable in a relationship is more complicated than just “opening up.” Before attempting vulnerability exercises, it’s important to understand what it means to be vulnerable.

Society has conditioned us to associate vulnerability with “weakness” or “neediness.” This cannot be further from the truth — vulnerability is a sign of internal strength, courage, and confidence. What’s more, sharing vulnerability is also the quickest path to receiving empathy, which is one of our deepest human needs.

To be vulnerable is to practice being honest with others about:

  • Your past challenges and the ways they continue to affect you in the present moment (e.g., childhood trauma).
  • Your current challenges — not pretending you have it all together but being honest about your fears and shortcomings.
  • Your feelings of love and appreciation, while admitting others have an emotional impact on you. Share about their impact directly and honestly without blame or shame.
  • Your needs. It’s essential to accept and ask for what you need, such as specific types of physical intimacy — even while knowing you might not get all your needs met.
  • Your boundaries — sexual or otherwise — which means telling your partner what you are comfortable with during sex and in your day-to-day life together.
  • Your capacity — the fact that some things will be too overwhelming, and you can’t do and be everything your partner might need.
Couple doing a vulnerability exercise

Real World Examples of Vulnerability

Vulnerability in the real world manifests in more complex ways. For example, being vulnerable about your past and current challenges, capacity, and needs may look something like this:

“There was a lot of violence in my house growing up (past challenge). If someone starts to raise their voice at me, I tend to dissociate (current challenge). This means that sometimes when you are upset and need me the most, I cannot really be there for you. I will be too overwhelmed (capacity). It would help me a lot if you would not raise your voice when upset (boundary). Instead, you could say, ‘I’m not going to punish you, I’m just really mad’ before you share intense feelings (need).”

Alternatively, sharing your feelings, past challenges, and boundaries vulnerably might look like this:

“I know it might seem silly to you, but it hurts me when you tease me about how much I sweat when we work out together (feelings). When I was younger, I got teased a lot about my appearance. It made me feel like I was worth nothing (past challenge). It would mean a lot to me if you would stop teasing me about my sweating (boundary).”

blocks to vulnerability may reside in childhood

Step 2: Addressing the Blocks That Limit Your Vulnerability

Before you can be vulnerable with others, you must overcome the blocks in your way.

For example, if you come from a culture or family where vulnerability was not valued, you might have been discouraged — whether gently or violently — from being vulnerable or showing any kind of emotion. Parents may say things like, “Go to your room and calm down. Then talk to me when you are finished crying,” or “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

If you had experiences like these in childhood, you’ve probably learned not to show vulnerability. You may even feel lingering fears that opening up to others could result in punishment.

Acknowledging that these blocks exist and taking the necessary steps to work through them are important parts of learning to be vulnerable in a relationship.

Step 3: Practicing Vulnerability Exercises

Our favorite exercise for practicing vulnerability involves sharing what we call “in the moment feelings.” When we’re scared of vulnerability, we tend to share feelings from the past but never the present. Yet, for real intimacy, empathy, and connection to occur, it’s best to share feelings in real time.

In the “I feel” vulnerability exercise taught in the Somatica Training, you practice sharing feelings back and forth. Here’s how it works:

Sit in front of your sharing partner and take a few deep breaths. Look in your partner’s eyes and notice what feelings they bring up inside you. Share your present feelings without explaining or commenting on the other’s feelings. Take turns going back and forth with one another.

The “I feel” game in action may look something like this:

Shelly: I’m feeling a little nervous. My stomach is fluttering, and I’m worried about whether or not I will play this game right.

Paul: When you say you are nervous, I feel relieved. Like I’m not the only one who is a bit anxious about this game.

Shelly: When you say you also feel relieved and anxious, I feel more connected to you, and my stomach starts to relax.

Notice both Paul and Shelly are not talking about the other person or trying to reassure them; instead, they are noticing and vulnerably sharing the real-time feelings and fears that arise from being in this intimate interaction.

For more examples of how to open up to people, watch this video in which Celeste teaches you how to be vulnerable in a relationship:

Somatica Can Help You Find Your Vulnerability

Learning how to be vulnerable in a relationship is essential for human connection and true intimacy. If you’re looking for support as you explore your vulnerability, check out this directory of Somatica-trained sex and relationship coaches.

Alternatively, consider expanding your belief system, skills, and knowledge around intimacy, vulnerability, and relationships by taking the Somatica Training for personal growth. Designed to transform your relationship with yourself and others, the program offers an unparalleled experience of healing, self-acceptance, and growth.

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