how to be more vulnerable in a relationship

The thrill of finding out that someone you like also likes you, the exciting possibilities in a future with someone new, and the discoveries you would never have made going alone. Relationships are wonderful. Especially at the beginning, when everything is so fresh and unpredictable.

While being part of a twosome gives you a unique sense of security, it also comes with new fears. As the level of intimacy increases between you and your partner, it is inevitable to feel more and more exposed. It can be incredibly scary to let another person know so much about you and to give them the power to influence your mood and decisions. No matter how hard you try to let go of the past, getting close to someone always triggers your memories of pain, either consciously or unconsciously.

It is natural to be scared of being vulnerable in a relationship. But the fear you feel, despite the discomfort that comes with it, provides vast opportunities for growth and deep connection if you learn to open up and allow yourself to be ‘securely vulnerable.’

So if you were wondering how to be more vulnerable in a relationship, here are seven steps you can take to practice your vulnerability and let it empower you in a relationship.

1. Recognize the strength in vulnerability

Vulnerability does not equal weakness. It is a common misconception that being vulnerable opens you up for mistreatment and abandonment. The truth is, the other person can only harm you if you allow them to. And being vulnerable does not mean that you give them such permission.

Think of kittens. They are excellent examples of vulnerable but assertive beings. Sure, they are small and soft. They can be easily handled roughly by humans. However, they are quick to push you away, fight back, or run away if they do not like what you are doing to them. No matter how much they rely on you for food and water, they are not weak when setting boundaries.

On the other hand, it is precisely their vulnerability that makes kittens one of the most desired pets in the world. Humans are willing to make huge sacrifices just to have them around.

Vulnerability is an incredibly seductive quality. It draws your partner near as they feel safe around you. Meanwhile, you live with an open heart, knowing that your partner may accidentally or deliberately hurt you from time to time. However, if and when that happens, you can choose to push back or walk away.

Vulnerability is an incredibly seductive quality. It draws your partner near as they feel safe around you. Click To Tweet

2. Be clear about your value as a partner

One of the reasons behind the struggle to be emotionally vulnerable in a relationship is low self-esteem. It goes hand-in-hand with the fear of not being good enough for your partner. If you are not clear on the intrinsic value you bring to a relationship, then it can feel risky to allow yourself to be vulnerable because the feeling of inadequacy becomes all too real.

It is reassuring to be clear in your head what you bring to a relationship. Your intelligence? Your caring nature? Your sense of humor? Your ability to grow and to support your partner’s growth? If you are not sure, ask your partner to tell you the most precious and rare qualities that they find in you. And ask them to tell you how important those qualities are to them. Remember to focus on the intrinsic qualities that are natural to you, not your actions or appearance. As it becomes clear how uniquely valuable you are to your partner, you will feel more secure to open up and let them in.

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3. Gauge your partner’s willingness to be vulnerable

Vulnerability is a great way to build a connection with your partner. However, you can’t do it alone. Connection requires two people to open up and embrace each other. So, to feel more comfortable being vulnerable in a relationship, it helps a great deal to know that your partner is vulnerable in front of you.

Trust your gut feeling when you ask yourself these questions. Does your partner change the subject every time you ask about their past? Do they tell or show you often how important you are to them? Do they pay you enough compliments so that you know what they love about you? These actions tell you how prepared your partner is to be vulnerable to you. Showing vulnerability is not just about telling the other person your personal stories, but also about letting them know how much of a difference they make to your life.

If you are comfortable with the level of vulnerability your partner shows you, but still struggle to open up, that’s okay. It just tells you that your fear is perhaps deeper than your partner’s, and you need more time and work to feel secure enough around them.

On the other hand, if you don’t feel that your partner is open enough with you, then you have choices. You can go ahead and open up to them first. Over time, as they appreciate the trust you have put in them, they may feel secure enough in front of you to be equally vulnerable. Or, you can take it slow. Tell your partner that you need their collaboration to feel safe so that you can connect with them. Then allow both of you some time to find the courage and opportunity to open up.

Be prepared for the possibility that your partner’s struggle is bigger than yours, and it may not be something that you can change. In that case, it may be worth reconsidering whether you will be able to have the relationship you want.

Connection requires two people to open up and embrace each other. Click To Tweet

4. Allow your partner to be vulnerable

Remember, your partner is vulnerable too. They will have things that they don’t like about themselves and feel scared of telling you. They may be afraid of expressing their emotions because you might think they are ‘weak.’

You may not realize this, but if you are scared of being vulnerable, you are likely to feel very uncomfortable when your partner is vulnerable with you. We often project onto others the psychological traits that we struggle with ourselves. When you identify those traits in your partner, such as emotional vulnerability, you may feel like running away or seeing your partner as weak because that is how you see yourself when you feel vulnerable.

Becoming aware of the discomfort, however, is a big first step towards being comfortable with vulnerability. Seeing it in your partner is like looking into a mirror that shows you how you perceive vulnerability. By staying with your partner when they are vulnerable and providing them with the support and comfort that you want to receive yourself, you are permitting yourself to be vulnerable too. It can be a very empowering act.

5. Dedicate time to healing from past pain

Past traumas often contribute to the fear of being vulnerable in a relationship. It is natural to be cautious when in love again. Allowing yourself to heal is an essential step towards having a relationship where you can be vulnerable again. Although time helps, it also takes conscious effort to let go of the pain.

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Emotional pain can be as empowering as it is paralyzing. But you are in control as to which role you want to play in your life. Emotional pain is not always easy to heal because it is often linked to a sense of shame. This link may not be immediately apparent. After all, why would you feel ashamed if you were the one being wronged? The truth is, shame often arises from traumatic events because they make us doubt ourselves.

Did I do anything to deserve it? 

If I had been smarter, I wouldn’t have fallen for his tricks.

I must be a weak person.

These thoughts could be running across your mind, without you necessarily being conscious of them. It is precisely the sense of shame and self-doubt that makes you feel scared of being vulnerable. You are not just afraid of your partner hurting you, but you are more fearful of inviting the hurt and not being able to stop it.

Examining the significant events in your past is crucial. It helps you to understand what happened and why it happened so that you can move on with the confidence that you won’t easily fall back into the same situation again. You are likely to realize that despite how powerless you may have felt in a hurtful situation, you were making decisions and taking control of your life all the time. And you will do the same if your new relationship leads you somewhere you don’t want to be.

Talking to someone knowledgeable and kind, whom you can rely on for insight and impartiality, is an effective way to make sense of your past and feel your power. Despite our best efforts, we cannot ‘think’ our own way out of pain.

Shame often arises from traumatic events because they make us doubt ourselves. Click To Tweet

6. Acknowledge your fears

If you are a deep thinker, you want to understand where your fears come from and why they have a hold on you. It is often because of unconscious negative transference when you struggle to open up and be vulnerable to a perfectly loving partner. You may be guarding against your partner, but at the unconscious level, you are guarding against your mother, who dismissed you as a child, when you looked for comfort and affection.

We learn a lot about relationships and attachment in our formative years through interacting with our parents, whose lack of sensitivity sometimes could hurt and scare us. We then tend to carry those emotions into our adult relationships. Getting to the root of your fears can help you bring your unconscious reactions to a conscious level. In turn, you will be able to keep those fears within the original context where it arose, rather than transferring them onto your partner.

Journaling and talking to a professional are two very effective ways of reaching the unconscious level of your fear. Essentially, what these two channels provide is a safe space for you to be truthful about your feelings. You will be able to see through the misty layers of feelings and memories and understand where the fear started when you are free to feel and express emotions that you usually withhold to avoid others’ judgment and misinterpretation. It will help you see your partner for whom they are rather than a shadow of someone who is setting out to hurt you if you open up.

7. Embrace yourself unconditionally

Love is the ultimate antidote to fear. If you learn to love yourself no matter what, then there is nothing to be afraid of. When you are fearless, being vulnerable becomes easy. I know you might be thinking, ‘much easier said than done.’ You are right. That’s why self-love is a continuous journey. You can get better at it, but you will always find parts of yourself that you are yet to embrace. And that’s okay.

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Affirmations are a great way to build a positive self-image. Have you ever heard of Mirror Work? American motivational author Louise Hay designed this technique to help people practice self-love. It involves looking in the mirror lovingly and expressing positive feelings towards yourself. It can feel very uncomfortable at first, especially if your mind is usually full of negative self-talk. But try to stay with it for even just one minute a day, and you will feel a difference over time. It’s all about building a habit of feeling positive about yourself.

Self-love must be unconditional. That involves telling yourself repeatedly that there is nothing you can do to stop you from loving yourself. How does it feel saying yourself that? It’s okay if it feels unnatural or uncomfortable. Such resistance tells you that some false beliefs have been passed onto you. These include things like you have to meet certain expectations to deserve love, or that your value is only valid if recognized by others. Write those beliefs down, examine them either by yourself or with someone you can trust. You will find that they cannot withstand a bit more effort in evaluating the logic behind them.

The truth is, you are not defined by your experiences, nor by others’ opinions of you. You are a perfect being utterly free from external threats. When you finally realize that there is nothing you can do ‘wrong’ and learn to love yourself unconditionally, it will feel safe to be vulnerable.

Self-love is a continuous journey. You can get better at it, but you will always find parts of yourself that you are yet to embrace. Click To Tweet

Why being vulnerable in a relationship is rewarding

Relationships can be incredibly rewarding when you and your partner learn to be vulnerable in front of each other. It does not always come naturally, especially when you are both carrying emotional baggage from the past. However, each time you enter a ‘discomfort zone, ‘ you are presented with opportunities to grow and better know yourself. If this is where you are right now, I encourage you to stay with the discomfort and take up this valuable opportunity.

Being vulnerable in a relationship means letting your partner know the real you. It is a beautiful gift to your partner, who longs for connection and safety just as much as you do. By being more vulnerable and opening up, you are not only offering your soul to your partner but allowing them to be themselves too. A pretty enticing offer! As long as they are ready for a genuine connection, they will take up your offer. If they are not, wouldn’t it be better to find out sooner rather than later so that you can weigh your options?

Ultimately, the more you love and value yourself, the less scared you will be of being vulnerable. On your way to feeling more comfortable with vulnerability, be very kind to yourself. Let yourself heal. Take a break if you feel overwhelmed. Ask for your partner’s support, and be sure that you deserve it. If it gets too hard to do it on your own, reach out to someone you can safely talk to.

Finally, I want to congratulate you on seeking out ways to be more vulnerable. Your willingness and effort already prove that you are a rewarding partner to have. I wish you every bit of happiness on your path towards growth and connection.

Ellen is the founder of Ellen Tang Coaching, a practice dedicated to empowering deep thinkers around the world in relationships, work, and play through one-on-one life coaching. She believes that peace and actualization are the natural results of unconditional self-acceptance. Drawing from ten years of training in coaching and a lifetime of experience in personal development, Ellen’s mission is to form strong partnerships with those on the path towards self-discovery, growth, and fulfillment so that they can find their authentic power and voice. Ellen is an ICF-certified Life and Mindset Coach based in London, UK.

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