Inviting vulnerability into your romantic relationship can feel cripplingly terrifying, but the potential win on the other side of revealing your weaknesses, fears, insecurities, and most painful secrets is being that much closer and connected to your partner, giving you an even better understanding of what unconditional love looks like, which, in my opinion, is the best feeling ever!
I say this from personal experience of being in my ideal relationship now, after moving through a handful of heartaches and rejections over the span of a decade:
Being vulnerable is both necessary and well worth the panicky discomfort—EVEN IF YOU’RE REJECTED FOR IT by a few Mr. or Mrs. Wrongs along the way, before attracting someone you can create a bond with that goes beyond giddy feels, chemistry, and fun.
There are no guarantees that someone will stay if you reveal some kind of “ugly” truth, but at the end of the day, if there’s a part of you that you need to hide out of the fear he’ll leave, you have to ask yourself if this is the kind of partnership you want to be in for the rest of your life.
Editor’s note: Although this article uses male pronouns, the advice applies to all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Below are six steps on how to implement more vulnerability in your relationship, but keep in mind that if you’re newly dating someone, take your time with exposing so much of yourself. Think of sharing your deepest fears and secrets as a privilege to the person on the receiving end—not a burden you need him to take on, or a tactic to force the relationship to go at an unnecessarily rushed pace.
1. Own your feelings and fears before divulging them.
Whatever it is you want to say to the person you’re being vulnerable with, make sure you are clear and self-owned about it first. It will still feel scary to not know what his response will be, but the work starts with owning all of who you are and who you’ve been, regardless of who stays or goes. For example, maybe you were married once before and you’re afraid he’ll think that’s a problem. You can’t control what he’ll think, but you can decide how YOU feel about it, regardless of his reaction. It will of course sting if he says it’s a dealbreaker, but that doesn’t mean you need to take on shame about a past experience just because of his undesirable response.
This is a slogan I learned in Al Anon. When you say out loud that you’re scared to reveal a fear, or ask your partner for something you need that he may not say yes to before you share it, the discomfort will subside a bit. You’re bringing awareness to how you’re feeling by calling it out to both you and him, which diffuses the anxiety and hopefully invites him to be more sensitive to your position.
If you’re like me and find it difficult to carefully express your fears, secrets, and needs because emotions have gotten the best of you, write it down and read it to him. This prevents you from flubbing, getting defensive, and perhaps not making any sense as you pour your heart out about something that’s important to you, desperately wanting to feel heard and understood.
4. Let the flood gates open!
There is no shame in crying. If you’re a big crier, give yourself the grace, space, and compassion to allow those emotions to come up. (Refer back to #1.) Opening up on a deep level and fearing that your partner might not receive what you’re sharing in the way you’d like him to can very naturally bring up big emotions. You are human. Tears are a form of release and are very healthy! Also, if you’re really loving on you, you won’t let someone shame you for the waterworks. If anything, it’s a sign that shows how much you care.
Rip off the Band-aid and share or ask whatever you feel is most important that you want your partner to hear and perhaps deliver on. Maybe you’re ready to advance the relationship by moving in together. Or you want to explore a sexual fantasy. Maybe you’re dying to say “I love you” and you’re terrified he won’t say it back. You got this. You’ll never know without actually saying the words, that again can be written down and said through tears.
6. Enjoy a vulnerability hangover.
Even if he says exactly what you want to hear, it’s natural to feel a little wiped out after expressing your wants, fears, needs, and desires. Hydrate. Rest. Cry some more if you need to. And never forget that you’ve got you no matter what.
Claire Byrne is a heartbreak/finding-love coach, and the host of her podcast, Stop Wanting Him Back & Find Someone Better. Click here for more information on her group program.
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