emotionally vulnerable couple

How to be emotionally vulnerable in relationships

Being vulnerable means revealing who you really are to your partner. How you’re feeling, what you’re thinking, and what you need from them. It’s something that effects both men and women.

If you and your partner can learn to be vulnerable with each other, you’ll have the potential of developing the deepest and most intimate bond.

There’s always the risk of being hurt when you allow yourself to be open. But if you’re not willing to take that risk, there’s no possibility of true connection. The risk seems much greater than it is.

Letting your guard down might feel like you’re showing an ugly, unacceptable side to yourself, whereas you’re more likely to be perceived as open and loveable.

Do you have trouble with being vulnerable?

If you’re not able to be vulnerable around other people, it’s because you’re likely to be protecting yourself from being hurt. This can stem from growing up in an environment where you were shamed, belittled or made to feel insecure.

You may be used to putting on a front from an early age to protect yourself from difficult situations and feelings. This carries all the way through to adulthood, where you’ll be acting in a way which hides your true feelings, without being aware of it.

You’ll probably even believe in this facade yourself, thinking it’s who you are, especially if you’ve buried your authentic self from an early age. It can lead to problems such as being overly independent, or its opposite – codependence.

The good news is that you can learn to get in touch with your feelings. You can discover your true needs and wants by going to therapy, or working through some good self help books.

Once you start getting the sense that the ‘real you’ has a place in the world, you can start experimenting with revealing aspects of yourself to someone you can trust. It can be a frightening process, because there can be the expectation of rejection, shame or ridicule.

3 Benefits of becoming more vulnerable in a relationship

1. A deeper connection

When you and your partner become truly vulnerable in a relationship, you’re allowing yourselves to be loved for who you really are. Communication becomes open and deeply honest, which as well as bringing you closer, means you and your partner can grow and thrive as individuals.

With this sort of connection there’s more room for both tears and laughter, as there’s no holding yourself back expressing yourself, moment to moment.

2. Knowing your partner intimately

When you open up to your partner, you’ll really get to know them on an intimate level. You’ll know intuitively what they like, how they’re feeling and what they need from you. Vulnerability can foster an attitude of playfulness and spontaneity, which carries through into many other aspects of the relationship.

3. Expressing yourself freely

When you and your partner become truly vulnerable in a relationship, you’re allowing yourselves to be loved for who you really are. Communication becomes open and deeply honest, which as well as bringing you closer, means you and your partner can grow and thrive as individuals.

With this sort of connection there’s more room for both tears and laughter, as there’s no holding yourself back expressing yourself, moment to moment. You’re free to be yourself without fear of judgement.

How does vulnerability effect me as an individual?

Embracing your vulnerability can be a way of life, extending beyond your closest relationships. Being vulnerable means allowing yourself to be open and truthful, to freely express your unique spirit in the world.

Allow yourself to make mistakes, to show your creativity, and to be yourself. If you can be vulnerable in all areas of your life, you’ll create an energy which attracts people to you. They’ll sense your freedom, which will give them permission to be vulnerable too.

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”

Brené Brown

4 Tips – How to be emotionally vulnerable in your relationships

1. Be vulnerable with yourself

To be vulnerable with your partner, you need to learn how to be vulnerable with yourself. That means allowing yourself to feel your own emotions and being present to yourself and your surroundings.

A good way to develop vulnerability with yourself is by getting in touch with your body and strengthening the mind/body connection. When you feel an emotion, take the time to see if you can locate it in the body.

When you find the area, perhaps in the chest, the back of the head, or anywhere else, stay with it. Let the sensation take its course as it changes in intensity, and eventually wanes.

2. Show your vulnerability

It’s not realistic to expect your partner to become vulnerable with you if you’re not allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them. Sometimes it take one brave person to make that first move.

When you reveal something about yourself which looks less than perfect, and potentially shame provoking, you’re changing the unwritten rules of the relationship.

Rather than being a failure, you’re more likely to come across as being more approachable, more human, and more lovable. It might be just what your partner needs for them to reveal more of themselves.

3. Talk about your shame or fear

Talk about a situation with your partner which triggers fear or shame for you. It might be something you’ve always kept to yourself because the thought of sharing it seems so daunting.

Get used to letting your partner now when you’re feeling depressed, or when you have a wave of anxiety. When you feel free enough with someone close to you, it can be liberating to share your inner world without fear of judgement.

Once you get used to talking on this level, it will open up a whole new dimension to your relationship, where a sense of care and understanding become the norm.

4. Truth time with your partner

Put time aside were you can talk with each other openly and honestly about your relationship without fear of upsetting anyone. This is where you can each express your needs, and feedback on anything that might not be working for you.

Use language like ‘I feel like I’m not being heard’, rather than you ‘you never listen to me’. It shows that you’re taking responsibility for your feelings rather than blaming someone else for them.

You can set a time for each of you to speak without interruption, before you both talk it through. You’ll learn valuable listening skills as well as the ability to speak openly and truthfully, even with the fear of being rejected.

What are the dangers of being emotionally vulnerable?

While it’s good to embrace a level of vulnerability from the outset of a relationship, you should reveal your true self gently. Take things slowly, and show more vulnerability as you get to know your partner more. Mutual trust needs time to develop and grow. If you reveal everything at the outset, it might appear as mental instability, or an inability to keep boundaries.

Sadly there are people who won’t be able to accept your vulnerability, as they can’t face being reminded of their own. These are people who’ve been hurt in the past, often from a very young age. They can mistake vulnerability for weakness, and have an impulse to attack while they can.

You can sometimes spot people with this form of emotional wounding by the way they talk about themselves and others. They might have a subtle negative or critical element, especially when it comes to accepting other people being themselves.

But in most cases, you’ll only know by testing the waters. Being vulnerable means you’re putting yourself at risk of getting hurt. So keep the risk small and contained at the beginning of a relationship until you know more about who you’re with.

Can a therapist help you become more vulnerable?

Working with a therapist can help you to learn the skills you need to be vulnerable in your relationship. We learn most of our behaviour from our parents or early caregivers, and tend to unconsciously repeat scripts without any awareness. Its not uncommon for two people to come to couples therapy with very poor communication skills.

Therapy can be a revelation – you’ll learn to listen to your partner, and to hear what they say without taking it personally. It might be the first time you’ve really listened to someone fully, or had your feelings heard and understood.

Can psychotherapy help with being more vulnerable?

It’s possible that you or your partner might have trouble accessing your vulnerability because of childhood trauma or more recent traumas.

If that’s you, it’s not your fault, and nothing to be ashamed of. It simnply feels overwhelmingly unsafe to reveal your vulnerable side. You might have feelings of scepticism, shame or even anger as your boundaries are being pushed.

This is where individual therapy can be really helpful. Traumas can be worked through at a gentle pace, so you can begin to develop a more healthy relationship with yourself.

As therapy progresses, feelings and emotions that were once locked away can begin to surface. You’ll be able to talk about the process with your partner, especially if they’re also going through individual therapy.

And once you’re more in touch with yourself, your emotions and your needs, you can try sharing them with your partner, to develop trust and create a close bond.

Photo of author

Daren Banarsë MBACP

I'm a licensed psychotherapist and counsellor, with a private practice in Central London. I treat anxiety, depression and relationship issues with trauma-informed therapy. I have a background in music and the arts.