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The Courage to be Vulnerable: A Key to Intimacy

June 24, 2020 | by Rabbi Eli Deutsch

How to push through our fear to act with authenticity and vulnerability.

The dictionary definition of ‘vulnerability’ is “capable of being wounded” or “open to attack”.

It is no surprise that vulnerability has come to be seen as a sign of weakness.

But the truth is just the opposite; it takes real strength and courage to be secure and open with your imperfections and incompleteness, with your desires and needs.

By putting the real you out there, you acknowledge your true self without hiding in denial or fear of rejection.

Who is stronger? Is it the person that can stand as they are, allowing those they trust to see the most tender parts of themselves? Or is it the individual who tries to cover up their insecurities, always worried about what other people think?

It takes courage to express those often hidden parts of yourself to someone who might reject you. So, vulnerability reflects strength of character. It is born from (and reinforces) a healthy sense of self, wholeness, maturity and independence.

It is the power of vulnerability that allows us to make ourselves available for relationship. Without authentically extending ourselves to another, we never offer them the opportunity to connect with us as we really are, and we undermine potential companionship due to our own fears and insecurities.

So be vulnerable. It is attractive. It is strong. And it’s the real you.

How can we push through our fear to act with authenticity and vulnerability?

Here are five ways fear can run amuck in a relationship, undermining communication and intimacy, and what you can do to lean into the fear with vulnerability and authenticity, coming out the other end with a happy, genuine and passionate relationship.

1. Express your desire in a way that inspires

Some people are uncomfortable revealing their desires to their partner because they'd feel rejected if their partner declines to fulfill them.

But succumbing to this fear of rejection kills the possibility of creating intimacy.

Instead, step into that vulnerable space and express your desire in a way that inspires. Tell your partner how good it would make you feel if <insert your whim here>. Don’t even ask your partner directly to do it or give it to you. Just state how good it would make you feel, and leave it open, without expectation. You might be surprised with what happens next.

Word to the wise: Keep it positive.

Don’t say: “You never take me out anymore.”

Do say: “I would love to go out on a date with you”

2. Receive with Grace

What is the #1 thing you want to do for your spouse? Most people would probably answer that they want to make their spouse happy. And this most likely applies to your spouse as well, even if that may seem hard to believe. Your partner wants to put a smile on your face. So let him!

When your partner gives to you, open up and receive with grace. If your partner extends their hand to give to you and you reject it, you are undermining the flow in your relationship. If your partner pays you a compliment or gift and you deflect it, you're putting a stoppage on his or her initiatives. Instead, drop your insecurity and false humility. Simply say thank you and receive it with a smile.

3. Be agreeable, not argumentative

When your spouse makes a suggestion, what's your gut response? Is your go-to to see the good in his or her idea and say "Yes"? Or do you find yourself automatically raising objections and finding reasons why their idea won't work?

If you're constantly rejecting or invalidating your spouse's opinion, perspective, and initiatives, you're missing out on the give-and-take flow of conversation and interaction that is at the bedrock of any healthy and enjoyable relationship. It won't be long before the feeling of disrespect and the thought of "why should I bother talking to you if you're just going to shut me down" takes hold. Then the communication and suggestions stop and you're left wondering why you’re both miserable and no longer talk.

Instead, be agreeable, not argumentative. Get curious and inviting about their viewpoint. Maybe they have a different hierarchy of needs, wants or values that drew them to their opinion or idea. Get vulnerable by validating your special someone; make it safe for them to share and find ways to support them and their ventures.

4. Drop defensiveness in the face of fragility

When approached with a suggestion that you perceive (correctly or incorrectly) as criticism, your go-to response might be to get defensive. You see an attack coming towards you, and you feel the need to counter it or push back.

That’s natural.

But can you see how being defensive acts as a separation and disconnect? Instead of snapping back with outright denial or a claim of projection, imagine what it would feel like to drop defensiveness in the face of fragility. See where the message might actually have some merit, without attributing intentions and making it mean more than your spouse articulated. State that you’re hurt. Share authentic feelings and express yourself with vulnerability.

This facilitates feelings of being heard, validated, and accepted. It creates mutual respect, and it's fertile ground for growing connection and intimacy.

5. Get intimate instead of getting angry

If something in your relationship caused you to feel hurt, there can be a tendency to respond with anger in order to cover up the tender part of you that’s in pain.

While this is understandable, it’s the path of distance and disconnect, not connection and intimacy. Try instead to step out of self-preservation and step into vulnerability. Get intimate instead of getting angry. Talk about how it made you feel, without nagging, complaining or blaming. Stay in the moment of your experience. This will naturally awaken your partner to be there for you.

As you move out of fear and into vulnerability, it’s likely that a reawakening will occur. The fog, grogginess and grumpiness that has been ever-present in a relationship can clear up and enable the zest and love to be fully expressed.

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