Many partner up for the long term, marry, and have families together, and yet all along the relationship misses one important quality — intimacy. It is possible to be with the same person day in and day out, yet never enjoy true emotional intimacy. Instead of just going through the motions in your romantic partnership, take things to the next level by bringing more vulnerability to your union. The first step is to recognize that it is not possible to have true emotional intimacy without vulnerability.
Here are a few ways to determine if you can be vulnerable in love.
1. Can you admit your faults?
Being able to say when you make a mistake and the capacity to recognize your various personality quirks goes a long way in forming lasting and fulfilling partnerships. You show your partner that you do not view yourself as superior and that you are self-aware. And, too, you will experience the relief that comes from not having to hide or feel ashamed if one of your flaws should be exposed. In addition, owning your issues will model for a partner the idea that they too can be their real self — quirks and all.
2. Can you hear your partner’s needs, emotions, or difficulties without immediately going into problem-solving mode?
When someone we care for is deeply upset or perturbed, it can be hard to tolerate. You may find yourself wanting to snap them out of it, and get back to having fun and peaceful moments together. But there is nothing that promotes intimacy more than to have a loved one simply hear our upset. Fully listening to your partner with empathy is hard at first — because, of course, it is difficult to see them in pain — but if you can do this, they will feel better sooner. This is because upset triggers a wave of chemical reactions in the brain that make it impossible to think straight. Basically, we can’t start problem-solving when our brains are distressed. Soothe the distress, and your partner (not you) will be able to begin to effectively grapple with what needs to be done.
3. Can you let go?
It is important to take your hands off the steering wheel from time to time and let your partner be in control. Allow yourself to let your partner take the lead with outings, cooking, or with what your holiday plans are going to be. You may want to be in control, because you fear you will be unhappy, or bad things will happen if events don’t go a certain way. Yet people deny themselves the comforts of spontaneous intimacy if they are compulsive about always holding the steering wheel.
4. Can you be unembarrassed about being strong?
It may seem counterintuitive at first, but recognizing and accepting your strengths — emotional, physical, intellectual, professional — is essential to allowing yourself to be vulnerable. If you dumb yourself down to keep your partner from feeling insecure, then you are not being your full self. Or if you turn to them consistently to take care of you and do not take care of yourself, then you are not being vulnerable: you are, instead, being co-dependent. Allow yourself to feel all of your power. Give yourself an opportunity to at least try to do the things that you think you can’t do. Instead of turning to your partner to make you feel okay, talk about how you are working to connect with your strength. I describe in my workbook, Getting Close to Others-5 Steps, specific strategies for developing intimate relationships while still being true to yourself.
Jill Weber, Ph.D., is a psychologist in private practice in Washington, D.C., and author of Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps: How to Feel "Good Enough," Getting Close to Others 5 Steps: How to Develop Intimate Relationships and Still Be True to Yourself, Toxic Love 5 Steps: How to Identify Toxic Love Patterns and Find Fulfilling Attachments, and Breaking Up and Divorce 5 Steps: How to Heal and be Comfortable Alone. For more, follow me on twitter @DrJillWeber, follow me on Facebook, or check out drjillweber.com.