How To Practice Vulnerability In Relationships

By Sparklle Rainne (They/Them)|Updated July 29, 2022

Vulnerability describes the willingness to show one’s feelings and allow their authentic self, including their weaknesses, to be seen by others. When someone says, “I feel vulnerable,” it is often because they have shared something honest, personal, or sensitive. This is crucial for emotional intimacy and bonding with other people - especially in romantic relationships. Difficulty with vulnerability is common, even among those who express wanting to build a strong, close partnership. This challenge is a valid one.

Often, the fear of vulnerability stems from being hurt in the past, or it might be a self-protection mode built into human nature to protect us. In surface-level relationships, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You don’t need to trust the cashier at the grocery store with information that makes you feel vulnerable, nor your boss, coworkers, or even family members, depending on your relationship with them. You also probably don’t need to post your deepest thoughts and emotions on social media (hey, we’ve all been there!).  However, in a romantic connection, vulnerability is vital for relationship success. Being vulnerable can often involve a sense of uncertainty, risk, and emotional honesty that many of us might be new to. However, even though it may feel uncomfortable, the ability to be vulnerable is actually quite healthy and important! You can be vulnerable by celebrating little holidays, like "Share A Hug Day" with your significant other. 

Why, though, is vulnerability so imperative, and how can you begin to practice vulnerability in relationships? It is possible to break the walls down.

Why Vulnerability Is Crucial For Relationship Success

You may have some understanding of how vulnerability can help a relationship, but why is it so crucial, and what are the potential advantages of practicing vulnerability in relationships? Understanding the positive results that vulnerability can have could be one of your first steps to being more vulnerable. With that in mind, here are some of the potential positive impacts that vulnerability can have on a romantic relationship:

  • The vulnerability allows you to achieve open communication. Vulnerability often looks like open, honest communication. When you are vulnerable, you’re less likely to withhold information or leave your partner wondering what you feel or think. This is critical for the health of a relationship.
  • Vulnerability makes you less likely to repress emotions and needs. Romantic partners are often part of a person’s support system. Emotional repression or suppression can have negative physical, psychological, and social consequences. For example, it can lead to irritability, trouble sleeping, increased physical stress markers, strained relationships, and feelings of depression. In a relationship, you want to know what’s going on for one another internally, and you want to know how to support each other—the ability to be vulnerable permits this to happen. The ability to express yourself and feel vulnerable can help with noticing and being more in tune with your own energy and that of those around you over time and helps with the process of putting your needs in greater priority.
  • The vulnerability lets you share positive feelings and thoughts. Vulnerability isn’t always about the tough stuff; it can also include positive thoughts, feelings, and desires. For example, maybe you seek additional depth in your relationship or want to be more romantic with each other. You might wish to try new things sexually with your partner, go on more dates, or write love letters and share affection in other ways. If you fear vulnerability, you might shy away from revealing your desire for these things or telling your partner how you feel. Communicating your affection toward your partner will likely impact you positively. Additionally, when you express desires you might have within a relationship, it can give you clarity, strengthen the relationship, or you might find that you both want certain things. You’ll never know unless you talk about it.
  • The vulnerability allows you and your partner to understand each other more. If you aren’t vulnerable in your relationship, there are some things that you may never know about each other. Maybe, you have a question that you want to ask your partner, but you feel too vulnerable to do so, or perhaps, you want to share something about yourself. These are examples of how working toward vulnerability can help your relationship succeed.
  • Vulnerability can provide a sense of security. Sometimes, difficulty with vulnerability can correlate with insecure attachment. Attachment theory in psychology relates to the way you form attachments to other people, and it is often referenced in the context of romantic partnerships. Secure attachment within this theory tends to be the goal, and that might look like consistency (IE, consistent affection and knowing where you stand), trust, autonomy, and deeper feelings of intimacy. When you’re able to be vulnerable, your relationship may start to feel more secure because you will be more open with each other. If you acknowledge that you, for example, have an avoidant attachment style, vulnerability might be something you identify as an area you wish to work on.

Brené Brown, social work expert, research professor, and author of the book Daring Greatly states that, “When we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.” Her book and her podcast focus on how vulnerability is in invaluable tool to living a happy, meaningful, healthy, genuine life with happy, meaningful, healthy, and genuine relationships. Brené Brown provides insight into research on vulnerability and urges us to get out of our comfort zone and get comfortable with being uncomfortable, be present in our body, environment, and daily life, and to not be afraid of being vulnerable and authentic in a world that often tries to shame the idea of emotional vulnerability and openness. She drives home that emotional exposure with loved ones is absolutely critical to the success of our relationships, be they with our children, our friends, our family, or ourselves. Brené Brown also has hosted multiple TED Talks, has written several books on the topic aside from Daring Greatly, and hosts a podcast called “Unlocking Us.”

Perhaps you want to achieve greater vulnerability but don’t know where to start. Below, we’ll cover some steps you can take that may be beneficial. Finding real and true worth and belonging in relationships often requires self-disclosure, self-expression, self-exploration, self-discovery, self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-acceptance. Everyone has struggles or has experienced rejection or insecurity, and no one gets through life without it. But getting the opportunity to share your story, give advice or appreciation for someone else's, allows for your heart to accept imperfections a bit more while giving permission to someone else to be nothing but themselves.

How To Be More Vulnerable In Your Relationships

How can someone begin to practice vulnerability in a relationship and increase their emotional exposure? If you want to know how to be more vulnerable in your relationships, here are some steps to consider that you could act on whenever you feel ready:

Think about why you want to be more vulnerable.

  • If you have recently acknowledged a need to be more vulnerable, there’s likely a reason for this. Maybe, you want a close, serious relationship, and a fear of vulnerability is holding you back. Perhaps you’re in a serious relationship already and want to strengthen it. Since becoming more vulnerable and open with the people in your life can be intimidating when it’s something new to a person, keeping this goal in mind can be beneficial because it reminds you why you don’t want to back away.

Discuss vulnerability with your partner.

  • If you’re in a relationship and want to be more vulnerable, you can start by opening a conversation about vulnerability with your partner. Think about what you want vulnerability in your relationship to look like and communicate very literally about how to communicate with your partner. How will you broach these topics in the future? How can you prevent yourself from backsliding? If you feel that your partner is someone who sometimes has an emotional wall up, it is crucial to note that you both have to be dedicated to communication to break that pattern; as the saying goes, it takes two, so if it’s just you, be mindful that you can’t do the entire job on your own.

Work on your sense of emotional safety.

  • Sometimes, a perceived lack of emotional safety holds people back from being vulnerable in their relationships, romantic or otherwise. This can stem from adverse experiences in childhood or even adulthood at times. Working on your sense of emotional safety might look like positive self-talk - for example, you might say to yourself, “I am safe” - and other activities you engage in promote a sense of emotional safety and security. It can also look like working to build trust with a romantic partner.

Utilize individual or couple’s counseling.

  • Having a therapist or counselor on your side can be incredibly helpful as you learn to be more vulnerable. Some people will pursue individual therapy to help with this, including those who are single and in search of a relationship and those who are already in one. If you’re in an existing relationship, you may find couples therapy or counseling advantageous. Therapy is a safe space to start being more vulnerable and work on anything else that could impact your relationship or your life. You can find a therapist to work with within your local area, or you may consider online therapy.

Understand that planning can be involved.

  • If you have something to say that makes you feel vulnerable, it is okay to think about how you want to relay it first. You can have a plan, and you can even discuss it with a counselor or therapist. Sometimes, communication doesn’t come easily or naturally, and even though it may become more so over time, this can help you communicate the things you want. Some people even role-play in therapy when they want to communicate something to someone in their life, but they feel apprehensive about it in any regard. It’s a way to practice conversations that may be tough, such as those that are vulnerable.

As a final thought, know that opening up more or becoming more vulnerable isn’t something that has to happen overnight. Use self-compassion, and remember that, like with many other things, this is a process. Remind yourself that you’re in control of what you share, and don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you feel stuck or may benefit from it for another reason. If you don’t quite feel like therapy is something you’re ready for, that’s ok! Brené Brown and other similar experts in the field of vulnerability and mental health have a plethora of books, podcasts, and other materials on the subject that may be of some help to you and help offer you some courage.

Getting tips or a fact from a professional newsletter or articles on vulnerability can help anyone in specific situations navigate everything, and will help with disconnection, or the inability to be vulnerable with others. There are many buzzwords circling posts about vulnerability on both Instagram and Pinterest in our culture, and it's important to remember mindfulness in everything you do in order to have a good response for others, and to be able to show interest and thanks for what others are going through. As a parent, your response is more important than the news flows or pride you might feel in having it all together. Showing your vulnerability helps your kids learn the strength in it.

Online Therapy

Online therapy is here for you whether you wish to pursue individual or couple’s therapy. Online therapy options like BetterHelp are backed by research and can make getting the support you need easier. You don’t have to take the time to commute to an in-person office, and you can attend your therapy sessions from the privacy of your own home or anywhere else with a reliable connection to the internet.

BetterHelp has improved continuously throughout the years, and over 20,000 independent and licensed mental health professionals offer therapy on the BetterHelp website. You can chat via phone, messaging, or video call during sessions, or instant message in your moments of need outside of sessions. Our therapists have a range of different specialties, and when you sign up, you’ll answer a short series of questions that’ll help our team match you with a professional who meets your needs. If you’re worried about a risk of not liking your therapist, we make it easy to stop seeing your current therapist and switch to a new one at any time. You can also search our website for a therapist you think would be a good fit instead of being matched with one. Additionally, if you want to cancel your plan, we make it easy to do so at any point in time. Even better, it’s affordable, and financial aid may be available for those who need it.

Ready to try it? Join BetterHelp, or read our FAQs and therapist reviews to learn more. You deserve to have strong relationships and achieve the best quality of life possible, and a qualified professional can help.

Helpful mental health resources delivered to your inbox
For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns
Speak with a Licensed Therapist
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.