When we are vulnerable with each other, our emotional load lightens.

When we step back and take a deeper look at what we are seeking in intimate partnership, many of us find a desire for acceptance, support, and connection. Yet many couples get stuck in painful cycles with each other, experiencing far too little of the joys of relationship. Sad, isn’t it? We chose to be in relationships expecting and wanting love and tenderness, but in reality we often experience an equal share of disappointment, even pain.

What I see in my own life and my work with couples is that when we are vulnerable with each other, our emotional load lightens. We feel and act less defensively. We feel relieved and more connected.

Being vulnerable evokes many things for people. What does the word “vulnerable” evoke for you? Fill in the blank in this sentence:

“When I am vulnerable, __________________________.”

Personally, I find that when I’m vulnerable, I get more of the love I am seeking. Many people cringe at the idea of being vulnerable, thinking it will never get them what they want. Being vulnerable with your partner in couples therapy is a place to practice and be supported through the experience. It’s deeply meaningful and, at times, transformative to express or witness vulnerability in your relationship. It feels good. It creates safety, lessens anxiety, bridges distance, and settles partners down. We can be more truly ourselves.

Being vulnerable is hard for many people; so many of us as children never learned that being vulnerable is safe, or gets us anything except shame or punishment. Many of us were conditioned to hide our vulnerability from the very people whom we should’ve been able to express it with: our families of origin. As adults, we unconsciously reenact that hiding with our partners.

I find it helpful to remember that even though it may not have been safe in childhood, vulnerability is what often works in getting me and my partner more of what we are both seeking: a mutually satisfying relationship with ample positive shared experiences.

Here are a few things to try with your partner:

1. Ask for and offer the affection that you crave. At bedtime, in the morning, and upon seeing each other after work – playfully or lovingly offer a hug, ask for a cuddle, or give some calming physical affection.

2. Take responsibility for something you did or said that hurt your partner. You can do it—apologize! It means a lot to partners to hear those words, “I’m sorry.” Don’t explain yourself too much; keeping it simple and staying attuned to the feeling of truly being sorry will work wonders in building intimacy in your relationship.

3. Sing your partner a song, or sing a song together! As silly as this may sound, it can be freeing. And there’s a lot of research about singing boosting happiness. Why not try it?

Being in an intimate relationship gives us all a chance to self-reflect, grow, and create a relationship that may be different than what we grew up with—one in which it’s safe to be open and vulnerable with each other. Through our vulnerability, we can give and receive love and be accepted for all of who we are.

Catherine Singstad, MFT

Having been married for 20 years, Catherine knows firsthand what it’s like to struggle and thereby grow in a committed relationship. Healthy relationships require real effort from both partners. Catherine brings her warm, engaged, and directive approach to her couples work and has helped many couples grapple with issues including infidelity; parenting challenges; emotional detachment; chronic fighting, anger, or negativity; lack of trust; family of origin issues; and more.