Of course, this makes sense. Being vulnerable means that we take off our emotional armor, that we let down our defenses and that we can be more easily hurt. Sometimes, this is wise. There are hurtful people out there. There are some people we shouldn’t trust.
The problem is that we also tend to avoid vulnerability in our most important personal relationships. When our loved ones hurt us, we become defensive and try to protect ourselves. We don’t consciously decide to do this. It’s a knee-jerk response.
There are two ways that we avoid vulnerability. We become angry or we withdraw. When we’re angry, we are not vulnerable. We are protecting ourselves or defending our position. Our words, facial expressions and body language tells the other person to back off.
The second way to avoid vulnerability is to withdraw. We can withdraw physically by staying away from the other person altogether, spending time away from home or just going into a different room. We can also withdraw emotionally, where we remain physically present, but emotionally disconnect. We can just not talk, or say as little as possible. Either way, we avoid being vulnerable.
Unfortunately, our attempts to avoid vulnerability wounds the relationship. When we are angry, the other person feels attacked, judged or disapproved of. When we withdraw, the other person feels that we don’t care. They respond to their hurt by withdrawing or acting angry, thus forming a negative vicious cycle. Over time, the relationship can be destroyed.
So, what happens when we deliberately make ourselves vulnerable to the loved one? When we express hurt, rather than anger or withdrawal, we get a totally different response. Think about it. When your loved one shares that you hurt them, without anger or withdrawal, your automatic response is to reach out to them and make them feel better. You want to make it right. This would most likely be their response to your hurt as well.
We tend to associate vulnerability with weakness. Actually, it’s the exact opposite. It takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes strength to take off your armor, and allow the other person to see your heart. It goes against our instincts. But, it’s the only way we can truly heal relationship wounds and establish emotional intimacy.
So, when your spouse or loved one hurts you, you have a choice. You can react with anger or withdrawal or you can make a deliberate effort to express your hurt. I think you will find that your partner’s reactions are quite different when you do so.