Vulnerability Q&A

Image by Alejandro Tuzzi from Pixabay 

You’ve heard the advice that you’re supposed to be vulnerable with your partner if you want to build trust and feel closer. But you might not know what that means or where to start. Here are my answers to some common questions people have about how to increase intimacy in romantic relationships by sharing the private parts about who you are.

1. What does it mean to be vulnerable in the context of a romantic relationship? 

Vulnerability leads to intimacy and connection in romantic relationships. It is a process of sharing the tender parts of yourself so that you can allow yourself to truly be seen and your partner to love you even deeper. There are three kinds of vulnerability: emotional, physical, and intellectual, and they are all interconnected. Emotional vulnerability can sometimes lead to physical intimacy, and intellectual vulnerability can lead to emotional intimacy. Here are the definitions:

Emotional vulnerability = sharing your emotions with your partner

Physical vulnerability = sharing your bodies in a way that feels comfortable and safe for both of you

Intellectual vulnerability = admitting what you don’t know

2. Why might some people have trouble with this?

There is a reason they call it “falling in love.” When you take a risk in being vulnerable you are trusting your partner to take care of that tender part of yourself. If they don’t respond by honoring your raw parts, it can lead to feeling hurt or distant. For this reason, it might be tempting to stay guarded and keep up a wall of protection. 

3. Why do couples therapists encourage people to take risks with each other?

Emotional vulnerability allows partners to celebrate their successes together and support each other in their disappointments or losses. Couples who share their feelings experience a deeper kind of closeness and trust than those who don’t.

Physical vulnerability leads to tender affection and great sex. When you communicate honestly about what you like and what you feel comfortable with, the two of you can connect and enjoy your bodies together. This could be snuggling on the sofa, or trying out new fantasies that you were brave enough to talk about. 

Intellectual vulnerability shows your partner that you look up to them and have much to learn. It creates a culture of curiosity and new learning. When you say “I don’t know” to your partner, you are showing humility and trusting that you won’t be judged. Couples who regularly ask one another for opinions and input will be better at compromise and decision-making. 

4. Beyond the relationship, can it also benefit me as an individual? How so? 

To be vulnerable with your partner, you will need to start out being kind to yourself. As you accept that you are imperfect and in a world with a bunch of other imperfect humans, it will be easier to show these imperfections to people you trust. 

5. Can vulnerability ever downsides or drawbacks … in other words, can you be too vulnerable? 

Vulnerability requires taking off your armor, which makes it easier for someone to hurt you. It is unwise to be too open too soon. Start by testing the water to see what kind of response you get. If you are not met with warm acceptance, you now know not to share anything deeper or more personal. 

6. Is it ever a bad thing to be vulnerable in relationships?

Healthy relationships include mutual vulnerability. If one person is taking risks and the other remains guarded, the partnership may feel unbalanced. This can lead to resentment. 

7. How do we actually do this in the real world?

  • Share an emotion with your partner. Many people think they are talking about their feelings when they start a sentence with the words, “I feel.” However, if their next word isn’t an emotion, they might be talking about thoughts or ideas. Example of sharing your emotion; “I feel unappreciated.” Vs. an example of not sharing your emotion; “I feel that you have been spending more time at work than at home.”
  • Initiate non-sexual affection. Take a bit of a risk by increasing your routine displays of affection. Maybe kiss good-bye a bit longer, play with your partner’s hair, or aski for a hug. 
  • Ask your partner’s opinion about something they know more about than you. Example: “I’m stuck with this, can you help me out?”

8. Can working with a couples therapist help with this? How can a therapist help us become more vulnerable in our relationship? 

A couples therapist can support the two of you in any trouble spots you might have. They are trained to guide you in slowly building trust and connection by sharing ideas and strategies for adding physical, emotional, and intellectual vulnerability into your everyday life. 

9. When should I seek out an individual counselor rather than a couples counselor?

Individual therapy is a great way to help you privately explore the things that might be getting in the way of experiencing intimacy. Your therapist can help you with fears, insecurities, or past pain. They can also help you assess whether it is wise to be vulnerable in certain areas so that you don’t put yourself at risk of being hurt. 

10. How can I learn more about how to be vulnerable in my relationship?

Check out self-help book, Love Is an Action Verb. It has an entire chapter devoted to physical, emotional, and intellectual vulnerability.


Laura Silverstein, LCSW

Laura Silverstein is a Certified Gottman Couples Therapist, and author of Love Is An Action Verb.  She has thirty years of clinical experience and is the founder and co-owner of Main Line Counseling Partners, based in Bryn Mawr, PA. Laura is a frequent contributor to The Gottman Relationship Blog and has appeared as a relationship expert in media outlets such as the New York Times, ABC, and Today. She helps couples find more happiness as a research clinician, speaker, trainer, and writer with a positive, action-oriented style.

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