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How to Be Vulnerable to Love

Being vulnerable is a popular topic of conversation these days. In fact, at this time, Brene Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” has had more than 30 million views. In spite of all the talk and of how much we may want to be vulnerable, especially in our romantic relationships, it’s not easy to drop our defenses and open ourselves up to another person.

My book, Daring to Love, looks at the different reasons we push love away. One is that love makes us feel vulnerable, which then scares us. We often react by withdrawing into ourselves, or by withholding our loving behavior, or by trying to control our partner’s loving behavior. All to defend against feeling vulnerable.

Obviously we can strive to control our defensive reaction. We can resist isolating ourselves, we can interrupt our withholding behavior, and we can stop trying to control our partner. But there are also behaviors that we can engage in that will help us be more vulnerable: being generous, asking for what you want, and expressing and accepting affection. The following is excerpted from Daring to Love.

BE GENEROUS

Being generous—that is, giving freely of yourself, your time, and your energy—kindles vulnerability. Generosity is an outward expression of sensitivity and compassion of your partner. The empathy and understanding that are fundamental to being truly generous also sustain the vulnerability of both the giver and the receiver. When an act of generosity grows out of this type of attunement to and appreciation of your partner’s uniqueness, it gratifies both of you.

Generosity is also effective in counteracting your withholding behavior. When you extend consideration and kindness in response to your partner’s needs, as an expression of compassion and empathy, you interrupt the withholding pattern that restricts emotional exchanges between you. Therefore, it is advisable to make an effort to be giving in situations where you would normally withhold. It is also important to be generous without any expectation of reciprocal treatment. If your actions are designed to create an obligation, garner favor, or maintain a superior position, then they are not truly generous and will ultimately be hurtful to you and your partner.

Acts of generosity can take many forms. Money and other material gifts are the most easily measurable forms, but they can have less emotional and psychological impact than other types of generosity. Generous people actively look for opportunities to respond to a need in friends and loved ones. Generosity is expressed by the willingness to drop anything to do a favor or lend a hand. It can be as simple as listening when someone needs to talk.

In a close relationship, acts of generosity involve an equal exchange between partners, with benevolence on one side and receptiveness on the other. By this definition, receiving is also a generous action—it is an act of love to graciously accept and appreciate affection, kind deeds, or assistance.

Being generous with your words, your time, and your affection is not just an antidote to withholding behavior. It can also help you overcome a negative self-image as well as a cynical, distrustful attitude toward others. Altruistic actions increase feelings of self-esteem and make us feel worthwhile.

Giving to others tends to leave us feeling liberated, energized, and less defended. We also feel more satisfied in our relationships. Aside from being a moral way to live, being generous and giving is essential to our emotional well-being.

ASK FOR WHAT YOU WANT

Asking for what you want helps you be vulnerable. It challenges your self-protective defense of being isolated because it forces you to turn to someone else to gratify your needs. It disrupts the self-indulgent habits that thrive in isolation and [the attitude that you can take care of yourself; that you don’t need anything from anyone else.]

Asking for what you want is difficult for many people because feelings of shame often accompany wanting or needing something from another person. Shame is a painful, primitive emotion that originates in early childhood from incidents when basic needs were not fulfilled. These incidents leave children feeling deeply ashamed of their desire for affection and for wanting to be touched, loved, seen, and understood. To avoid the humiliation of ever again feeling unloved or being seen as unlovable, children become desperate to cover up any signs of wanting, and as adults they continue to expect humiliation and shaming if they ask for what they want.

In your relationship, you cannot be vulnerable unless you are willing to overcome your resistance to asking directly for what you want. Making a direct request for what you want allows your partner to know you and know what to offer you. Being vulnerable involves being willing to risk rejection, disappointment, or frustration. And there’s a valuable lesson to be learned from asking directly for what you want: it’s that, as an adult, you can tolerate being disappointed or frustrated when a request is declined. Asking directly for what you want will make you stronger as you become increasingly aware that you are no longer that helpless child who once suffered shame and humiliation.

Another benefit of being aware of what you want is that when you know what you want and have a feeling for what you need, you know who you are. Without awareness of your basic wants and needs, you have no way of knowing what is important or meaningful to you, and therefore no way of guiding your life. Knowing what you want is fundamental to realizing yourself as an individual, and asking for what you want is crucial to maintaining your vulnerability in your relationship.

EXPRESS AND ACCEPT AFFECTION

When you offer and accept affection in your intimate relationship, you encourage your vulnerability and discourage your controlling defenses. As both you and your partner participate in the mutual give-and-take of loving exchanges, neither of you is likely to exert control over the other. When you are freely giving, and when you are receptive to affection that is tender, caring, playful, and seductive, you are open and undefended with your partner. Affection, both verbal and physical, is an outward expression of generosity and a reflection of asking for needs and desires to be fulfilled.

When you first initiate these constructive behaviors, you will probably feel anxious and uncomfortable. You may feel like a fool. You may want to protect yourself. You may feel like you are putting yourself in a position to be hurt or taken advantage of. But if you are steadfast in your resolve and maintain your plan of action, your anxiety and doubts will subside, and you will begin to reap the benefits of being vulnerable to love.

Reprinted with permission: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.
Copyright © 2018 [Tamsen Firestone]

Daring to Love 

Move Beyond Fear of Intimacy, Embrace Vulnerability, and Create Lasting Connection

 

3 comments

  1. I feel like my partner has no desire to connect on a deep level and does not show any outward need for intimacy on any level. We have sex but afterwards he goes to sleep or gets up immediately and gets dressed and detached from me by going outside. He doesn’t understand my need for closeness or affection and doesn’t even see that his behavior is not normal. He doesn’t show any interest or attraction to me except right at the moment he wants sex and there is no passion or strong emotional connection just genital contact normally. He doesn’t even want a massage from me or to touch me. I’m beginning to get tired of trying for six yrs and beginning to doubt that this relationship will meet my emotional or intimate needs long term. I love him but don’t feel like he’s attracted to me. I’m a good looking fit woman but even in lingerie I get no reaction from him. I discovered 3 yrs into our relationship he was addicted severely to pornography and preferred meeting his needs through porn and masturbation several times daily usually around six or more masturbation sessions he hid from me meanwhile leaving me feeling he was not attracted to me or I could not fulfill his needs. He says he has stopped but I still see suspicious behaviors like lack of bieng excited or interested in me. What is going on here? I do believe he loves me but this is destroying our relationship. I’ve tried talking about it but he has no response to anything I say about his behavior or my concerns with our relationship. He says I don’t even like him but he is causing me to like him much less than I initially did. I don’t think I can be happy like this forever. I’m actually miserable and feel broken. I even had a nervous breakdown. I feel like I’ve wasted ten yrs of my life trying to make him understand how great love and intimacy can be with no major breakthroughs. He thinks I’m crazy and put too much importance on intimacy, bonding, affection, touch, emotional connection and feeling passionate in a relationship. HELP!!

  2. Mamie, You cannot change him! He will only change if he desires it. He will only get help for his problems if he desires change. You have a lot to offer someone. Good luck

  3. Mamie,
    I am so sorry for the way you feel. You have every right to desire intimacy and closeness but that is NOT what is portrayed in porn and when people are used to seeing that and “getting off” to that, then that is what excites them and lights them up, not the cuddling, hugging and kissing that most people think defines physical closeness. They start to feel like the other stuff is extraneous and boring. I have met people like this who are so stunted emotionally that they can’t even get excited without looking at porn. It is really sad. I’m not a prude but 24/7 porn has had such a horrible effect on men, especially those who are addicted to masturbation. It’s not you, Mamie – you have a lot to offer to someone who will love you and value YOU. Best of luck to you.

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