By Christina Winholt Raccuia
We all strive for autonomy and self-sufficiency, however it can also rob us of true intimacy. “I can take care of myself” or “I don’t need anyone.” Do these phrases sound familiar?
For a relationship to be balanced, partners must be able to depend on one another and feel that they are needed and appreciated for the support they give. Most of us have been let down in the past and the prospect of needing someone can be very frightening. Opening up to our partner makes us feel vulnerable and exposed, but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting intimate relationship.
Vulnerability is often seen as a weakness, but it’s actually a huge strength. To allow ourselves to sink into the joyful moments in life—daring to show up and allow ourselves to be seen takes guts. If we shut ourselves off from vulnerability, we distance ourselves from the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.
The act of falling in love is the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It’s inherently risky because our partner could leave without a moment’s notice, betray us or stop loving us. Additionally, putting ourselves out there also means that there’s a greater risk of getting criticized or feeling hurt.
So what is it that drives your fear of being vulnerable with your partner?
Are you fearful of exposing parts of your personality that your partner may find to be unacceptable?
Does keeping distance make you feel safe and in control of your emotions?
Do you fear that your partner will betray or abandon you?
Do you not feel deserving or worthy of being happy?
For many, fear of intimacy may translate into testing a relationship by picking a partner who is wrong for them. We all try to play it safe by distancing ourselves.
What are some of the things you can do if you are paralyzed by fear of being vulnerable with your partner?
First, you need to acknowledge it. Fear doesn’t go away on its own—it tends to morph into something else. Did you ever notice that trying to be perfect and walking on eggshells doesn’t work because it drains your energy.
Why does vulnerability lead to intimacy?
Vulnerability increases our sense of worthiness and authenticity. Vulnerability helps us feel close and connected to our partner, yet achieve our own sense of identity. Being vulnerable helps us ask for what we want and avoid stonewalling (shutting down). It allows us to build trust in others and to become fully engaged in an intimate relationship. Being vulnerable allows us to open our heart—to give and receive love fully.
Disengagement can be the most dangerous factor that erodes trust in a relationship. The only way to avoid this is to risk being vulnerable with your partner by asking for help, standing up for yourself, sharing unpopular opinions, and having faith in the relationship. The ultimate risk is allowing yourself to fall in love, which requires letting go of control—and the fear of being hurt or abandoned.
Let me tell you something, all relationships present risks, however, risks are worth taking. Even if you have been abandoned or cheated on, you can surrender your shield and allow your partner in. Healthy relationships are within reach if you let go of your fear and believe you are worthy of love and all the gifts it has to offer.
Try to visualize yourself in an honest and open relationship and work toward allowing yourself to be more vulnerable and open with your partner. Challenge your beliefs and self-defeating thoughts about accepting nurturing and support from your partner. Remind yourself daily that it’s healthy to accept help from others and a sign of strength rather than weakness. Don’t let your fear of rejection or past hurt stop you from achieving the love and intimacy you deserve. Practice being vulnerable in small steps and talk to a therapist or close friends about your progress.
Create a more trusting relationship with a partner by giving yourself permission to be vulnerable and take risks—one where you can be comfortable sharing your dreams and being your true self.
Intimacy can be an important source of comfort and provide predictability in an uncertain world. The truth is that all relationships end; through break-ups, death or divorce. So why waste time being preoccupied with fear of your relationship ending? It is possible to be vulnerable to others without losing parts of yourself. And by doing this, you will be able to restore your faith in love, trust, and intimacy.