SGR 017 | Talking About The Scary Stuff - Being Vulnerable
Think back about conversations you’ve had with your partner that made you feel closer…
What made you feel connected in those moments?
Those conversations were probably centred around topics that were not easy to talk about. You likely had meaningful exchanges, allowed yourselves to be vulnerable, and empathized with each other. You may not have even realized that it was happening at the time.
These kinds of conversations allow us to get to know and understand each other better - deepening our connection.
We all long to be better known and understood by our partners, but don’t always consider we own a part of that becoming our reality.
To truly be understood we have to be vulnerable enough to show our loved one all parts of us - even those scary ones we don’t always like to acknowledge.
Being able to be vulnerable and share those hidden parts of ourselves allows us to become closer and welcomed our partner into our emotional world. It gives us the opportunity to showcase our strength in being open and present, even though it can sometimes make us feel exposed and weak.
The key to making our relationship a place where vulnerability is embraced is to have it met it with empathy. Our nature is to want to problem solve, point out silver linings, and minimize hard feelings with “well, at least,” essentially placating our partner and shutting down that raw moment.
This week we are deconstructing one of the hardest and scariest parts of our relationships - being truly vulnerable! We’re discussing:
- What is vulnerability
- What can make it “scary” to be vulnerable
- Why it’s important to be vulnerable in your relationship
- How to become more open with your partner
We also made a very valuable bonus for you - Empathy: A Step-by-Step How-To Guide - that helps you, in a concrete way, be an emotionally supportive partner and create a deeper, more meaningful and empathic connection in your relationship.
Brené Brown on Vulnerability
SGR 001 - Communication that (Actually) Works
SGR 002 - Getting Back to the Honeymoon Phase - One Habit at a Time
SGR 004 - How to Get Divorced - What Not To Do in Your Relationship
SGR 011 - Micro Rejection: The Silent Relationship Killer
SGR 015 - How to Get Your Partner to Support Your Life’s Dreams
Short on time? Here’s a list of today’s topics and when to listen:
What is vulnerability? - 2:12
What makes it scary to be vulnerable? - 4:36
Why it’s important to be vulnerable in your relationship - 11:55
What your relationship should be - 16:29
Sharing your life dreams - 18:31
How to become more open with your partner - 21:04
Meredith and Marina’s Takeaways - 30:27
Marina: Hi everyone and welcome to episode seventeen of the Simply Great Relationships podcast. We’re so glad that you could join us today. We’re talking about a really, really important topic today. I’m Marina Voron, this is Meredith Silversmith and today, we are gonna talk about the scary stuff.
Marina: Something that I think a lot of people are really scared of because it’s halloween week.
Marina: Not an easy topic for a lot of people so we wanna tackle the scary stuff head on. We’ll be covering what is vulnerability, what makes it scary to be vulnerable, why it’s important to be vulnerable in your relationship and how to become more open with your partner. So, make sure you stay until the end because we have a really, really great bonus for you and we’ll tell you how to get it at the end.
Meredith: Mhmm! Awesome! So vulnerability. What is vulnerability? I think that’s like a really, everyone knows the word but what is it really? I always think of it as sort of exposing yourself and it can be in different ways. So, physically, mentally, emotionally exposing yourself in a way that you’re risking harm. But I think what we’re talking about today in a context of a relationship is risking harm in an effort to build a closer, more trusting, more open relationship.
Marina: Mhmm! Yeah. I think vulnerability is one of those words that people don’t always… have a hard time defining it, like don’t always know what it is. They’re just like “I don’t want to be that. I just know that it feels too risky. It feels too exposing. It feels too open. It’s not how I want to feel”. And there’s like a feel element to it because when we’re vulnerable, we’re putting our stuff out there, we don’t know how it’s gonna be received. And a lot of times, the fear is it’s gonna be received in a negative way. Our partner will view us differently. Our family will view us differently. We will view ourselves differently. So, there’s a lot of risk, a lot of fear that really makes sense when it comes to being vulnerable.
Meredith: Yeah. And I think, you know, we’re not gonna delve super deep into what is vulnerability because I think that’s a really kinda profound question but there’s a fantastic video that Brene Brown did. If you don’t know who Brene Brown is, she’s a mental health professional who has done a lot of talks, she’s written a few books, she’s a really great resource and she’s got a fantastic TED talk on vulnerability so we’ll include a link in the show notes but it’s about 20 minutes. So, take some time and watch that just to sort of to put I think everything we’re gonna talk about today in the greater context. Would be really helpful.
Marina: Yeah. She’s great. She’s kinda the queen of vulnerability. She’s really opened up that conversation on a larger scale so I love that TED talk. So, I guess the big question is “What makes it scary to be vulnerable?”.
Meredith: Yeah! Well, I think in the context of a relationship, we want to show our best side a lot of the times. So, we wanna be our best self or strongest self for our partner and to be vulnerable is to say “Well, maybe I’m not perfect.” or “Maybe I’m not the strongest.”. You know, a lot of people see vulnerability as weakness I think and that’s sort of societally how it’s viewed; you have to be strong, especially where we live. I think in New York especially being vulnerable is a no no and, you know, we’re sort of saying that vulnerability is a strength. The ability to do that and open up is a way of being more open, more closer relationship, more real, more genuine.
Marina: Mhmm. I love that you used the word genuine because I think vulnerability is really tied to being in touch with your genuine self and being able to put that genuine self forward and our genuine self, well, at least I can talk about my genuine self. My genuine self is not strong all the time, not perfect all the time, not perfect ever. But you know, my genuine self struggle with a lot of stuff and has a hard time with a lot of stuff and I know for me it was like a really long journey especially when I started dating George because I think when you’re dating in the beginning phase of a relationship, you really wanna be perfect you and I think, at least I looked vulnerability as a burden. Like “Well, if I tell you my stuff, you’re gonna think I’m crazy. You’re gonna think I’m needy. You’re gonna think I’m this. You’re gonna think I’m that”. I’d rather just be like “The perfect chick who’s just chill and happy and great and relaxed and independent and not too needy and just got her shit together all the time but that’s not the reality of any human being and I think it’s really hard to start exposing those parts of yourself that say “I am struggling with this right now” or “This was really hard for me. This was really emotional for me. This IS really emotional for me”. And that’s what makes it scary is when George and I started dating and I had to, you know, start letting him in and he had to start letting me in and it was scary because you’re so feeling each other out and when we started dating, pretty soon into it, his grandfather passed away and that was like a really vulnerable moment for him and I remember that kinda changed the course of our relationship because I think he was actually quite open.
Marina: And it almost kinda took me back.
Meredith: Yeah! Like such a sudden openness and sudden vulnerability.
Marina: Yeah and it almost took me back and I was like “Oh my God, he’s human” and it made me look at him as stronger and I think it made me fall in love with him more but I think it’s like we have such a skewed wiring when it comes to vulnerability in terms of like, but we shouldn’t be vulnerable and then we’re a lot more likeable. When really like when George was more vulnerable, I was like “Oh my God”, it humanizes you so much and it just like let me in so much that it drew me to him so much more.
Meredith: Yeah! That makes a lot of sense! Aww. We love George. He’s a good guy. So, that makes sense, you know, wanting to be your best self not kinda knowing how to navigate that especially when it’s new earlier on the relationship. I think what’s also challenging is often, vulnerability forces you into a place where you have to sort of connect to something you’re not necessarily thrilled to be connecting with. You know, for that example with George, his grandfather passed away. That wasn’t really a secret from the relationship, right? So, it wasn’t something that happened years ago. It wasn’t something that you didn’t know about. It was a little more present and at times, I think those are maybe more natural to open about. But some things that can come up, you know, being vulnerable talking about unresolved issues from the past with friends or family or previous relationships, trauma in the past. A lot of the couples we see, one or both partners have had some sort of trauma, feelings of guilt or shame, fears. There’s a lot of stuff that we sort of often hide from ourselves let alone other people.
Marina: Yeah! It’s kinda like self-protective talking about our self-esteem, self-worth, self-image, insecurities. We build so many really great, big, thick protective mechanisms to not have to access that stuff and all of a sudden to have to access it can be really, really scary!
Meredith: Mhmm! Absolutely! And then there’s a lot of fears associated, right? So, it’s worries about “If I share this, what’s going to happen?”, right? “So, if I share this, will I be judged? If I share this, will I look weak? Will I get emotionally overwhelmed? Or would my partner get emotionally overwhelmed by me sharing this?”. And I think that’s something that I have definitely struggled with and it’s funny as you’re sharing your story about George, Tom and I, we’ve been together for so long! We’ve been together like over 12 years. So, it would be hard and I have to think back to in the beginning when we were sort of building things in that way but definitely something that I know that I’m actively have been working on for years is I’m someone who when I get upset, I shift to anger really quickly. So, especially with Tom, I’d have to really, you know, I might be huffy and quiet and sort of closed off in an effort to keep back the sad or the upset and it didn’t even necessarily have to do with him but just not wanting to be vulnerable. Not wanting to kind of open the flood gates and just kind of put it on the table what was upsetting me, what was on my mind. Definitely I think something that I’ve struggled with and I see in a lot of people that I meet with where you really just wanna, you’re like holding it back, holding it back and as therapists, we like to crack it open.
Marina: Well, it’s like the iceberg, right? Like that little tip that you see above water, that’s the anger and that can be the really loud, visceral, like “get it out” anger or it can be that really quiet, reclusive “let me isolate myself” anger. But the giant part that’s submerged, that’s those vulnerable feelings. We don’t wanna dress for ourselves. Those feelings are scary for us.
Marina: And that’s usually the sadness, the loneliness, the hurt, the feelings of rejection, all that stuff that when you think about it, you wanna cry. That we’re protecting, you’re like “Well, I’d rather feel this much easier above water feeling than submerge into the real feeling” but I think the really, really valuable part of accessing… and that’s a vulnerability, right? That submerged part of the iceberg, that’s the vulnerability. The really amazing part about accessing that is it’s like “if you name it, you tame it”. Anger is really hard to tame. Anger is really easy to name, really hard to tame because anger again, it’s like that kind of artificial quick and dirty mechanism whereas if you’re able to name those feelings, if you’re able to kind of bring them outside of you, if you’re able to say “I’m not angry, I’m actually feeling really rejected. I’m not angry, I’m actually feeling really sad. I’m not angry, I’m actually feeling really hurt.” If you’re able to name that feeling, you have so much more control over it and your partner has so much more understanding and empathy towards you.
Meredith: Yeah! Definitely! And I think that’s a really important piece to why it even matters to be vulnerable in your relationship. It puts in context, right? So, like what you’re saying, if somebody’s walking around and you’re angry and you’re upset and your partner doesn’t know why, they could react with anger or react with defensiveness or react in an unsupportive way versus if you put on the table what you’re experiencing, again, building more empathy, giving them context, letting them know what’s going on in your inner worlds that they could connect with you rather than sort of go head to head and be in conflict.
Marina: Mhmm! And I think it’s super easy to meet anger with anger.
Marina: Really, really easy!
Meredith: Yeah! For sure!
Marna: Very quick “go to” but it’s kind of hard, and I rarely see it, I’m not saying it never happens but to meet someone’s sadness with anger, someone’s hurt with anger. Generally, it tones down that emotional escalation and you’re feeling a lot of feelings but you’re feeling them in this kind of quieter or sadder space than like angry or triggered space.
Marina: You know what I mean?
Meredith: Mhmm! Definitely!
Marina: And I think that concept of putting your partner in context is extremely valuable. I always think about it in terms of, you know, I work with a lot of couples with sexual issues and when sexual issues rise in a relationship, that could cause all kinds of conflict. All kinds of conflict, all kinds of feelings of anger, rejection and acceptance, “is it my fault”. And if you don’t really know the context, sure those feelings totally makes sense but a lot of people with sexual issues have a history of sexual trauma or childhood sexual abuse. And if that doesn’t come out, if that vulnerability is not accessed and your partner doesn’t know this really critical part of you and what might be contributing to these sexual issues in your relationship, they’re gonna treat it a very different way. If they do, and I’ve had these sessions when that’s been discussed and it’s like, it completely shifts the relationship.
Meredith: Yeah! Absolutely! It’s having an accurate… it’s helping yourself be accurately understood rather than being constantly misunderstood which is really important and really beneficial. And your relationship should be the safe place, the secure place, comfortable, supportive. That’s where you should feel all of those things most of the time if not all of the time. And this is a really powerful way to achieve that.
Marina: And going in with that, it’s like when your relationship is that, you’re building trust. You’re sharing your inner world, you’re sharing your feelings, you’re sharing parts of yourself. And every time, it’s like the emotional bank account like this is putting deposits in your emotional bank account because every time you share vulnerable part of yourself and it is met with acceptance, genuinely loving curiosity, empathy, validation, you say “This was the safe space for me to do this. This puts a trust marbe in the bank account.”
Meredith: Mhmm! Yeah! And that’s really, really powerful, building trust and creating a culture of trust, creating the belief that I can trust my partner with even the hardest things and that they can trust me as well. And also just getting to know each other better. It sounds kind of superficial but it’s not. Deeply knowing your partner and really knowing what makes them tick and really knowing what goes on in their head, it’s allows you to put their behavior and actions in context so much more accurately on a consistent basis. That alone reduces conflict and improves the quality of a relationship.
Marina: Mhmm! There’s that quote, it’s a little cheesy but “To know me is to love me”.
Marina: And I firmly believe that! I don’t think you can have a true, deep, connected love without a true, deep, connected sense of knowing each other.
Meredith: Sure! For sure! You know what’s a good way to do this?
Marina: What’s a good way to do this?
Meredith: Sharing your life dreams!
Marina: Yes! We definitely talked about this in episode fifteen. So, how does sharing life dreams tie into this for you?
Meredith: I think, if you think about being vulnerable, your life dreams are sort of your core beliefs, values, goals, like those secret things and what’s interesting is they’re not necessarily negative! In fact, they’re really quite the opposite. So, a lot of the vulnerable conversations we’ve been talking about today are the negative, more of a negative tone whereas this is sharing your positive things that are still vulnerable because it’s a risk to say “My dream is to do this” or “My dream is to own this” or “My dream is to live here or to travel the world”, you know. You’re risking rejection of your ideas and what’s important to you so, you know, I think having a balance of not knowing only your partner’s negative vulnerable thoughts and feelings but also the positive which is really important.
Marina: Yeah! And I think it can be tied to a really early pivotal experiences where a lot of our stuff comes from. I think a really reasonable thing is say like “I felt neglected as a child so a part of my dream is to have this family that’s really connected” and that a really beautiful, wonderful dream but knowing that that is how your partner maybe felt as a child. Really put sad dream into context and creates a lot of opportunity for support, validation, understanding and understanding like why that’s important and why they maybe triggered in certain situations.
Meredith: Yeah! Definitely. It goes into triggers and knowing what triggers your partner deep down helps you not react so harshly when something gets triggered in the moment which is huge. We’re not having as many escalated conflicts.
Meredith: So, that’s a big one.
Marina: And that’s what we wanna avoid, right? So, how do we become more open and vulnerable with our partners? How do we get past this scary?
Meredith: Mhmm! Great question! It’s a hard one! So, I think the same that you do it to share it with you partner, you also need to sort of replicate that to invite the partner to share with you. So, sort of like everyone has to be on an equal playing field and it’s about creating safety, right? Emotional safety. How do we do that? How do we create an atmosphere in our relationship where everyone feels safe, everyone is not worried about risking rejection or judgment or anything like that and it goes back, you know, the first piece is communication and how we talk to one another and how we share our feelings. So, go back to episode one. If you haven’t listened to it, listen to it. If you have, maybe re-listen to it and download the communication tip sheet because those are the really core principles for communicating in a way that establishes safety and trust with your partner.
Marina: Mhmm! And I think in terms of safety, there’s the beautiful, vulnerable conversation to have with your partner just off the bat. If this isn’t the kind of culture of your relationship is what are your safety needs? What are your emotional, safety needs? What are your physical safety needs? And it’s like when we think about safety needs, most of us would just scapegoat to “Well, I have shelter, I have food, all is good” but our sense of safety gets shaken up all the time, there’s ton of stuff going on that affects our sense of safety all the time and to be able to use those communication tips and have this really genuine conversation about safety needs is a great almost like practice in terms of having a vulnerable conversation where it’s not necessarily about an issue or about… it’s more about a concept that’s really tied to vulnerability.
Meredith: Mhmm! And I think, you know, just to give some examples of what you’re referring to when you say a safety need, someone may need… it may be really important to them to sit really close to their partner on the couch and almost have physical contact while they’re talking about it for reassurance or someone else maybe the opposite. They may need to sit separately and have some space. They may need to disconnect after the conversation for a period of time to do some physiological self-soothing versus someone else who may say “Can you just make sure you stay with me and we stay together for at least 20 minutes after the conversation just to kinda get back to normal life?”. You know, things like that where just different nuance things that we all need.
Marina: Mhmm! And all of those have stories behind them and sharing those stories and being lovingly curious around those stories is what creates that depth in the relationship. Another big one in terms of how to be more vulnerable is really keeping the four horsemen in major check.
Marina: I think this is where these vulnerable emotional conversations are where the four horsemen cannot absolutely ki-bosh it, send them to the glue factory.
Meredith: Don’t send them to the glue factory! No! Send them to a rescue farm for horses that are badly behaved and they can live out their lives on the rescue farm.
Marina: Okay. But you know, I can’t stress this enough that for you and for your partner, this is a very exposing conversation and even the slightest criticism, a tinge of defensiveness, not even talking about contempt because contempt is already gonna shut down that conversation down. It can be so impactful and the question is what message are you trying to send and what message is your partner internalizing when you’re having this really open, accessing parts of yourself you don’t normally access conversation and this kind of stuff comes up. That’s not a deposit in the trust account. That’s a withdrawal from it.
Meredith: Yeah. And you don’t wanna be making a withdrawal from that account especially when you’re trying something new. This is essentially trying something new, right? Committing to being more vulnerable. If you’re not familiar with the four horsemen, go back to episode four. It’s called “How to Get Divorced”. Give it a listen. It’s important. And also similar to that is to not offer advice, solutions or feedback. These vulnerabilities have probably been there for a lifetime if, you know, they’ve probably been there for a while.
Marina: Yeah. They probably pre-date the relationship.
Meredith: So, trying to fix or talk out of or advice is not going to feel supportive. It’s going to feel dismissive and like you’re not really understanding. So, your goal during that conversation is really to focus on empathy and showing your partner that you understand how they feel, not that you’ve been married necessarily, but you could understand why they feel the way they feel, it makes sense to you and you’re there to support them. That’s really important.
Marina: Yeah. Vulnerability and empathy, they go hand and hand. For there to be vulnerability, we have to prime our self and trust that there’s gonna be empathy on the other end. So, it’s really key to also understand like empathy is one of these words that gets thrown around. I feel like it’s become a hot buzzword and a lot of people don’t really know what it means or what it looks like. So, Brene Brown again, love her, has a great video on Youtube on empathy. We’re gonna link to the show notes. I really encourage you to watch that on but empathy is really focusing on understanding, validating and putting yourself in your partner’s shoes as opposed to “Let me problem-solve” or “No, don’t have this feeling”. It’s okay!
Meredith: Right. It’s not about fixing.
Meredith: Yeah. It’s not about fixing. It’s about accepting your partner’s experience and I love this video by Brene Brown. This is my favorite video and I show this video to parents for their kids, relationships with their kids, I show this to couples. It’s a lot shorter than the first one. It’s maybe 3 minutes. Go watch it and it really depicts the difference between empathy done wrong and empathy done right. And it’s definitely worth a watch. We love that video.
Marina: My big thing from that video that I think is such a common mistake that people make in empathy is empathy never starts with “Well, at least”.
Marina: I don’t know if it’s from this video or if it’s…
Meredith: It is, it is.
Marina: Yeah. That empathy never starts with “Well, at least”. And I think it’s, “well, at least” never comes from a bad place, right?
Marina: But it’s, imagine like your partner just poured their heart out and go “Well, at least that’s not situation anymore”. It’s so dismissive. And I think that comes from something we talked about. I don’t even remember in what episode but we’ll go back and we’ll link it to the show notes, getting comfortable with your partner’s feelings. I think “well, at least” is like the red flag of “wow, your feelings are… I wanna do something about it because it’s really hard for me to hold this feeling”.
Marina: But empathy is really becoming a container for your partner’s feelings, not a problem-solver for your partner’s feelings.
Meredith: Yeah. That’s a really good point and that episode, I don’t remember the number. We will put it below but it was called “Why ‘Happy’ is overrated”. But we’ll put that below. That’s worth a listen. So, that’s a really key piece.
Meredith: Oh, boy! That was a scary one, guys! That was a scary one!
Meredith: Look, we don’t want you to just listen. As always, we want you to listen and integrate our tips into your relationships. So, what we’ve done is created a step-by-step how-to guide for empathy because it’s that important. So, definitely download it. You can get it on our website at www.simplygreatrelationships.com/017.
Marina: Let’s talk about takeaways.
Meredith: Ugh, yeah.
Marina: A lot of takeaways from this one.
Meredith: You know, this was a not the most common topic, I think. Not the most common but very important.
Meredith: Umm. My takeaway would probably be just simply the value of this. The fact that you have to, that it’s worthwhile to invest time and energy in carving out time to have conversations around vulnerable topics with you partner because of how valuable that is in it of itself I think would be my takeaway.
Marina: Mhmm. Yeah. My takeaway, I think would be that empathy and vulnerability need to live together, but also I think that the bigger takeaway for me is that vulnerability is what allows your partner to truly know you and without that, it’s like there’s one of two situations that results. It’s like either you get the “Well, I don’t even know them anymore”, which is not where you want your relationship to go, or the “I don’t feel like they let me in”, which you don’t want. So, it’s like the value of letting your partner in is so, in the context of a relationship is so grand because it’s almost like the glue.
Meredith: Yeah! Yeah. Very important. Good takeaway. Good takeaway! So, that’s all for today. We hope you start to take these tips and integrate them into your relationship right away. Be sure to get the freebie! So, we’d love for you to continue the conversation with us in our Facebook group. If you’re not already in it, we’re gonna hook you up with tips, tricks, and live streams exclusively for our members and you can join us at www.facebook.com/groups/simplygreatrelationships or just go on our website www.simplygreatrelationships.com and click the link and we will be in there to chat with you and answer questions and just give you some more good stuff. Until next week!
Marina: Yeah! And we’d love to hear how your stories of vulnerability and sharing vulnerabilities go.
Meredith: Yeah, definitely!
Marina: Because talking about sharing vulnerability is vulnerable in itself so.
Meredith: That’s true! So, it could be a safe place to start.
Marina: ‘til next week guys!
Meredith: We’ll see you! Bye!