Aside from the typical Webster definition* of vulnerability, it can be difficult to fully comprehend what vulnerability is and how it affects relationships. In some ways, it is painted as an abstract concept that carries negative connotations and consequences. Confidence is often the pinnacle of success by most American standards. However, vulnerability can play a very important part in many relationships, particularly marriages.
What is it, really? Vulnerability is the complete opening of oneself to another person or situation, thus being exposed to potential damage or harm. In the context of marriage, vulnerability particularly exposes feelings that are close to each individual’s heart. These are often feelings of sadness, fear, or pain.
How does it affect marriage? It is rare in marriage that a spouse doesn’t expose emotional, mental, or physical pain in front of or to the other spouse. However, the act of telling a spouse about unseen feelings can be difficult. When feelings are verbally and physically shared among a married couple, there are two potential outcomes. The first occurs when these feelings are validated, and the listening spouse shows respect and love toward the vulnerable spouse; in this situation, the consequences are positive and the couple experiences a strengthening bond. The second occurs when these feelings are degraded, invalidated, or “brushed off.” Alternative to the more positive situation, there tends to be a loss of trust, security, and predictability. This erodes the relationship to shallow interactions and covered emotions, rather than provide the depth that accompanies a stable relationship.
How do we become more vulnerable? Terry Gaspard wrote in her article “Vulnerability: The Secret to Divorce-Proofing Your Relationship” about ways to allow yourself to be more vulnerable. She is a licensed social worker and contributor to the Huffington Post who suggests practicing “self-disclosing thoughts, feelings, and desires without self-blame.” This is the all-too-famous “I feel…” statements when discussing things that matter to you. If you find yourself getting irritable at something with your spouse, pinpoint the problem to how the behavior makes you feel and discuss that. With this, you and your spouse can explore the situation deeply and come to a solution together; which will strengthen your marriage. Gaspard’s other suggestion is to avoid allowing past hurt to direct your actions now. It can be difficult to want to open up yourself when you are still feeling hurt from past circumstances, so starting a little at a time doesn’t hurt. Acknowledge the little efforts your spouse makes to understand you, even if they don’t completely. This may take time, but the ultimate goal is to create a sustainable, predictable bond with your spouse that will carry with you for the rest of your marriage.
*vulnerable: adjective, vul·ner·a·ble \ˈvəl-n(ə-)rə-bəl, ˈvəl-nər-bəl\ : easily hurt or harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally : open to attack, harm, or damage