Being vulnerable was a tremendous challenge for Jennifer, 48, when she met Rick, 49, over a decade ago. Both divorced and raising two children each, they had plenty of baggage from their first marriages and were both fearful of rejection. As a result, they often avoided difficult topics and had resentment that led to mistrust between them.
Jennifer put it like this, “Money is a very touchy topic for me and so I concealed some credit card debt from Rick when we got married. I was afraid that it would be a turn-off for him. But it was worse when he found out about it by reading our credit report when we went to purchase a house.”
Rick responds, “Jennifer is very independent and that can be good but she keeps secrets about important things, like finances, and I’ve lost some trust in her.”
While self-sufficiency and autonomy can help us weather the storms of life, they can also rob us of true intimacy. Many women are self-reliant to the extreme after a divorce because they feel that all they can rely upon is themselves, especially if they’ve been betrayed or let down by their ex-spouse.
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. If we have been let down in the past, the prospect of needing someone can be frightening.
Opening up to a partner can make you feel vulnerable and exposed, but vulnerability in a relationship is the most important ingredient of having a trusting, intimate remarriage.
Five Ways to Allow Yourself to Share Vulnerability and Intimacy with Your Partner
While all relationships present risks, they are risks worth taking. Even if you have been abandoned or cheated on, you can surrender your shield and allow your partner in. Healthy partnerships are within reach if you let go of fear and believe you are worthy of love and all of the gifts it has to offer.
- Visualize yourself in an honest and open relationship and work towards 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. Try not to use “Fortune Telling” to predict the worst outcome.
- Remind yourself daily that it is healthy to accept help from others and a sign of strength rather than weakness. Do not let your fear of rejection or past hurt stop you from achieving the love and intimacy you deserve.
- Practice being vulnerable in small steps since it takes time to adopt new behaviors. Keeping a journal and/or talking to a therapist can help you make progress.
- Create a more trusting relationship with a partner by giving yourself permission to be vulnerable and take risks. Having a weekly stress-reducing conversation with your partner (away from your children) will help you have an open dialogue and not sweep difficult things under the rug. Do your best not to get defensive (or take things personally) if your partner asks you questions or gives you feedback.
Vulnerability and Trust Go Hand in Hand
In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Dr. Brené Brown, Ph.D. explains that disengagement is the most dangerous factor that erodes trust in a relationship. The only way to avoid this is to risk being vulnerable with your partner. This means asking for help, standing up for yourself, sharing unpopular opinions, and having faith in yourself and your partner.
Intimacy can be an important source of comfort and provide predictability in an uncertain world. The truth is that all relationships end: through breakup, death, or divorce. Why waste time being preoccupied with the fear of your relationship ending?
Over time, Jennifer and Rick strengthened their bond and improved their sense of intimacy and trust in their remarriage. Sharing their thoughts and feelings about touchy topics like money and disciplining their children in a blended family helped them to feel closer.
Jennifer says, “Sometimes, it is hard to see Rick as a separate person from my ex-husband, forget all of my baggage, and remember that he won’t leave if I make a mistake or challenge him. It feels really good not to walk on eggshells and to be my authentic self with him. For instance, if I say something hurtful to him or one of the kids, he’ll say “I’ve got your back and I’m sure you didn’t mean it to come out that way.”
The ultimate risk is allowing yourself to fall in love, which requires letting go of control and of the fear of being hurt or abandoned. When Jennifer and Rick were able to do this, it gave them space to be vulnerable and regain trust. It’s possible to be vulnerable to others without losing parts of yourself. By doing this, you’ll be able to restore your faith in love, trust, and intimacy.
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