How to Use Vulnerability to Forge Strong Relationships
Good communication is at the core of most healthy relationships, but it's also the area many of us fall short on
Relationship coach and therapist Agnieszka Burban offers practical advice on how to embrace feelings of vulnerability for better relationships
We have therapists and counsellors who specialise in working with couples, or individuals struggling to find the right relationship – find yours here
I once had a woman come to me in tears saying she and her husband were on the brink of a divorce.
They had two small children, and she had to give up on her career to stay with the kids at home. She covered all the house chores, all the cooking, cleaning and shopping on top of all childcare duties. She claimed her husband was not supportive of her and she was exhausted from being constantly busy. She felt angry and bitter towards her husband.
If we had not looked closer into the situation, we might have jumped to conclusions and said “What a selfish man!”
But when I asked her: “Have you ever told your husband how you actually feel and asked him for help?”, she said "no".
Now, the truth about the deepest human connection is this: vulnerability forms the highest level of connection between people.
I will give you an example of the most common scenario I witness with my clients, who are mostly female, in romantic relationships.
Women are often terrified of expressing their vulnerable feelings to their male partners, such as anxiety, sadness, disappointment, fear. They worry that a man will reject them. They think men want us only when we are happy and cheerful.
Going back to the work I did with my client – our main piece of work was based on two elements:
- How to express vulnerable feelings
- How to make requests for help
We realised that her feelings of tiredness and anger at not being supported eventually led to her resentment towards her husband.
This only added fuel to their arguments. When she started to connect with her own feelings and express them in a vulnerable way without any blame, things started to shift in her marriage in a way that she herself was surprised to see.
So, what would a vulnerable way to express her feelings look like?
It would be something along these lines:
I know you care for me and the kids so much but there is something that has been bothering me that I feel I need to share with you.
It is not easy for me to talk about it and I feel anxious sharing this with you as our exchanges often lead to arguments, but I have been feeling very tired and angry for a long time now from all the chores with the children, and all the housework.
At the same time, I realise how hard you work to provide for us and that you need some rest when you come home from work as well. I was wondering if we could share some tasks in the house more so I could have little recharge breaks.
What's important about the statements above?
- She started from appreciating him (I know you care for me and the kids)
- She admitted straightaway how vulnerable she felt sharing her problem with him (I feel anxious sharing this with you). This is important as saying we feel vulnerable, we are more likely to get an empathetic, positive reaction instead of a defensive one.
- She expressed her feelings without any blame (I have been feeling very tired and angry)
- She acknowledged his need for rest and how hard he works (I realise how hard you work to provide for us and that you need some rest when you come home)
- She made a clear request for help (I was wondering if we could share some tasks in the house more so I could have little recharge breaks)
Now, notice how this request for help and a vulnerable way of expressing feelings is different from an angry remark such as: "You're late home again. I am sick and tired of all this mess in the house and I have to do it all by myself!”
Blame, accusations, an assumption that the partner does not have your best intention in mind and is not willing to help, and no expression of feelings – I guess you can see the difference?
When my client started to use connecting words in which she expressed her feelings and made requests for help without any blame, her husband was very keen to help her and took over many house chores.
Their relationship improved so much that six sessions from the initial I-need-a-divorce session, she said that her marriage “has never been better”.
How easy or difficult is it for you to express how you really feel to others (your friends, family or dates)? If you have not practised expressing feelings to anybody, I encourage you to take the plunge and try to practise a bit with someone you trust.
They will very likely hear you out and welcome your words with love and attention. And you are likely to feel connected to yourself and others so much more.