In relationships, trust and vulnerability go together like peas and carrots


Once upon a time, in another life that I like to call my 20’s, I was madly in love with the man who would later become my husband.

I’d only had one long-term relationship before we became an us, so to say that I was a little “green around the gills” is an understatement. Of course, the only way to get experience is to have experiences — right? Right.

Well, there were two things that I had yet to learn when I entered that relationship, (1) trust works both ways, and (2) vulnerability is not optional. The trouble is, he wasn’t aware of those things either. So without realizing what we were doing, our relationship became a minefield, where we harmed one another on a fairly regular basis.

He did things that caused me to mistrust him, and there were things that I did in the name of “getting to the bottom of things” to violate his trust in return. And because we’d both come from homes where integrity was more of a theory than a practice and being vulnerable was perceived as a weakness — the odds were pretty much stacked against us.

The relationship didn’t last. But the good news is, I learned a lot from getting it wrong — primarily that trust and vulnerability go together like peas and carrots — you can (in theory) have one without the other, but they’re much better together.

It’s nearly impossible to be vulnerable with someone you don't trust because it doesn’t feel safe. And it’s equally as hard to trust someone who won’t be vulnerable because, again, it doesn’t feel safe.

This is one of those chicken and egg situations. But this is what I know for sure if you can’t (or won’t) be vulnerable in your relationship, it’s as good as doomed.

Being vulnerable doesn’t always mean bearing your soul and crying buckets of tears. Most of the time, vulnerability (or lack thereof) shows up in the choices we make.

Snooping through your partner’s phone.

I could easily make an argument about the ethics of invading someone else’s privacy, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. For the sake of this argument, I want to examine the other side of the equation.

The compulsion to go through people’s things is not always about being nosey or controlling. Sure it may look that way on the surface, but underneath there is something else at play —fear of vulnerability.

Now, if you’ve been on the receiving end of being snooped, you might be calling bullshit right now, because let’s face it, violation in any capacity doesn’t just feel awful —it’s disgusting. But if you have ever been a snooper, you know very well that prying into someone’s private affairs is almost always about looking for the things you’re afraid to confront in the light of day.

Whether you are looking for a reason to stay or go; or seeking proof of wicked deeds or goodwill, your detective work is a quest to find the answers to the questions you’re either afraid to ask or an alternative to the answer you’ve already received. Either way, digging without permission is a sign of fear.

Unfortunately, sticking your nose in someone else’s business causes mistrust, even when your suspicions are accurate, and it can be challenging to recover once trust is broken.

Posting not-so-subtle hints.

It’s easy to hide on social media, or so it seems. You can say or post whatever you want, whenever you want — and that’s a good thing. The ability to speak freely and share opinions should be an inalienable right, and many of us have that freedom. But when it comes to relationship-ing, that freedom often comes at a high price.

Passive aggression is a very real thing in the world of social. But sharing memes and posts that hint at issues you avoid discussing is not a good idea.

When you are upset with your partner, don’t post. Social media is not an appropriate place to air your dirty laundry. While it might feel safer to address things on a public forum, it won’t serve you in the long run.

When you have grievances or complaints, go directly to the source. In other words, bring it up with the person who can do something about it —because doing so improves the odds of a positive outcome.

Improving your conflict resolution skills will increase the fulfillment in your relationship. And while discord never feels good, learning how to navigate challenges together will bring you closer together.

Laughing at the most inopportune time.

Laughter is a classic response to emotional discomfort. Some psychologists believe that laughter may be a mechanism to regulate emotion.

Inappropriate laughter is also one of the most common ways to avoid feeling vulnerable with someone you care about. And while laughter in the face of discomfort is a perfectly normal response designed to protect you against hurt, pain, and dis-ease, it can also prevent you from feeling love and joy.

Being vulnerable can sometimes feel like spinning out of control. But it can also make you feel seen, connected, and deeply loved. And those are things that most of us seek in relationships. This means that to get what you want, you’re going to have to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Texting instead of talking.

The advent of text messaging has changed the way we communicate forever. Need your partner to pick up something from the market on their way home —shoot them a text. Easy-peasy.

However, texting doesn’t work too well when you’re trying to convey the tender bits. Don’t get me wrong, telling your boo how much you love them via text is cool (sometimes). But you know what’s not cool? Venting, complaining, or addressing touchy subjects by text message.

Why? Because it’s easy to misinterpret things via text. All it takes is a misplaced (or non-existent) punctuation mark to take something out of context.

Besides, texting often affords a false sense of safety. It gives you the ability to be lazy and to hide simultaneously. So, believe me, when I say certain conversations should NEVER be had through text — including, but not limited to: break-ups, death announcements, arguments (any argument), and major decisions.

So when it comes to the big stuff, brave the waters of discomfort and talk face-to-face (even if zoom is the best you can do).

Hiding behind busy.

One of the most significant cultural shifts that have come out of the pandemic is working from home. More people work from home now than ever. And in terms of saving time and money, that’s a HUGE win. But now it’s even easier to hide behind busy.

If you were already prone to working long hours, working from home has given you the permission you’ve been waiting for to bleed work all over your personal life. And hiding behind busy is another textbook example of vulnerability avoidance.

Being busy gives you a great excuse not to connect deeply with your partner. Because if you’re never in the same room, vulnerability will seldom happen.

Even when your plate is full, prioritizing connection will actually add time to your day —not literally, but figuratively. Because when you feel loved and supported, getting through the day is more manageable. And that’s the truth.

Pretending you don’t feel some kinda way.

One of my closest friends refuses to tell her husband when she’s upset with him. Instead, she stews and postures for days on end, slamming doors and talking under her breath.

Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds.

She does this because coming right out and saying that she’s upset makes her feel awkward and uneasy. And so she would rather make her husband feel awkward and uneasy instead —makes perfect sense, right —at least in her mind.

What we have here is a classic case of vulnerability avoidance. But here’s the thing passive-aggression is still aggression. And as I said earlier, stepping up your conflict resolution game will uplevel your entire relationship —and all your other relationships too.

Expecting them to read your mind.

Remember the friend I just mentioned? I told you why she pretends that she is okay when she isn’t. But I forgot to mention why she lets things fester for so long — because she expects her husband to know how she feels.

According to her, they have been married long enough for him to know exactly how she thinks and what she feels. Of course, you won’t be surprised to hear that in over 25 years of marriage, he still hasn’t mastered that whole mind-reading thing.

Expecting your partner to read your mind is a great way to prevent vulnerability. If you never have to say how you feel, you never have to feel vulnerable. And that may sound like a great idea if vulnerability gives you the yucks. The trouble is, avoiding vulnerability also starves your relationship of intimacy. And believe me when I say that intimacy is the holy grail.

Final thoughts

Being vulnerable may never be easy, but it can get easier.

When you feel insecure or emotionally exposed, you may feel compelled to hide or stuff those feelings down for fear of being perceived as weak, or worse, being rejected.

“What most of us fail to understand…is that vulnerability is also the cradle of the emotions and experiences that we crave… Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy courage, empathy, and creativity.” — Brené Brown

It takes a tremendous amount of courage to be vulnerable. But you don’t need to take giant leaps. Baby steps are okay too. Start small with things like asking a thoughtful question.

For example, I often ask my partner to “tell me something good.” That simple question invites him to sort through the events of the day to seek out the good stuff. Sometimes his responses are silly quips, and other times they pull on his heartstrings. But even simple questions can provide opportunities to lay our emotional “armor” down.

Relationship expert Esther Perel says there are seven verbs that shape the way we love. And I believe these verbs invite us to be vulnerable, which makes way for deeper intimacy:

  1. To Ask - What do you need? Are you willing to ask for it?
  2. To Take - Can you take what you need without waiting for others to grant you permission?
  3. To Give - Can you give with no strings? What do you need to give to yourself? What can you give in your relationship(s)?
  4. To Receive - Can you receive without guilt? Do you allow yourself to receive without keeping score?
  5. To Refuse - Are you comfortable saying no? Are you willing to refuse things that do not feel good to you?
  6. To Share - What can you share that will make you feel connected?
  7. To Play/Imagine - Can you imagine improving the quality of your life? Can you imagine sharing new and exciting experiences? Will you make time for more play?

Esther Perel’s seven verbs are a great way to explore vulnerability with your partner, family, and friends. Remember, practice makes better. So the more often you practice, the easier it will be to lean into vulnerability and cultivate deeper intimacy in your relationship(s).

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Intimacy + Relationship-ing Coach | Writer. Helping singles & couples create healthy loving relationships.

Los Angeles County, CA

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