Vulnerability is being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed—either physically or emotionally.
This means opening ourselves up to another person’s criticism or rejection.
That doesn’t sound appealing, does it? Putting ourselves out there, exposing our flaws, imperfections, and parts of ourselves which we feel aren’t our best, and then hoping someone will love us anyway, can feel overwhelming and just plain scary.
But vulnerability is key to relationship success and is an essential part of the journey to find lasting love.
As a relationship coach, I have noticed the strong impact of vulnerability on sexual attraction; and as a real person who dates, I have seen the undeniable effects of vulnerability in my own life.
Even relationship coaches have relationship challenges. Our challenges, or what I call “relationship setbacks,” make us wise and understanding coaches. We know how hard it is to find love.
Because we’ve been there and have experienced ups and downs on our journeys, we understand the pain and pleasure that comes from being in love, getting hurt, and gathering the courage to love again. This, coupled with coaching others (pun fully intended), makes relationship coaches purposeful experts, as well as accidental learners of what works. We get what breaks down love affairs and what builds up and strengthens a relationship.
For example: our baggage holds us back.
We are all humans with our own individual and varied hang-ups, predisposed views, and relationship histories. Sometimes we learn from our relationship mistakes and sometimes we don’t.
I have learned this important lesson: when we pay attention and proactively decide we want to do better in our dating life, we can do a 180-degree switch fairly quickly. We are all worthy of love, and love is ours for the taking if we are open to learning and growing through it.
So here’s the most underestimated turn-on in a relationship: be vulnerable.
This seems counterintuitive, but I promise it works. We can do it in baby steps. We can practice being comfortable with our quirks, what makes us unique, and even what others may find a little odd.
Learning to be comfortable with ourselves completely and embracing even what we perceive may be our “outlandish” qualities can actually be a turn on for others. Ever notice the woman with a large, gregarious laugh in the room? Have a friend who isn’t afraid to openly express emotions? Do these things turn us off from wanting to get to know that person, or do their vulnerabilities draw us closer? I suspect the latter.
There is someone out there who will embrace and enjoy the unique aspects of such personalities. Why? Because individuals who share themselves openly and honestly are expressing vulnerability, which can be both appealing and attractive. We can learn from friends who aren’t afraid to be themselves. Additionally, vulnerability quickly weeds out those who aren’t a suitable match for us anyway.
Being vulnerable will not only empower us in our relationships, but will make us incredibly appealing. We may think how we look, our life successes, and what we do are the main attractions. Such aspects of our appeal matter to some degree, but our vulnerability is even sexier.
Being vulnerable with someone we are dating can help to get things out in the open quickly. This is essential when we’re looking for love. Remember how our mothers would say we have to “be a friend to have a friend?” Love is like that too. Love doesn’t blossom overnight. It takes time. It has to be fostered, protected, and endured through serious hiccups to become something real.
In other words, we have to be willing to give love to receive love. And one of the easiest ways to do this is by showing vulnerability—revealing our true selves.
When we really want someone, we can blindly jump in. Our actions are based on feelings. We try to present our best self, act overly accommodating, and behave in a way that is more true to the other person rather than ourselves. This isn’t vulnerability. This isn’t being real. This is more about expression of feelings and giving in to those feelings. Just jumping in, eyes closed, is the quickest way to relationship failure.
Here is what I’ve observed: true vulnerability works better.
Like any good relationship coach, I’ve tried it out personally—and with a great deal of success. I encourage my clients in their early days of a new relationship to practice a “sharing and learning” technique.
For example: I coached one of my clients about the importance of communicating with her partner about her strong fear of abandonment. Because her mom had abandoned her as a kid, she would often start out in a relationship really strong, then go cold with any indication from her partner that he was losing interest. She was afraid he might leave her. This is a normal reaction for someone who suffers abandonment issues, because they protect themselves from the potential hurt before it happens.
Once my client explained her past experience and how this impacted her ability to connect with her partner, he increased his communication and feedback. He worked to alleviate her concern. He put in extra effort to show that he cared about her. He showed her, repeatedly by his actions and efforts, that he wasn’t going to abandon her. Once she was open and honest, expressing vulnerability with her boyfriend, they were pulled closer together.
Being open like this can be scary, but when we start peeling back the layers on someone, no matter their status, education, or background, we discover some amazing things about who they are. We often have more in common (broken hearts, lost loves, fear of abandonment, and so on) than we might think.
This doesn’t mean exposing every boring detail about our life. What it does mean is being willing to slowly put ourselves out there and becoming comfortable with who we are as a person—and doing this even if others fail to reciprocate.
One of my clients often discussed how difficult it was for him to ask for what he wanted in a relationship. He was afraid of being too demanding in the early phases of dating. I advised him to be transparent in communicating his needs and wants. I told him how this was an effective way of weeding out those who are interested in us from the people who aren’t looking to be in a committed relationship.
My client started applying this principle with the women he dated. He found out fairly quickly that some of these women weren’t compatible, but one woman appreciated his candor and directness. Their relationship blossomed.
If this man had held-off on expressing his wants and needs, not showing vulnerability, he would have missed out on falling in love. He wouldn’t have established a solid relationship with the person who could reciprocate these feelings.
Be vulnerable and real. Be honest even if it feels uncomfortable.
The person we are meant to be with will get it and they will get us too. This will be a turn-on, not a turn-off. So much of the available dating advice tells us to be measured, not to share too much, to be a mystery. Sometimes a bit of mystique can be an initial turn-on, but if we fail to get to know the person for who they really are, the mystery becomes a turn-off.
It is unwise to not express ourselves or to avoid being authentic because we believe our date cannot handle it. It is essential to get out the uncomfortable feelings, thoughts, fears, and apprehensions—and to do this almost immediately.
Being open will dispel illusions and cut through the bullsh*t. And the surprising truth is, is can be seductive.
Vulnerability is an aphrodisiac.
Mister or Miss Right will be the man or woman left standing. This person will give us a clear indication that they are “all in.”
Vulnerability recalibrates relationships, creating a “safe-zone,” a haven where we can be expressive and loving, and bond in a totally different way with our partners. Every time, it has created the best connections and relationships I have in my life. My clients tell me it is the same for them.
For those afraid to express what they need most to feel secure in a relationship or to share their long-term relationship goals—pause and reflect.
I’m not saying to walk down the street expressing your deepest feelings to everyone you see, nor am I suggesting that you spend a first date spilling everything about yourself.
But I do encourage you to test out this concept of vulnerability. Try expressing some of your real feelings and see what happens. By being emotionally open, you will get closer to the people who are most compatible with you.
Start thinking about what you want and need in order to have a successful relationship, and then express it freely. Don’t attach expectations to your expressions, just let the other person know up front where you’re coming from. Make your intentions clear.
They will either step up or step out.
Author: Elizabeth Overstreet
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Nicole Cameron
Social Editor: Taia Butler