At the beginning of a new relationship, you and your partner will have so much to learn about each other. Although it’s easy to open up about the fun, lighthearted stuff — like your go-to guilty pleasure movie or your most embarrassing childhood memory — when it comes to the big, scary, emotional stuff, being open and honest isn’t always so simple. But why is it that it can be so hard to open up and be vulnerable in a relationship, even if you feel like you trust your partner?
“There is this idea that being vulnerable means opening ourselves up to attack,” Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, MA, LMFT, tells Bustle. “Within a relationship, though, it is necessary to be vulnerable in order to build intimacy with your partner. Being vulnerable in a relationship means allowing your partner to know you fully: your thoughts, feelings, challenges, weaknesses. It can be scary to show those sides to our partners out of fear of being judged.”
It’s not always easy to reveal all the parts of yourself to someone you care about, but being able to open up in a relationship is crucial if you want to be able to build intimacy and form an intimate connection that lasts.
“It is important to be able to open up to our partners because in order to achieve intimacy our partners need to know all parts of who we are and accept all of those parts, the good and the bad,” Nelson-Terry says. “This is how true intimacy is achieved. We are known, accepted, supported and loved. We dare show who we are and in turn our partner acknowledges, accepts, and supports all of those pieces.”
There’s nothing better than feeling totally loved and accepted by someone, and the more your partner gets to know the real you, the more they’ll be able to accept you. If you’re having trouble being vulnerable with your partner and you want to open up, here are seven expert tips that can help you on your journey to becoming more vulnerable in your relationship. (Keep in mind that if you don’t feel ready to open up about something, that’s OK, too: take your time and don’t force it.)
1. Ask Yourself Why You’re Reluctant To Open Up
If you’re having a hard time divulging some of the more difficult parts of your past (or present) to your partner, the first step is always to check in with yourself and reflect on why you might be hesitant to open up in your relationship.
“Take a hard look at what’s causing your reluctance,” Chris Armstrong, Certified Relationship Coach and Founder/Owner of Maze of Love, tells Bustle. “Are there certain situations where you struggle to open up? Is it a challenge to be vulnerable with others in your life or only your partner? Getting down to the root cause of the reluctance is key.”
2. Work Out Your Feelings First
Figuring out why you’re having a hard time opening up about certain things is easier said than done, and can be a lengthy process. Before you talk to your partner about something difficult, it’s important to find the right words within yourself first.
“Until you have language for your inner experience, it remains unknown — even to you,” Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, LMFT, BCC, Founder of Growing Self Counseling, tells Bustle. “If your relationship is currently in a space where it feels fragile, it may not feel safe enough to talk through your feelings with your partner until you arrive at the truth. In these cases, you might consider journaling, letter writing, or talking with a counselor or coach until you’re clear about how you’re feeling. Then, you can express it to your partner in a way that they can hear.”
3. Start Small
Making the decision to start opening up in your relationship doesn’t have to be a huge production right off the bat; instead, start by taking baby steps and being more vulnerable when it comes to the little things first.
“If you have a hard time opening up in love, it’s usually because you’ve been burned before,” Anna Osborn, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in love and relationships, tells Bustle. “Take small steps by ‘testing the waters’ and practice opening up about smaller things before working up to sharing big vulnerabilities. The more you practice AND see that you can do it, the more willing you’ll be to continue to take the risk of vulnerability in love.”
4. Practice Being Vulnerable
As with many things in life, practice makes perfect when it comes to learning to be vulnerable. But what does it mean to “practice” being more open?
“Ways we can begin practicing vulnerability include knowing and expressing your emotions, your actual thoughts and desires versus what you think you ‘should’ think and want,” Annie Wright, LMFT at Evergreen Counseling, tells Bustle. “Practicing vulnerability can look like answering honestly when someone asks you how you’re doing versus just answering, ‘I’m fine.’“
5. Be Honest With Your Partner About Your Struggles
Everyone opens up at their own pace, and it’s OK if it takes you a little extra time. Nevertheless, it’s important to be able to communicate your fears and worries about opening up to your partner.
“Don’t be hard [on] yourself and consider talking to your partner about your feelings and sharing that you are having a hard time [opening up] and may need extra time,” Nelson-Terry says. “If there is something that he/she can do to help you feel more safe in the relationship and help you to open up, let them know.”
6. Ask For What You Need
It’s not always easy to ask for what you need in a relationship, but if you plan to open up to your partner — particularly about something difficult — it’s good to be honest about what you need or want from them after you open up.
“When you share your feelings, let your partner know that you don’t need to be ‘fixed’ or have your problems solved,” Bobby says. “The goal of vulnerable disclosure is not resolution, but connection. Communicating openly with your partner will pave the way for easier, more heartfelt communication and the emotional security that you both desire.”
7. If You Want To Open Up, Consider The Timing
While your relationship should always feel like a safe space to open up, you should still consider the timing before you talk about something important; don’t carelessly bring the topic up while one of you is doing the dishes or reading a book, for example.
“If you want to talk, make it known,” Bobby says. “Invite your partner to sit down with you, without distractions, and then let them know that you want to talk about some important things. Let them know that you feel apprehensive about being vulnerable before you start sharing. Talk out loud about your emotional process, and how important it is to you to feel emotionally safe with them.”
Ultimately, every couple develops trust and intimacy at their own pace, and every individual opens up at their own pace. It might take some time before you’re comfortable being totally transparent with your partner, and that’s OK. As long as you’re willing to confront your fears and want to be more open, over time, you can learn to be more vulnerable in your relationship — and that vulnerability is one thing that can help you and your partner grow even closer.
Gwendolyn Nelson-Terry, LMFT, relationship counselor
Anna Osborn, alicensed marriage and family therapist