Thursday, February 4, 2010

emotionally naked, and not ashamed

vulnerable: a real buzz word for the last couple of decades. it has been used to describe a certain desireable quality in a partner. the word “vulnerable” suggests a kind of sexiness. both men and women tend to find vulnerability in the opposite sex very attractive.

in any relationship, especially in a marriage, vulnerability is a key component to communication and intimacy. the most successful marriages are the ones in which each partner has made him or herself completely vulnerable to the other. if vulnerability is a gateway to connection and intimacy, all the buzz makes sense.

what does it mean “to be vulnerable”?

consider webster’s definition: vulnerable (vul׳ nәr ә bәl) adj. 1. capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt physically or emotionally. 2. susceptible to temptation or corrupt influence. 3. open to or defenseless against criticism or moral attack. derived from the ‘late latin’ meaning “wound-able”

webster’s thesaurus lists “unprotected” as a synonym. or “exposed”; which means the condition of being exposed to something detrimental. exposure to attack.

these words paint an incredible picture of trust. a choosing to present your weakest and most defenseless places to your mate, believing that your loved one will protect and cover you, rather than lean in for the attack. by the definition, that’s what vulnerability is, allowing oneself to be “wound-able". in a marriage, allowing yourselves to be susceptible to each other, and guarding the other’s back will result in a closeness and a depth of communication that is truly unparalleled.

let me use our little chihuahua, jasmine, as an example of being “wound-able”. jasmine is loved and well cared for. her favorite pasttime is to find a place in the house where the sun is streaming through the window and lay down in the sunshine. it is in that posture that she is the most content. recently she has adopted a practice that makes us laugh, but says a lot about her trust in us. while she is “sunbathing” if one of us gets within a few feet of her, regardless of where she is, she rolls over, belly up. in the dog world, exposing one’s underbelly is the equivalent of submission, confidence, a feeling of safety. when we approach our pet, she is so confident that she is safe and loved that she voluntarily exposes her weakest side. in doing so, the result is often a scratch on her underside, a pat on the belly – the equivalent of intimacy and affection in dog-land.

what does vulnerability look like? ask yourself - when i am with my spouse, am i guarded and self-protecting, or willing to easily expose my underbelly? when my spouse exposes his or her frailties, what do i do with that? am i affirming and encouraging, or do i go for the jugular? there’s no question that we’ve all been wounded at some point or another by the one closest to us. when that happens, how do i respond? do i retaliate in kind? do i keep my deepest thoughts, my dreams, my failures to myself because i am afraid of getting hurt? or are we healthy enough as a couple that i can forgive, and allow myself to be vulnerable again? emotional intimacy simply cannot exist in an environment where each spouse is afraid of emotional nakedness. if there is a sentinel on duty, posted at the gates of my heart, warding off any potential attack from my spouse, then we cannot share our hearts with each other.

we all know of a marriage where both partners co-habitate under the same roof, but there is no depth, no softness, no susceptiblity to each other, no emotional nakedness. tragic. if that is your conditon, it is not too late to turn things around. do some soul searching, and be honest, first, with yourself. ask yourself some of the self-evaluation questions we noted earlier.

then ask your spouse “do i make you feel safe? have i ever wounded you when you made yourself vulnerable to me?’” caution: don’t ask this question at the family dinner table. set aside a time when you can be alone, perhaps after the kids are in bed, or you are both out having coffee together. invite your spouse to be gently honest with you, and when your mate answers your question, don’t make excuses, just listen. if your spouse tells you that you have indeed wounded him/her, then apologize. ask for forgiveness. remember, at this point, it is your loved one’s perception of the situation that you are most interested in. in time, as you learn to protect each other’s soft spots, affirming each other at every opportunity, your confidence and sense of safety will increase. take the first step by making yourself vulnerable, and see how that will encourage your mate to do the same. carl s. avery said, “love enables you to put your deepest feelings and fears in the palm of your partner’s hand, knowing they will be handled with care”.

here are some additional quotes to chew on:

“the only love worthy of a name is unconditional” john powell

“when you make a sacrifice in marrige, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship” joseph campbell

“when we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. but to grow up is to accept vulnerability – to be alive is to be vulnerable” madeleine l’engle

** please note we are not addressing relationships where physical abuse is an issue. that is another subject for another time. **