How to be vulnerable: 6 tips from therapists

  • Being vulnerable with your partner can improve trust, communication, conflict and your sex life.
  • Sharing your needs, hopes, fears, and feelings can be scary if you’ve been hurt in the past.
  • Therapists suggest starting slowly, using physical contact, and telling your partner how they can help.

Many people crave intimacy in relationships—but true intimacy requires vulnerability, according to Samantha Saunders, a licensed professional counselor in private practice.

Vulnerability in a relationship means feeling able to express your true needs, desires, thoughts, fears and feelings with your partner. In short, you share your whole self, regardless of the risks.

Of course, since letting your guard down creates the potential for hurt or rejection, it can often feel scary to take that leap—especially if someone broke your trust in a previous relationship.

So you might hold back the words “I love you” for fear of how your partner might respond, or resist asking for help because you don’t want to appear weak.

However, as difficult as it may be to open up to your partner, relationship experts say it’s worth the effort.

Below, therapists share five key benefits of vulnerability, along with six tried-and-true tips for becoming more vulnerable in your relationship.

1. More productive conflict

Being vulnerable during conflict can help you and your partner understand each other better, develop empathy for each other, and ultimately come to a resolution faster, she says

Anna Hindell, psychotherapist in private practice.

For example, taking responsibility for saying something hurtful to your partner—something that requires vulnerability—can help them feel understood so they can move on more easily.

2. Improved ability to respond to each other’s needs

No matter how well your partner knows you, they cannot anticipate your every need and desire.

So when you tell the other person you want more physical affection, for example, that act of vulnerability serves both of you, Saunders says.

With this knowledge, your partner is more likely to make these necessary adjustments—which means you’re more likely to feel happy, fulfilled, and supported as a result.

3. Increased confidence

Trust is the backbone of any relationship. And when you can let your guard down, trust your partner, and find that they still love and accept you, that helps build trust, Hindell says.

For example, let’s say you tell your partner that it bothers you when he forgets to mention that he’s late. Doing this can build trust in two ways:

  • Your partner now knows that you will be honest and transparent with them about your feelings.
  • If they apologize and show empathy for your feelings, you can trust that they will validate your feelings in the future.

4. A more satisfying sex life

Bravely communicating your needs, likes, dislikes and fantasies — also known as sexual communication — can propel you and your partner toward more satisfying sex, according to Laura Silverstein, a certified couples therapist and author of “Love Is an Action Verb”.

In fact, a 2022 review found that engaging in more sexual communication can lead to greater sexual and relationship satisfaction.

Examples of sexual communication include:

  • Share some feedback after sex about what felt good or not
  • Ask your partner if they are willing to try something new the next time you are physically intimate

5. Greater self-acceptance

Vulnerability can also benefit you as a person.

When you share your deepest desires, fears and insecurities with your partner, you’re more likely to feel loved for who you really are, according to Saunders. You no longer need to hide your so-called “flaws” because you have the assurance that your partner loves all of you – not just the parts you let him see.

This can pave the way for greater self-awareness, self-esteem and self-love, says Kalley Hartman, therapist and clinical director at Ocean Recovery.

And higher self-esteem can improve the quality of your relationships, in turn.

Tips for becoming more vulnerable

Whether you struggle with vulnerability or just want to make this skill more of a priority in your relationship, these expert suggestions can help you learn to let your partner in.

1. Start small

“If you’re worried about your partner opening up, start by sharing something simple that doesn’t feel too emotionally risky,” says Saunders.

Sanders suggests sharing a secret interest or passion with your partner—for example, a love of watching anime or building model trains—even if you don’t know how they’ll react.

By letting go of vulnerability, you can slowly build trust and confidence so you can share deeper emotional truths over time.

2. Practice self-care

“In order to be vulnerable with your partner, you have to start being kind to yourself,” says Silverstein.

According to Saunders, practicing self-care can help ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed by fear, anxiety, or other emotions that arise as you prepare to open up.

She recommends using meditation, journaling, yoga and breathing exercises to help ground you before engaging in vulnerable conversations.

3. Use “I” sentences.

Telling your partner that they did something to upset you can, in some cases, trigger feelings of fear, anxiety or shame.

This kind of vulnerability can cause some discomfort, and that’s natural—but keep in mind that your partner can’t apologize, validate your feelings, or change their behavior if they don’t know how you feel.

Silverstein advises starting these conversations with an “I feel” statement.

For example:

I-statements like these are much less likely to put your partner on the defensive than accusations. Consequently, they leave your partner in a much better position to show the empathy and understanding you need to encourage future vulnerability.

4. Admit that you are struggling

When you struggle to let your guard down, an important step toward vulnerability involves admitting your struggle.

For example, you can tell your partner:

  • “I want to feel closer to you, but I find it hard to talk about my feelings.”
  • “It’s hard for me to ask for help, even though I need it sometimes.”

If you can, you might also consider sharing why you avoid the vulnerability. Were you hurt in a previous relationship? Did your parents teach you that showing your emotions is a weakness?

Letting your partner know what they can do to encourage vulnerability can also make a difference.

For example, you can say:

  • “I feel much safer sharing my feelings when you do.”
  • “I’d love for you to ask how you can help when you notice me getting frustrated with a project.”

5. Initiate physical contact

If you struggle to express your vulnerability in words, Silverstein suggests making more physical gestures to connect with your partner.

For example, it can:

  • Be sure to kiss them goodbye for work if that’s not a standard part of your routine
  • Reach out to them while you’re out for a walk
  • Gently touch their thigh or back when they sit together in the car

It’s okay to feel a little hesitant about it if you’re not used to initiating physical contact—but such displays of affection can strengthen your bond. Plus, these acts can make your partner feel loved and cared for — which can help them feel safer when they’re vulnerable with you.

6. Seek support from a therapist

If you’re having trouble cultivating vulnerability in your relationship, Hindell advises working with a professional. A licensed couples therapist can help facilitate the most vulnerable dialogue between you and your partner — and help you identify anything that’s holding you back.

“A therapist can also offer guidance on communication strategies that will help each partner express themselves without fear of judgment or rejection,” Hartman says.

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Vulnerability can foster trust, intimacy and understanding, while also allowing you to communicate and resolve conflict more effectively. Ultimately, these benefits can boost your overall relationship satisfaction.

That said, opening up about your thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires can feel downright difficult at times. Therapists say it can help to start with small acts of vulnerability, letting your partner join your struggle, and seeking support from a therapist as needed.

Above all, Hartman recommends patience. “It can take time to build trust and comfort with a partner, so don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than expected to really let your guard down,” Hartman says.

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