Vulnerability is defined as “being open for injury.” It doesn’t mean that injury must occur, but simply that you are not trying to protect yourself from being hurt. If someone had told me, “you’re going to feel vulnerable in marriage,” I wouldn’t have believed it. And, since I didn’t know this truth, I wasn’t really prepared for the emotions that I felt on my wedding day. Especially not the feelings of “I’m not enough.”
My “not enough” moment came as my mom, my Aunt and my bridesmaids left the room one-by-one, and I stood alone for the first time that day looking at myself in the mirror. Instead of feeling beautiful (as I had always heard every woman does on her wedding day) I began to pick apart every piece of myself.
I thought: “Look at my hair! I shouldn’t have dyed it last week. It’s way too dark. And it doesn’t even look that primped. And my make-up! Why’d I choose to do it on my own? My arms are insanely skinny! And this dress. Why’d I choose this one? I can’t believe we spent so much money on a dress that doesn’t even look good.”
At that time, I had a history of feeling like I didn’t make the mark somehow. It affected my relationship with others and my relationship with God. But on this day, it made me question if my soon-to-be husband was actually going to go through with this. I trembled a little and felt a wave of anxiety as my Aunt opened the door and ushered me out to my dad who would soon lead me by the arm and hand me to my husband.
To add to the nervousness I was already feeling, I could hear my voice over the speakers in the church. I had decided to surprise Jacob with a little message from me that played just before I walked down the aisle. Another rush of anxiety swept over me as I thought to myself, “What if he hears desperation in my voice or doesn’t like what I said? Is he even really at the front waiting for me?”
But then it happened. The doors to the church opened and I caught the glance of the man who had already provided a level of safety, love, and quiet strength to me that I had never known before him. In that split second when I saw his face, my fears subsided completely. Before I even got close to him or heard him speak his vows, I knew we were good.
Vulnerability can cause some major fear.
What I was feeling before seeing my groom was the fear of vulnerability mixed in with some shame from a painful past. I saw in the mirror what I was sure had somehow hidden from him during the time we had dated. In those brief minutes looking at my own reflection I thought that Jacob would suddenly realize what he was getting in to and change his mind. I wish I could say that I never again felt a moment of “does he really want me” after that day, but unfortunately it is a battle that I occasionally face and its one that I often hear couples talk about. “Will my spouse accept me if they know this about me?
The fear of vulnerability comes in many forms, but it shows itself in the fear of being fully authentic with your spouse. It’s the fear that makes your stomach tie up in knots when you think about mentioning certain topics. It could look something like this:
“I want to spend more time with my spouse, but I don’t know how to ask for that.”
“I feel so lonely when we don’t make love, but I know if I say that I’ll get turned down again.”
“I was going to put on this lingerie, but I’ve gained so much weight lately I doubt he’ll like it.”
“I want us to start going to church again but I’m not sure how to bring this up.”
Often times, couples call these statements a “lack of communication.” And, in some cases that’s exactly what it is. But that fear and concern you have of bringing up difficult topics has more to do with the vulnerability involved then the use of the right words.
So how do you cultivate vulnerability in your marriage?
#1: Create a sacred space to discuss the issue.
When you need to reveal hurts or pain points to your spouse, you have to do it in a place and at a time that feels comfortable. I like to call this “couch time.” Couch time simply involves sitting down with your spouse with the sole purpose of working on an issue in the relationship. It is time limited (set a time of 20 minutes tops) to discuss the issue. If it is taking longer than that, you might need some outside help. Make sure that you both stay free from judgment. This is a sacred place! Say a little prayer before discussing the issue so you can both maintain an attitude of reconciliation and problem-solving.
#2: Use ‘I’ statements.
Certainly, this is not the first time you’ve read this. When you get ready to speak about the pain points in your marriage, refrain from blaming your partner by using your words wisely. You can even start by saying, “I’m a little nervous to talk about this…” If your spouse is willing to listen, let them know what they can do to help.
#3: Stick to just one topic.
Many couples find that talking about one place of pain can bring up reminders of other painful situations. Make it a point to speak only about the problem you are currently addressing. Write it down on paper if you have to and look at it throughout your conversation. You don’t need to solve all of your problems during one couch time session. Just work on the one that carries the most weight for you right now.
Dr. Brene Brown often speaks on vulnerability. She says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change. It’s also the birthplace of joy, faith and connection.” Vulnerability can definitely cause some discomfort, but it’s also a great way to bring connection making it well worth the risk.
No matter what – always fight for your marriage!
I get it. Vulnerability puts you in a place where it’s both hard and scary to work on your relationship. But, do whatever it takes to create that safety. It really will be worth it.
Blessings on you and your marriage!