One of the most important factors to creating true intimacy is vulnerability. It is the main ingredient to moving from phase two to phase three in your developing relationship. By nature, we are vulnerable. It is part of the human condition. You don’t need to do anything to be vulnerable or create vulnerability. You always are, like it or not.
The real challenge is in how to manage your resistance to your vulnerability—how does that resistance show up for you? Not an easy question to answer as most of the time we don’t even recognize that our reactions may be our own attempt to rebel against our vulnerability. Let me share a story about a client of mine. I think her story will help you see how this works in your own life.
Patty called in last week for a tele-coaching session. She’s in a committed relationship and has lived with her significant other for a few months. She feels good about this relationship and believes that it has the potential to last a lifetime. So Patty was surprised at how she reacted to a situation that occurred with her and her significant other the week prior to our session. Here is what she shared.
Patty and her significant other were out dancing—an activity that they have done several times before while dating. Nothing was terribly different about this night of dancing except that it was the first time they went dancing since they had moved in together. Everything was going fine—that is, until Patty lost sight of her mate. She didn’t know where he had gone. She then noticed that he was out on the dance floor with another woman.
Patty reacted immediately. She felt angry and hurt. She didn’t understand how he could go off dancing with someone else and not let her know what was going on. Patty understood that in these dance venues it is common for people to dance with fellow dancers—people value the learning and enjoyment they get from dancing with several people, not only the dance partners they come with—nothing out of the ordinary, no mal intent. Regardless, this evening proved to be different for Patty. She was upset seeing her significant other dancing with another woman, especially without any notice.
When Patty’s partner returned to her after the one dance, she let him know that she didn’t appreciate him leaving her side without saying a word and going off to dance with someone else. She told him that if it ever happened again, she would simply go home without him. She was not happy and he knew it. Even after an apology and an explanation that the other woman had asked him to dance was not enough to ease Patty’s reaction. She found herself feeling shaken and wanting to cry. And although Patty did have some valid reasons for reacting the way she did, she also knew that something deeper was going on.
Here is what Patty discovered as we explored her reaction in more depth.
Patty understood that since moving in with her boyfriend, her feelings for him had grown significantly and the quality of her attachment had changed. She understood that she was moving from phase two to phase three in her relationship.
She discovered that she was feeling more vulnerable than she cared to admit. That vulnerability scared her. She felt as if she had no ability to protect her heart anymore. She was in this relationship all the way and felt a bit ‘out of control’.
Seeing her boyfriend dance with another woman stirred up Patty’s fear of rejection. She became jealous, hurt, and angry. Unconsciously her automatic need to protect and defend against her own vulnerability kicked in. She needed to get a sense of control back. Her words and actions provided the means to reassure herself that she was still in charge, not him, not her vulnerability to being hurt by him.
After understanding how vulnerable she felt and how scary that was to her, Patty was able to share these feelings with her significant other. It was in that moment that they fully entered phase three—creating true intimacy. Instead of resisting her vulnerability, Patty embraced it. She felt her fear and stay connected regardless.
I told Patty to remember that these feelings would inevitably come up again. Being vulnerable is scary. No one wants to be hurt. But in reality, we all get hurt from time to time in our relationships with others. The goal is to understand how you resist your own vulnerability, recognize when this is going on, and find your way back to your heart. In doing so, you find your way back to yourself and back to the one you love.
Going through the process of self-discovery is sometimes difficult to do on your own. Remember, we need mirrors. If you find yourself struggling to understand your own resistance to creating true intimacy, I’m here to help. For a private consultation, contact me via email or call at 310-379-5855 or 1-888-99PATHS.
Julie Orlov, psychotherapist, speaker, and author of The Pathway to Love: Create Intimacy and Transform Your Relationships through Self-Discovery
Create Relationships in Your Life That Work — learn more at www.julieorlov.com