Being Vulnerable in a Relationship: The Complete Beginners Guide

Being Vulnerable in a Relationship: The Complete Beginners Guide

How I learned to be completely authentic and feel loved at the same time

I used to think being vulnerable was a sign of weakness. I didn’t think it was particularly desirable to be weak, so the whole vulnerability thing seemed like something to avoid.

I knew I was strong and could speak up when something wasn’t right, which I didn’t hesitate to do. I wasn’t afraid to fight city hall, and I always seemed to be doing that.

But I was afraid. I was afraid to let that soft, undefended part of me show. I was afraid that part of me was repulsive. I didn’t like feeling so exposed.

I still don’t, if I’m honest.

But I love the part right after I run through the waterfall of fear and find out what’s on the other side.

It’s indescribable.

It’s exhilarating.

Anything could happen because I’m not controlling my image. And I’ve never known anything more gratifying than feeling loved for being my most authentic self, even if I’m a mess.

Now that I know how it feels to be completely exposed and feel loved anyway, I wouldn’t want to live any other way.

Now, I actually go out of my way to be vulnerable.

After spending the first twenty-something years of my life as a steamroller who rolled right over whatever threatened me, this is how I finally got there:

I used the language of vulnerability. I use it because it reminds me who I want to be. Click To Tweet

Here are the phrases I rely on to help me get vulnerable, which I now consider essential for intimacy:

1. “I miss you”

I’ve stood arms akimbo and insisted that my husband needed to spend more time with me. I told him that he needed to work on our relationship. I’ve told him that I was sick of him always being gone and that I really thought he watched too much TV.

None of that got me the attention I was seeking from my husband. Or anybody else, for that matter. But then, you already knew that.

But these three magical words did, “I miss you.”

It’s vulnerability wrapped in a compliment. It’s speaking for myself without making demands, without complaint, without criticism.

And it gets the desired results.

My husband once flew home a day early at great expense because I uttered those three words. I was so happy to see him, and he was just as eager to see me.

2. “I can’t”

I like having that “can-do” feeling. Growing up, my siblings and I chanted what we were told, “I can do anything.”

I can do anything but it gets exhausting and lonely sometimes. I can do anything, but I can’t do everything.

When I’m doing anything, I generally need help. Very often I also need a nap.

Once I crash into my limits without first applying the brakes, there’s hell to pay. If my energy account is overdrawn, I have nothing left to give and I get ornery and unpleasant.

So if I overdo it, it’s goodbye good-natured Laura and hello Godzilla.

If, on the other hand, I look down the road and see that I’m getting low on reserves, I can make a different choice.

Instead of flying headlong into a resentment, or loitering at the center for self-righteousness, I can use these two empowering words: I can’t.

That’s it. No explanation necessary. I don’t need to go into the details about how, if I carpool I’m going to be overtired and won’t have enough time to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.

I can’t is my short-hand for “I can’t do that and still get all the self-care I need to keep myself happy.”

But I don’t usually share all of that. I just keep it simple: I can’t.

I know, it seems like I’m wussing out.

You might be thinking, why not say, “I don’t want to?”

“I don’t want to” just doesn’t cut muster when I’m defending my squishy little needs. I thought it was more valiant to push through and ignore them, but it made me impatient and mean. I can’t go there and still feel good about myself.

As a mere mortal woman I have limits, and while it feels vulnerable to honor them, it also feels self-respecting.

It’s been thrilling to realize I’m still lovable—even more than superwoman is.

It was never my accomplishments that made me so adorable. It’s just me, just the way I am.

There’s nothing more gratifying than experiencing that.

3. “Ouch!”

My husband hurts my feelings sometimes.

Not very often anymore, I admit, but as human beings living in close proximity that’s going to happen occasionally.

When he does, my knee-jerk reaction is to strike back; To retort, to show him why he’s wrong and offer 100 airtight defenses along with a subtle but sharp insult.

But these days I’m much more likely to utter just one word. “Ouch!”

It’s frightening to say because it means admitting he’s landed on a tender spot, but I prefer that now to putting up my dukes.

I’m not the big fighter I used to be. I ended up lonely and emotionally hung over afterward.

With the vulnerable approach, I’m choosing the intimacy over my impulse to hit back.

I’m opening myself up to further hurt, yes, but “Ouch!” lets me preserve the emotional safety, keeps me from lobbing hurtful words back at him, and gives him the opportunity (which he often takes) to respond softly and tenderly.

He doesn’t really want to hurt me. He wants to love me. Even if I’m oversensitive or hormonal.

Nothing could demonstrate that to me more than seeing how sweetly he responds when I don’t defend, but just let myself be utterly vulnerable.

That’s when I feel most lavishly, intensely and thoroughly loved.


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34 thoughts on “Being Vulnerable in a Relationship: The Complete Beginners Guide”

  1. I feel bad about this post and have a question: .

    My first marriage ended (rightly) after I learned to Surrender, be vulnerable (I pretty much was already) and realized that hubby didn’t care about my needs in the marriage and used my vulnerability to hurt me instead of be closer. I went through several years of being single, practiced dating a bit, then met a special man. I did everything right, surrendered, it worked like a charm. Long talks, with both of us being vulnerable, vowing to respect each other when we disagreed. We were both happy. So we married. He did a 180, wasn’t even the same person. I remained the same. There was no admiration, respect, or even honesty from him. Again, becoming vulnerable in my marriage has hurt me tremendously, this time with my child who isn’t his getting caught in the middle.

    I just don’t know how to spot these people. My father, uncles, their friends were all men you could surrender to. The men I meet look like I can surrender. I DID surrender while dating the the second man. Then when I do, they use it against me.

    Could you say a little about how to spot these men? And how to know that, if they respond to the Surrender during dating, they won’t change when you marry them?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Karen, I’m sorry to hear about your first marriage being so painful and that you’re also struggling in your current marriage. Sounds really disappointing, and I hear your deep concern for your child as well. Here’s what I hear in your question: How do I avoid being in this situation ever again? And for me, the answer was to change how I showed up in my relationship and then he responded to me very differently, and by differently I mean much better. I had some blind spots about what I was contributing to the culture of my relationship, and I couldn’t change them until I knew about them. From what you wrote, I think you would really benefit from a discovery call, which you can apply for here:
      https://lauradoyle.org/marriage-relationship-coaching/

      Reply
  2. I love, just love what you have written!
    It feels so much easier to express those key lines: “i miss you”
    “I can’t”. “Ouch”.
    Thank you, Laura, I will use them!

    Reply
  3. My first marraige ended 2 years due to domestic violence. I remarried again and thank God I have being reading your posts and also reading about nutering a marraige thru the guidence of my religion . I do use those vunerable words and I have never being happier or satisfied in the marraige as this. I really feel so empowered just to be a real woman who needs her man
    My husband younger than me always comments on how he is so lucky and that im an amazing wife.

    Reply
  4. I am married to a wonderful man who I love with all of my heart and I’m grateful for him. We have had our up’s and down’s but things are getting much better since I started using the Surrendered Wife principles. My problem is that sometimes, in the moment, if he says something that hurts, don’t say anything at all — not even “ouch” — because his comment catches me off guard and I’m trying to process it, OR because I fear that if he asks me why I’m saying “ouch,” I’ll reply in a way that will cause things to escalate. So I sit in silence and don’t say anything. And then I wonder if I should bring it up later (nicely, lovingly, in a non-confrontational way), or if I should just let it go. Example: the other night it was our anniversary and we went to the wine cafe where we had our first date. I was so happy and looking forward to it. While there I reminisced about how lucky we were to find each other and he agreed he felt the same way, BUT he added that when he found me he saw a future with me and decided to take a chance on me because he didn’t want to waste his time trying to find someone who was prettier than me, more blonde than me, or who made more money than me. Ouch, ouch, ouch. It was our anniversary date night (!) and I was so stunned I couldn’t even think to say “ouch.” So I stayed quiet. And three days later, it still breaks my heart. He has also made this comment in front of other people a couple of times at parties so it’s not just a one time thing. I really don’t want to ever hear this comment again. Should I say anything to him (calmly, nicely, lovingly, not to start a fight) at this point? He also gave me a dozen red roses, a beautiful romantic card, held my hand all night, etc. etc. so I’m trying to give the big picture in fairness to him.

    Reply
    • Mrs. Sunflowers, It does seem like you have a wonderful man! And they are so different from us in so many ways. Obviously he didn’t MEAN to hurt your feelings with that comment, but I can see why it did. What I hear him saying is that you were just right for him–not that you aren’t pretty enough, blonde enough or not earning enough. In this case, I think you might calmly ask him what he means when he says that. You might even assume the best by saying, “I know you don’t mean that I’m not pretty enough or blonde enough..but what do you mean?”

      For me it was powerful to recognize that my husband NEVER means to hurt my feelings, so when it happens (and it still does occasionally) it’s just a matter of clearing up the misunderstanding.

      Happy anniversary!And many more to you. I give you all the credit for creating this wonderful relationship where you both feel so lucky!

      Reply
        • Kyrie, For me, surrendering is about accepting what I can’t change, honoring myself and being grateful for what I have. It’s not about being obedient or subservient.

          Reply
          • It seems to send a message (to him) that his feelings & intentions aren’t taken seriously, and is a shield to being vulnerable.

  5. Thank you, Laura. I am going to give it a try the next time he says this (if there is a next time– I hope there’s not). It has been about four or five days since our anniversary so I guess I’ll let it go for now. Or perhaps if we’re ever talking about the time we met, if I find the right moment, I may ask him about it at that time.

    Reply
  6. I am busy reading this amazing book on surrendered wife, i tell you I used to be a blamer, always spotting my husbands faults even if he tried to impress me. Beleive me, i pushed my husband to his limits, until he started cheating on me just one night stands with different woman after along day drinking. I knew that was the results of my behaviour, because overtime i could not rest and fail to take care of my self, i will then start to be mean and rude to him. I killed our intimacy, until i then started searching over internet for help. i ordered this book this year, I tell you i see change in myself. but the biggest problem is I am too hard on myself, overtime i fall back to my old ways i become bitter and not forgiving myself than giving myself time and reminding myself that I have learn and be patient. Thank to you ladies, big thanks to you Laura.

    Reply
    • Christophine, I so admire your accountability about how you contributed to the pain in your marriage. Of course it’s not your fault that your husband behaved so badly, but I hear you saying that your home was not pleasant for him and that was his inappropriate response. You are on the right track, and I would love to see you get some support! Consider applying for a complimentary discovery call (to discover the best move for your relationship) here:
      https://lauradoyle.org/marriage-relationship-coaching

      Reply
  7. I just want to say a massive thank you for having written your book Laura. It is the only book that has helped my marriage, and it’s probably even saved it. I’m an only child with a very strong personality, and I eventually found a man who I didn’t completely dominate, which is probably why I married him. Then, I started to try to dominate him and things got really unhappy in our marriage. I went back to your book a few months ago and decided that if I didn’t change my behavior then our marriage was surely headed for divorse. Well, I’ve never been happier. My husband is so tender and loving and can’t do enough for me. More than that though, I’ve found an inner peace I’ve never had. This comes from finally realizing that I can only control myself. All the frustration I felt in the past from trying and failing to control others has melted away. I’m still waiting for my husband to volunteer to go on a long walk along the beach with me (something he doesn’t enjoy but I love). Maybe if I keep following your guidelines it will happen one day!

    Reply
    • Hi Jane, Nice to hear from you! And thanks for the lovely note. Glad to hear you’re enjoying your husband’s loving tenderness. I remember thinking you and I were a lot alike and I can relate to feeling like the urge to control comes back from time to time. But just staying in the conversation with other women who are committed to having an amazing marriage does so much to lift me up and make it easy to choose the intimacy as my priority.

      Have you read my new book, The Empowered Wife? Or for inspiration, there’s nothing better than reading Surrendered Wives Empowered Women.

      Reply
      • Djuna, I happen to know Jane is referring to The Surrendered Wife: A Practical guide to Intimacy, Passion and Peace with Your Man, which is my first book.

        Reply
  8. Hi Laura, I have read all of your books which have helped me so much with my opinionated and disrespectful ways. I have a male friend who is opinionated and abrupt and I shared with him the damage that this can do. He comes from a family of 5 boys who academically debate highly around the table with little relationship between them. He is so opionated but his wife is quietly spoken (I gave her a copy of the surrendered wife). He doesn’t know how to change this in himself but wants to after I shared how I changed so much by reading your book. Do you know of anything that I can give him that will teach him how to open his eyes as to the damage that he is doing from a male’s perspective? He is a good guy and wants to love his wife and get it right. Thank you Laura… I have given out lots of your books and your journey and the wisdom you share is life changing.

    Reply
    • Lynn, Thanks for the compliments! I’m so happy to hear my books have helped you. Yay!

      As for your opinionated friend and his wife, I’m wondering what YOU would get if your friend had better Intimacy Skills? Does he sometimes trample your feelings? You might consider practicing what you’ve learned with him too. What if you said, “Ouch!” next time he debates you and says something that stings?

      I’m excited for his wife to read SW because it may give her what she needs to teach him how to treat her if he’s doing damage.

      Reply
  9. I have been using the intimacy skills my husbsnd of 15 years told me 5 months ago he had no feelings for me he was done. He talked of divorce and that I would find some one else etc I broke down and felt so alone. My in laws threatened him and made him aware that they disapproved of his friendship with the other women now he is only staying in the house so I won’t get half of what I am entitled to when we divorce I am confused and alone everyday then I see subtle changes in him he helps me do something around the house then he is cold and distant again. Then to make matters worse 1 month ago I found texting to a women whom was our friend they confessed there love for each other. She called it off as our daughter contacted her daughter and threatened them both to stay away from each other. Well that didn’t work I found a text today now on his work phone under her maiden name so I think she is seperated from her husband and they are meeting up tommorow. I know i played a big part in him wanting to be with her as i was always so negative on their friendship he spent so much time riding bikes and swimming with her there i became very jelouse and was a nightmare to live with. I reacted to him being verbally abusive andcregected sex and his gracious jestours all the time and i am trying real hard to clean up my side of the street i am thanking him for everything i am apologising alot and his reply to this is i have nothing to apoligise for i am trying to stay off the fence and focus on getting him back from her but she is always so happy around him and he feels sorry for her that her husband treats her so bad ( Its not as bad as my husband is treating me ) i struggle with self care as its so physically draining I want to sleep all the time. I am under weight now as I have been so stressed that he will leave. I am trying daily to focus on me and not what I can’t control. I want my husband back and sleeping in our bed a fun marriage again. I need more cheerleaders.

    Reply
    • Lib, This sounds incredibly hard and heartbreaking. I’m sorry to hear you’re going through such a difficult time in your marriage. I still remember how bad it felt to struggle in my marriage. It was awful! Congratulations on practicing the Intimacy Skills and focusing on what you can control instead of what you can’t–that’s huge! You’re on the right track, and I see every reason to be hopeful that you can restore your marriage and make it better than it’s been in a long time! I agree that more cheerleaders would make a world of difference for you. I invite you to attend my free webinar on How to Get Respect, Reconnect and Rev Up Your Love Life. You can register here:
      https://lauradoyle.org/swewtraining/

      Reply
  10. “Ouch” works well when my husband says something hurtful. Thanks for that tip. Is there something similar you can do to respond to the silent treatment?

    Reply
  11. Hi Laura,
    Thank you for this article. It’s just what I needed. Today, my husband was rushing out the door as I waited on the couch for some attention and care. My hurt grew, it turned into resentment, and then I couldn’t hold it in. I didn’t know if I should say ouch in that situation. I instead said ..”I’m hurt (in an angry tone)…and then starting to blame and had a day of me holding onto my hurt. Next time, I will say I miss you. That’s appropriate if he is in the same space but just disconnected right?

    Reply
  12. Hi Laura!
    I’ve just listened to the audiobook “First, kill all the marriage counselors”, and I must say, I wish I had done it sooner!
    My husband is a very dominant man in all areas of life, and sometimes he outright says “no” to my “I can’t”.
    He tells me “we both have our responsibilities, you can’t abdicate yours” (about meal planning) or “yes, you can and you will go talk to that woman, we are a team. Don’t make me fight both you and her” (about a neighbour we’ve been having disagreements with). I’ve learnt not to dig my heels in in these situations, but sometimes feel like he’s not receptive to the vulnerability I present to him.
    Thoughts?

    Reply
  13. Tbh, I don’t find these 3 phrases powerful. Sadly, I miss you provokes no response. The others provoke confusion, but they are better than no voice at all. After 2 years of applying the skills I have started giving up. My husband loves me applying the skiils and we fight waaay less but I just don’t feel loved, cherished or adored and feel like I don’t get any more of his time or attention. He is more affectionate. But it just doesn’t seem to occur to him to spend time with me. He’s quite happy just coexisting and doing his own thing. There are so many things about living together that bug me every day and yet with applying the skills there is no respectful way to voice these. Expressing my desires they might be fulfilled but it doesn’t feel very often and its only the low effort things, not in areas that are important to me. I have done a lot of gratitude practice but I feel like I can’t keep sustaining it. I know you will assume that it’s because I’m not applying them correctly but there’s no option left for me to learn them better as I can’t afford coaching (like, no chance). I feel that it did make some huge shifts in the beginning but then I just can’t sustain the energy to keep applying it, I’d rather be single, my life would be sooo much easier on both a practical and emotional level. When we were courting I had very low expectations… he didn’t put a lot of effort in back then either. There wasn’t a dating culture in our rural town. I just loved him for who he was. So I think maybe he’s just a low effort man and I was a low value woman back then (low self esteem etc) but now I value myself highly and have grown in so many areas. And I love the woman I have become through the skills (and many other sources) and don’t regret it at all as they have helped me a lot in other relationships and self management etc. But I am ready to give up the idea that they will empower me to create the relationship of my dreams with my husband. Sadly. Greetings from NZ

    Reply
    • Jane, your post really resonates with me. My husband and I had been struggling in some areas for many years, and things finally came to a head during a time of intense stress. That’s when, during hours of online searching, I found Laura and the skills. I read the Empowered Wife and did see ways that I had been damaging our relationship – I began practicing the skills, and like you, they helped me grow as a person and also significantly reduced the conflict in our home. But like you, it hasn’t resulted in my husband being more intimate with me (at a deep level) or partnering with me in any significant way. And that’s what I realize I want. Part of the skill of self-care for me meant getting back in touch with myself and what I want out of life and my marriage – and I realize I want a true life-partner. I don’t want to be treated like a pampered princess, I want a teammate. And I can’t see the skills getting me there. Like you, we didn’t start out with a dating relationship where he was trying hard to win my heart – I think I was always putting in the majority of the effort to make things work. And I think as the years went on, I became more and more dissatisfied, and he became more and more frustrated that I wasn’t happy, because he wants to be a guy who makes his wife happy. Like you, he will honor my desires as long as they’re easy – gifts, help around the house, etc. but not with anything meaningful. I recognize the value of the skills in reducing conflict and creating a atmosphere where intimacy can grow, but in my situation, the skills just aren’t working to get me the relationship I want. Too bad.

      Reply
  14. How do you say ouch when the real pain is through a look, a mmm physical response like sighing or plain just silenced. My hurt is more through all that he doesn’t say like ever. He’s extremely passive and quiet like extremely introverted and tbh the other day I kinda just broke and said “can you say something, anything?! I mean I’m super ticked off would work right now I just need to hear something”. He just looked at me and said “what do you want me to say” and I said “what you want or need to say there is no script here I just need to know where you are”. He sweeps everything (much like many men im sure) but it’s bad deep deep sweeping and silence. His whole family does it however he is the one who doesn’t talk bad behind people’s backs so that’s a positive. Sometimes I want to like jump at him to make sure he’s still alive and can actually respond…that’s a bad joke but you get my point. So ouch doesn’t work for that right? I mean if I disabled ouch he would be totally clueless

    Reply
  15. Hello. Blessed by this. What about situation where the man shuts in, keeps to himself and does not relate. When confronted, he says its not about you but his reactions and attitude reveal otherwise. How can you draw him out and make the marriage lively again

    Reply
  16. Dear Laura,
    You share great insight for relationships with husbands and some of it is applicable to other relationships. Would you be willing to share the names of any books on relationships apart from yours (which I have read and appreciate!), that have impacted and inspired you? Thank you!

    Reply
  17. Dear Laura + fellow sojourners,
    I have a question about saying “ouch”. After practising the skills for about 3 years and lots of improvementin our relationship, I still find it very hard to say “ouch”.Sometimes my husband will hurt my feeling when other people are present. Just last night, while invited at a friends house I suggested to him to try something again…which triggered an overreaction towards me. He rebuked me in a very harsh tone and even my friend realized it. I was so shocked that I couldn’t say “ouch”. I think he too realized his overreaction because he quickly changed his tone of voice. Would you say to say “ouch” even other people are present?

    Reply
  18. Hi Laura, I am from the Philippines, being a catholic, i have asked God through prayers for help with my marriage. And people may find it hard to believe but, I came across your blogs. And yes, you are God’s answer to my prayer for help. I am still starting to follow your advice. My husband just currently told me he loves someone else and that he never loved me and that he’s willing to give up me and our daughters for this woman. It feels like my whole world has torn apart but I have faith in God that He will help me me through this. And you are that instrument that God has shown me. I am now starting to follow your advice although at times I still fall back. But I am hopeful Laura. Please do continue with these wonderful blogs. God bless you.

    Reply

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