“Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage.” – Brene’ Brown
Couples who enter therapy to strengthen or repair their marriage are courageous by virtue of that choice. Relationships can be challenging. Factor in trust issues or attachment wounds pre-existing to the marriage and the relationship may be in for a difficult journey. Many couples withstand these challenges with little to no apparent scathing. For others, the time and energy each spouse uses to defend against the ensuing battles can create years of emotional pain leading each person to feel ultimately alone and helpless to change the situation. For those that find their way into a therapist’s office there is hope, and healing can be realized. The work that begins in that therapy space is, initially, uncomfortable for many. However, for those that withstand this beginning phase it is well worth the investment. Couples therapy is an investment of not only money, but also time and trust. The most expensive of these may be the trust. Trusting a therapist who will expect you to become transparent and forthcoming is one thing. Learning to trust your partner on new levels is a risk that makes some people squirm to retreat even further. The therapist will encourage you to become vulnerable. The healthier marriage you seek requires that vulnerability. **
If you and your partner long for a strong marriage and are thinking of entering couples therapy, consider the following:
1. Trust is a decision, not a feeling. Countless spouses have said to me, “I don’t feel like I can trust him (or her)”. They frequently believe they must hold out for some positive emotional experience that will signal it’s okay to move forward in working on a relationship. Trust is not an emotion. If you’ve made the choice to trust someone in your life and that person betrayed you, the decision to trust again will not initially be accompanied by warm, fuzzy feelings. In fact, making the decision to trust will often feel uncomfortable. You’ll feel vulnerable and may believe it’s intolerable.
2. Trust and vulnerability go hand in hand. They are really two sides of the same coin. If you want your partner to trust you, you must be comfortable showing all of you. This means your true self, not the self that has been cloaked in your defenses. Showing our true self happens with full disclosure of emotions, thoughts, fears, dreams, and so on. By your willingness to be vulnerable, you’re letting your partner know the relationship is a safe space for that level of openness. This, in turn, may encourage them to be more open and authentic with you. Once this open exchange begins between you, you’ll find yourself trusting with more ease. It can soon become a dance of connection that seems effortless.
3. Healthy relationships require vulnerability. This is one of the reasons infidelity becomes a choice for some spouses. For certain people, it seems easier to enter a series of new relationships where we continue to show only our superficial selves rather than allow the opening up of true self that is required to build a life with just one person. Even in marriages where betrayal is not an issue, the fear of vulnerability can lead to a painful distance between two people and this emotional distance can last a lifetime.
4. You’ll be asked to lay aside your defenses. It’s natural to protect ourselves when we feel threatened. As humans, we have as many ways of shielding ourselves from perceived emotional threats as we do ways to defend from actual physical danger. However, these shields are often unhealthy and serve to separate us from our partner, keeping us from the safety of that secure attachment we crave. With the help of a couples’ therapist, it can take little time to identify these unhealthy coping tactics and create more adaptive ways to feel emotionally safe in your relationship.
5. Yep, it’s scary and there are no guarantees. The absence of guarantees is what makes vulnerability and trust such difficult steps. Not everyone is selfless and not everyone enters into marriage with the same goals. In any relationship, there is always the risk of putting ourselves out there, only to be left alone and without. But, if you and your spouse choose to trust a therapist to explore the landscape of your marriage and motivations, you’re one step closer to moving from that scary spot to the sweet spot of a meaningful bond.
** Vulnerability in a loving relationship does not include allowing oneself to be physically or emotionally abused. If you are being abused in any way, please search for a professional who can help you develop a safety plan for exiting the situation.
In the Tulsa County area, you can call the 24-hour Information and Crisis Line at 918.743.5763.