Vulnerability: Love’s Hidden Mechanic

Anyone who knows me well will know that one of my favorite games right now is Destiny. I’m super hyped for the beta tomorrow, so I thought it would be a good time to talk about something that I see at play in the game and in real life: how infuriating it can be to deal with a vulnerability mechanic. In the game, there are a lot of encounters that require you to find a way to drop an impenetrable shield in order to hurt the boss. The answers can be pretty obtuse sometimes, but there is always a way to make to make the boss vulnerable.

In a video game, vulnerability is generally a “bad” thing. That’s when it’s time to take cover, find a health kit, and wait for your overshield to recharge. When the boss is vulnerable, that’s when it’s time to strike. When we’re vulnerable, that’s when we are most likely to get hurt.

The same is true for real life: our times of vulnerability are when we are most able to be hurt. But at the same time, they are also when we are able to supercharge the intimacy of our relationships.

Vulnerability is Counter-Intuitive

No conversation about this topicwould be complete without mention of the expert: Brene Brown.  In her first TED Talk, she goes into great detail about the counter-intuitive nature of vulnerability.  People have a tendency to remember how much it can hurt to be vulnerable, even more so than we remember how connected we can feel because of it.

The way I like to define vulnerability in a relationship is this: Giving someone the opportunity to hurt you, and trusting that they won’t.  When my girlfriend and I first started dating, I gave her small opportunities to reject me.  Over time, I’ve gradually given her bigger and bigger chunks of vulnerability because she has earned it.  Now, because I have told her my secrets, I feel extraordinarily connected to her, and she to me.  The more I give her chances to hurt me, the more she proves that she won’t.

Vulnerability is a calculated risk.  Trust your partner enough to share your secrets with them, and honor that trust when it's given to you.

Vulnerability is Non-Negotiable

I won’t lie, being vulnerable is tough.  It takes serious courage to put yourself out there and risk rejection, but if you want to experience real love and intimacy, it’s not optional.  Trying to have a deep relationship without being open to hurt is like trying to make a million dollars by sitting on your butt and doing nothing.  There is something extra required , and your venture is not going to succeed without it.

Doing Vulnerability

Okay, so now we know what vulnerability is, and why it’s so important.  How do we do it?  Do we need to just sit down with our sweetheart and tell them all of our deepest darkest secrets?

Kinda, yeah.  Not all at once, though.  Space it out a little, and follow these guidelines.

  1. Start small.  To build trust in a relationship takes calculated risk.  If I tell you that I’m almost always 15 minutes late to work and you call me an irresponsible employee, than I know that it’s not safe to tell you about my divorce.  But, if you are understanding and supportive of me as a person, I can feel more comfortable sharing a bigger secret.
  2. Expect it back.  There are a lot of people out in the world who will tell you to lower your expectations for a relationship, but this is one of those areas where that can be a dangerous game to play.  If I’m vulnerable and you aren’t, then you know how to hurt me, and I don’t know how to support you.  Strong relationships are built on a level of trust that is sort of the opposite of Mutually Assured Destruction.  (Mutually Assured Support, I guess?)
  3. Make it a priority.  There are few things that are more stressful than holding onto a difficult topic.  The longer you hold onto a hurt, the more likely that it will turn into resentment.  Open up to your partner about what’s bothering you while it’s still small.  If you do this, then just about everything will stay relatively small.
  4. Give as well as you get.  Opening up to your partner is tough; I get it.  Brene Brown makes the observation that “vulnerability is the last thing we want to give, but the first thing we want to see.”  Flip that.  Give it first, expect it second.  When your partner is having a rough time, think about what you need: empathy, understanding, and support.  If you can give those to your partner, it will create a feedback loop of vulnerability that will make your relationship just about bulletproof.

So that’s vulnerability in a nutshell.  Let me know what you think in the comments!  I would love to hear your stories of vulnerability!  Share this article if you feel like someone you know would like it!

 Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Joey Mowery

I am a blogger, artist, hipster, and wannabe renaissance man. I use video games and pop culture as a means to educate others on mental health and relationship topics.

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