Vulnerability makes an open relationship strong

January 2014

We’re both sitting with a beer in our hand at the regular table of our cafe. My husband looks at me with a crooked face. I know exactly why.

“You like it when I can’t do something, don’t you?” he says.

I’m thinking about the dance class I just took and I can’t suppress my laughter. A triumphant laugh. Not nice of me. But for the first time this week, I feel relieved and free. I could play a game with him now, start talking about something else or apologize to him. Quickly. So we don’t need to talk about it. But I decide to be honest with him.

“It wasn’t about you and what you did tonight. It was about me!”

He doesn’t understand what I’m talking about. He is clearly still with his thoughts at the dance class he has undergone.

“It’s about what I just did in dance class. You’ve been dating a lot lately. You’re busy at work. I’m jealous of everything and everyone that gets your attention. “I don’t feel like I’m being noticed.”

His gaze is changing.

“Tonight I wanted you to be jealous too. When the dancing didn’t go well between us. When you didn’t keep your arms right and I got a chance to do it with the dance teacher… well, that came in handy. “I also wanted to make you feel what it’s like when your partner is doing something with someone else.”

His eyes are narrowing, but I’m not done yet.

“With pleasure. Better than with you. And I also enjoyed your angry reaction.”

He takes a sip of his beer and no longer looks offended. Rather amused.

“So he’s doing better than me?” he says defiantly.

I’m laughing now. “Not just that. I feel stronger again than I’ve felt in times. I’m sorry, honey. I know it was very childish of me, but I needed a moment to get myself up.”

He holds up his glass of beer and we gently tap the glasses together. “Cheers. Beautiful woman” he says and winks at me. We both feel the tension running away between us like a balloon that has been punctured. No fuss. Daring to say what it’s like. We’re connected again.

Do you recognize this? That you do things just to make yourself feel better?

Usually these kinds of processes happen unconsciously.

I didn’t intend to make my husband jealous. But when the opportunity arose, I grabbed him with both hands. And I didn’t mind saddling him with a rotten feeling.

At such a moment you feel the impure, the uncomfortable or the vile of what you are doing. Because it happens so subtly, it is very easy to deny and to make it elusive.

No, it’s not nice when you’re like this. Only perfect people are always nice. It’s a sign of courage to admit you’re not perfect.

It takes courage not to want to be perfect

Most people strive for perfection or at least want to show themselves of their best side. We do coaching and courses to become a better version of ourselves. And if you don’t think you need this , others will point this out to you: friends, family, followers or clients who expect more from you.

Perfect people are beautiful, independent and self-confident. That may sound desirable and that is probably the reason why people always keep tinkering with themselves.

Perfectionism also has a downside. In relationships, perfection can also lead to elusiveness. It stands in the way of real connection. And connection and security are precisely the basic conditions for a valuable, deep relationship.

Does perfection or the fear of not being perfect (and being rejected) stand in the way of a good contact in your relationship(s)? Then read through the points below and see what you can apply.

  1. Show not only the perfect outside (your strength), but also the imperfect inside (your shame, your fear). Be honest about your feelings and your behaviour. Even if it is childish.
  2. It takes courage to open yourself up. You run the risk of being rejected or disappointed. That feels unsafe. Be brave in your relationship.
  3. It’s worth entering this unsafe path. There are no guarantees but it can be a nice discovery to deepen.
  4. By also showing your imperfection, you show that you trust someone else.
  5. Conversely, the other will also trust you more easily and then open up and show themselves to you more easily.
  6. This leads to understanding, a deeper connection and safety.

The power of vulnerability

This is the title of a beautiful book written by Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston. She indicates that vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but rather the road to courage, commitment and meaningful connections.

Click on the video below of her lecture at TedX Houston.

In short, she says the following:
“[…Powerful vulnerability is about the courage to show yourself, to try things out and to take the risk of failure. That you recognize that perfection does not exist, that winning and losing are part of life. That by fully accepting yourself, your own shame also diminishes…]”

To the latter, I would add that the reverse also works. Precisely by showing your shame, you will notice that it is not as bad as you think and you will accept yourself more.

Vulnerability breaks patterns in quarrels

As you could read in the previous blog patterns in quarrels, quarrels often unconsciously hit the other person’s rawspots. Then the other person hits you in exactly the same way: at your rawspot, your vulnerability. To discover this, you will have to travel a path through your own pain and maybe even shame. This is sometimes a confrontational struggle in which you can help each other.

How can you help someone be vulnerable?

Don’t hold up a mirror, don’t bring in ratio, but feel. Sometimes really literally, by holding someone’s hand or caressing their back. Be curious, loving and encouraging. Ask questions and share your experience. Show that you know what it feels like and that you sympathize.

Vulnerability makes strong

“How honest of you,” my husband says when he puts a new beer in front of me.

After my disembodiment, we won’t need any more words. I also know that I did not behave neatly (read: perfect). But now we understand each other again. The air is pure. The click is back. We can touch each other again.

Perfection attracts. But imperfection connects. Because we recognize much more of ourselves in it.

The door of the cafe opens. The dance teacher steps inside. My husband gets up and pats him on the shoulder. “Beer?” he asks and he walks confidently to the bar.

Vulnerability, the need for recognition and trust are of course not reserved for people who have an open relationship. Monogamous couples will also recognize themselves in this.

And now 7 years after writing this column
My hub and I have no masks anymore. It feels truly liberating. The last 10 years of having an open relationship we had two massive crises. We have seen each other at our ugliest, at our most imperfect moments. We don’t have to disguise anything anymore. Not from each other, but not from ourselves either. With my new partners I try to reach the same level of intimacy. It takes years. At least three. It’s like a precious flower and you cannot pull it from the soil. But it is a beautiful way to discover each other and  getting connected more and more. It takes time though. And it takes the courage to show some ugliness too 🙂

Do you ever do something nasty, just to get even? And what do you do afterwards? How does your partner respond to this? I’m very curious about your experiences.

With love,

Rhea Darens
EFT-relationship counselor for couples in an open relationship

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