- Being vulnerable with your partner can improve trust, communication, conflict, and your sex life.
- Sharing your needs, hopes, fears, and emotions can feel scary if you’ve been hurt in the past.
- Therapists suggest starting slow, using physical touch, and telling your partner how they can help.
Many people crave intimacy in relationships — but true intimacy requires vulnerability, according to Samantha Saunders, a licensed professional counselor in private practice.
Vulnerability in a relationship means you feel able to express your real needs, desires, thoughts, fears, and feelings with your partner. In short, you share your whole self, no matter the risks.
Of course, since letting your guard down creates the potential for hurt or rejection, it can often feel scary to take that leap — especially if someone broke your trust in a past relationship.
So, maybe you hold back the words “I love you” for fear of how your partner might respond, or resist asking for help because you don’t want to seem weak.
As challenging as it might feel to open up to your partner, though, relationship experts say it’s worth making the effort.
Below, therapists share five key benefits of vulnerability, along with six tried-and-true tips for becoming more vulnerable in your relationship.
1. More productive conflict
Vulnerability during conflict can help you and your partner understand each other better, cultivate empathy for each other, and ultimately reach a resolution more quickly, says
Anna Hindell, a psychotherapist in private practice.
For example, taking responsibility for the fact that you said something hurtful to your partner — which requires vulnerability — may help them feel understood so they can move on more easily.
2. Improved ability to meet each other’s needs
No matter how well your partner knows you, they can’t predict your every need and want.
So, when you tell your significant other that you crave more physical affection, for instance, that act of vulnerability serves you both, Saunders says.
With that knowledge, your partner has a better chance of making those necessary adjustments — which means you’re more likely to feel happy, fulfilled, and supported as a result.
3. Increased trust
Trust is the backbone of any relationship. And when you can drop your guard, confide in your partner, and find they still love and accept you, that helps increase trust, Hindell says.
For example, say you tell your partner it bothers you when they forget to mention they’re running late. Doing this can build trust in two ways:
- Your partner now knows you’ll be honest and transparent with them about your feelings.
- If they apologize and show empathy for your feelings, you can trust they’ll validate your feelings in the future.
4. A more satisfying sex life
Bravely communicating your needs, likes, dislikes, and fantasies — also known as sexual communication — can prime you and your partner for more fulfilling sex, according to Laura Silverstein, a certified couples therapist and author of “Love Is an Action Verb.”
In fact, a 2022 review found that engaging in more sexual communication can lead to greater sexual and relationship satisfaction.
Examples of sexual communication include:
- Sharing some feedback after sex about what did or didn’t feel good
- Asking your partner if they’re willing to try something new next time you’re physically intimate
5. Greater self-acceptance
Vulnerability can also benefit you as an individual.
When you share your deepest desires, fears, and insecurities with your partner, you’re more likely to feel loved for who you really are, according to Saunders. You no longer have to hide your so-called “flaws,” because you have the reassurance that your partner loves all of you — not just the parts you allow them to see.
And higher self-esteem can improve the quality of your relationships, in turn.
Tips for becoming more vulnerable
Whether you struggle with vulnerability or simply want to make this skill more of a priority in your relationship, these suggestions from experts can help you learn to let your partner in.
1. Start small
“If you’re nervous about opening up to your partner, start by sharing something simple that doesn’t feel too emotionally risky,” Saunders says.
Saunders suggests sharing a secret interest or passion with your partner — for example, a love of watching anime or building model trains — even if you don’t know how they’ll react.
By easing into vulnerability, you can slowly build trust and confidence so you can share deeper emotional truths over time.
2. Practice self-care
“In order to be vulnerable with your partner, you need to start out being kind to yourself,” Silverstein says.
3. Use “I” statements
Telling your partner they did something to upset you may, in some cases, trigger feelings of fear, anxiety, or shame.
This kind of vulnerability may spark some discomfort, and that’s natural — but keep in mind your partner can’t apologize, validate your emotions, or change their behavior if they don’t know how you feel.
Silverstein advises starting these conversations with an “I feel” statement.
I-statements like these are far less likely to put your partner on the defensive than accusations. Accordingly, they leave your partner in a much better position to show the empathy and understanding you need to encourage future vulnerability.
4. Admit you’re struggling
When you have trouble letting your guard down, one important step toward vulnerability involves admitting your struggle.
For example, you might tell your partner:
- “I want to feel closer to you, but I have a hard time talking about my feelings.”
- “It’s difficult for me to ask for help, even though I need it sometimes.”
If you can, you might also consider sharing why you shy away from vulnerability. Did you get hurt in a past relationship? Did your parents teach you that showing your feelings is a weakness?
Letting your partner know what they can do to encourage vulnerability may also make a difference.
For instance, you might say:
- “I feel a lot safer sharing my feelings when you do so.”
- “I’d love for you to ask how you can help when you notice I’m getting frustrated with a project.”
5. Initiate physical contact
If you have a hard time expressing your vulnerability in words, Silverstein suggests making more physical gestures to connect with your partner.
For instance, you might:
- Make it a point to kiss them goodbye for work, if that’s not a typical part of your routine
- Reach for their hand while you’re out for a walk
- Gently touch their thigh or back when sitting in the car together
It’s OK to feel a little hesitant about this if you’re not used to initiating physical contact — but displays of affection like these can strengthen your bond. What’s more, these acts may make your partner feel loved and cared for — which can help them feel safer being vulnerable with you.
6. Seek support from a therapist
If you have trouble cultivating vulnerability in your relationship, Hindell advises working with a professional. A licensed couples therapist can help facilitate more vulnerable dialogue between you and your partner — and help you identify anything holding you back.
“A therapist can also offer guidance on communication strategies that will help each partner express themselves without fear of judgment or rejection,” Hartman says.
Vulnerability can foster trust, intimacy, and understanding while also enabling you to communicate and resolve conflict more effectively. Ultimately, these benefits can boost your relationship satisfaction overall.
That said, opening up about your thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires can feel downright difficult at times. Therapists say it can help to start with small acts of vulnerability, let your partner in on your struggle, and seek support from a therapist as needed.
Above all, Hartman recommends patience. “It can take time to build trust and comfort with a partner, so don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than expected before you can truly let your guard down,” Hartman says.