“Being Vulnerable with a Woman”
An excerpt from the Vissell’s new book, To Really Love a Woman)
To be vulnerable with a woman is to allow yourself to be seen and known in your entirety, not just your powerful, independent, secure, loving and capable self. Yes, you love a woman by being powerful, by protecting her from all harm, by fathering the little girl inside her, and by gently taking the lead. But without vulnerability your loving is incomplete.
To be vulnerable is to show her your fear, pain, shame, and need for love. Showing your vulnerability, by the classic definition, is showing your weakness and therefore showing the way to be attacked and defeated. This is the military model. If you’re fighting in a battle, you avoid vulnerability. The problem is that this model is entirely useless if you’re striving for intimacy. Many of us have been programmed since our early days on the playground to avoid vulnerability so we wouldn’t get attacked by other kids. The choice is clear. Do we want to avoid vulnerability with our beloved, or do we want to feel the heights of love?
To be vulnerable, contrary to what many people think, makes you truly attractive, even irresistible. The opposite of vulnerability is keeping on your armor, your protection from being hurt. Trouble is, this armor also keeps love away from you.
It’s often more difficult for men to show their vulnerability. We’re so often raised with “machismo.” We hear the messages, “Be a man. Men don’t cry. Never show your fear.” We’re taught to hold in our feelings. We view all feelings except anger (and related feelings like frustration, irritation, and annoyance) as a sign of weakness. Yet it is our vulnerability that is our real strength, not the hollow bravado we usually display to the world.
After years of experience, Joyce and I have come to realize the extreme importance of vulnerability. I feel it is impossible to truly love another person without being vulnerable. I like the expression of “intimacy” as “into me see.” To be intimate is to let your partner see into you … all of you, not just the parts you like about yourself. Intimacy has come to mean sex for many people, but it is so much more. Vulnerability is the cornerstone of intimacy. Vulnerability allows you to be seen at the most fundamental level.
I love to lead men’s retreats, and by the end of these weekends all the men understand the importance of vulnerability. During these weekends we experience the tenderness of fathering one another, and the liberation of having our inner little boys safely loved by other men as fathers. We share our pain, our fears, our shame, our feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. And most importantly, we experience how our vulnerability allows us to be more authentic, and how this authenticity makes us more loveable – and more powerful – in the eyes of every man present.
For most of the men, it’s easier to be vulnerable at these weekend retreats with other men than it is to be vulnerable with the women in their lives. A standard of safety is established from the beginning of the retreat. They often admit that they lack this safety at home with their wives or partners. Some admit to being scared of women, that somehow women have the power to hurt them. Therefore, as a true solution to this problem, I challenge each man to bring their vulnerability to the important women in their lives. By doing this, they create the safety they need, rather than waiting for their women to create the safety for them. It’s touching for me to hear from the wives and partners after a men’s retreat. Quite often I am thanked by these women who are deeply moved by the vulnerability of their partners.
4 ways to be more vulnerable with a woman:
Timing is important here. You need to be sensitive to her level of receptivity. She may not be ready to drop everything just because you want to express your vulnerability. It may not work to blurt out your vulnerability as she races around the house after the children. It never hurts to ask her first: “Honey, I have something vulnerable to share with you. Is this a good time for you?” Then listen to see if she’s really ready, not just automatically saying yes.
1. Ask her for help. If you don’t ask her for help, you foster the illusion that you don’t need her. But you do need her … in a thousand ways. And don’t only ask for help in physical ways, like helping you hang a picture. Ask for emotional support, like holding you when you feel sad, or for reassurance when you feel insecure. Ask for spiritual help too, like sitting with you in prayer or meditation.
2. Admit that you need her love. When a woman feels needed as well as protected, she feels really loved. If she feels needed but not protected, then she goes into “mother mode,” and you become another one of her children. Definitely not attractive to her! When she feels you need her love as much as she needs yours, she can relax into the relationship.
3. Let her know, without anger, when you feel hurt by her. It’s easy to bypass hurt feelings and jump right into anger. Even though I more typically express my anger, reflexively covering over my hurt, I sometimes will let Joyce know I feel hurt by something she did or said. Showing my hurt, without the anger, shows Joyce my vulnerability. It also shows her how important she is to me. She loves this and will usually immediately apologize.
4. Be courageous enough to admit your fears to her. Yes, you have just as many fears as she does. Women tend to speak more about their fears. You may hold them inside, or worse, not even be aware of them. That does not mean you’re less afraid. Admit your fears about failure, not being good enough, or even losing her through death. This makes you more human, more vulnerable, and definitely more attractive to her.
The Vissell’s new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man, can be ordered from their website with free shipping here, or from Amazon.com.