Vulnerability: How soon is too soon?
A few weeks ago I received this email in response to a post I’d written.
I came across your blog post titled ‘The Power of Your Authenticity’ and I was really blessed by it. I need your advice: I recently met a lady and she’s not opening up to me. I understand she wants to take things slow and build a good friendship with me first but it’s really difficult to get through to her. How can I get her to share and be more open about her thoughts with me?
This is a question I’ve heard many people ask and I think there are some key principles when it comes to vulnerability in relationships, whether it be with friends or with someone you’re romantically interested in.
Take the First Step
You can’t expect someone else to bare their soul if you don’t bare your own. If you want someone to be open with you then you must first be open with them. Taking the initial step and setting the tone makes all the difference. If you show that you are comfortable being open with them about your own thoughts and feelings it’s far more likely that they will be comfortable doing the same.
Take Good Care
If someone opens up to you, recognise that it’s a gift that you’ve been given. If something sensitive has been revealed then that’s an especially precious gift. Tell the person you’re grateful for sharing what they have.
Be careful with kindness. If you respond with judgement, harshness or lack of interest when someone has opened up an insecurity or wound it will lead them to close off and cause them further pain.
Be careful with confidentiality. If they feel like things they tell you will be told to people they don’t want knowing then that’s the quickest way to kill trust.
Be careful with comedy. Sometimes joking about something embarrassing someone has done is a powerful way to show the person you’re okay with it. Sometimes it can hurt the person as it’s too soon to joke about (a mistake I’ve made many a time!) – so be cautious when making light of something serious.
Take your Time
Many people have been burnt. They’ve gotten close to someone only to have the relationship end and for the other person to walk away with intimate knowledge about them. There are those who have had secrets shared, rumours spread and trust betrayed. It’s understandable therefore that some of us won’t be too comfortable opening up right away.
Don’t force it. Don’t push someone beyond what they feel comfortable to share. Just as rushing physical intimacy can cause a pile of problems, so can rushing emotional intimacy. ‘Love is patient’. Take your time.
Take it Seriously
While it’s important to take your time with vulnerability it’s vital that it’s eventually reached if you’re going to have a healthy, lasting relationship.
Don’t get engaged to someone you don’t know.
I realise that sounds obvious but I know too many people who have.
Discovering who someone is on a deeper, authentic level takes time and intentionality. The infatuation stage needs to pass, the masks need to come off and the walls need to come down – and none of that happens quickly nor accidentally. It’s why rushing into marriage can be such a risk.
The reality is that we can be so desperate to be married that we don’t take the time to ask the tough questions and discuss the awkward topics. It’s easier to just ignore the sticky subjects and bury our head in the romantic sand. But while avoidance is easy it’s a weak foundation for a marriage. If you want to build a strong long-term relationship it’s essential that you replace avoidance with authenticity.
As I mentioned in my previous post, if you don’t have authenticity you don’t have relationship. You’re not in a real relationship with someone if you’re not honest, open and vulnerable; because they’re not in relationship with you – they’re just in relationship with a shallow projection of you.
I was reminded about this when I was chatting to a guy about his girlfriend and he said that they were planning on getting engaged soon. I asked how it had gone when he had told her about his porn addiction. He went quiet. He hadn’t brought it up yet. I then asked how it went when he had shared about his sexual past. Again, more silence.
It turned out that he knew it was a good idea to bring those things up but it felt too difficult. It was easier to think about the proposal, the wedding, the honeymoon.
If a relationship is going to have true intimacy, if a relationship is going to stand the test of time, then there needs to be depth, honesty and openness.
It’s Worth It
As the saying goes, ‘Love is giving someone the power to destroy you but trusting them not to.’
Yes, love is a risk. Vulnerability can backfire. There are no guarantees of a happily ever after. There’s a chance you’ll get hurt. There’s a chance you’ll get burnt. But that’s what comes with the territory. That’s what happens when you pursue love.
So don’t rush into vulnerability. And don’t wait too long.
Love is worth the risk. Vulnerability is worth fighting for.