The Healthy And Unhealthy Way To Open Up To Him

This is article #59 to be published on the Get The Guy blog from Stephen Hussey. Stephen helped co-write the Get The Guy book and is a wealth of knowledge on dating and relationships.

(Photo: Hernan Pinera)

Enter Stephen

I nearly thought I had said everything I had to say about vulnerability in last week’s post.

That was until I read a comment on that post by Victoria, which completely hit the nail on the head about how to use vulnerability to its maximum effect.

Here is her excellent analysis in full:

There are right ways to be vulnerable, and there are wrong ways to be vulnerable. The right way is to have a “vulnerability dance” with your partner. As you are getting to know each other, express your feelings.

The wrong ways are to confess your weaknesses before your partner is ready to accept them, to use vulnerability for accelerating the development of the relationship, and to try to get the partner back after the breakup.

The main choices are:
1. No vulnerability – always holding back to avoid getting hurt.
2. Vulnerability due to the lack of self-control.
3. Vulnerability as manipulation.
4. Vulnerability as an expression of a growing intimacy.

The last option (4) is the one worth pursuing.

This was so clear and perfect, I just had to share it for those who missed Victoria’s comment.

I want to explain some of the different types mentioned in Victoria’s list above, because they quite accurately describe varying approaches I’ve seen taken by men and women in expressing vulnerability, particularly those who do it in a misguided way, and then wonder why their partner finds it a huge turn-off when they open up emotionally.

Option 1. No Vulnerability (Always Holding Back To Avoid Getting Hurt)

As I mentioned in last week’s post, this could have easily described me in my early twenties.

I used to find it incredibly difficult to show any failings or weaknesses in my personality, for fear they would be pounced on or ridiculed by a girlfriend. I was also scared to express any strong feelings, for fear I could be disappointed or shot down later on.

Many people will be familiar with this one, and the consequence is simple: You feel less pain, but you also feel much less love.

Option 2. Vulnerability due to lack of self-control

This kind of person is the opposite of the one just mentioned. It’s usually someone who cannot help but wear all of her insecurities, hang-ups, and emotional trauma on her sleeve.

We call this person the ‘over-sharer’.

She can’t help but resist telling you her sad story all about the exes who spurned her right after he told her she was ‘The One’, and about how traumatic her parents divorce was, and about how she has a scar on her leg that she hates, and how her mother told her she didn’t have the fingers for piano when she was ten and now she still cries about never having taken it up anyway, and on, and on, and on….

What makes this person unattractive isn’t her sad stories, it’s the fact that she is indulging in them. She is revealing way too much way too soon, and it becomes tiresome to listen to someone’s baggage before you feel very close to them.

She is sharing these vulnerabilities BEFORE any intimacy exists. In fact, she may even be doing it subconsciously to try and create intimacy. This doesn’t work. You can’t fast forward a relationship by spilling your heart out in the first month.

The consequence of this one: You drive people away who see you as ‘damaged’ or ‘too emotional’.

Option 3. Vulnerability as manipulation

This is the person who uses vulnerability to exploit their partner.

This might be the guy who tells you sad stories in order to get you to stay with him. Or in extreme cases, the person who threatens to harm themselves if you leave. It may be the person who exacerbates their own fragile state, in order to make sure you stay at home rather than go out with your friends.

This person may not always be aware, but they are using vulnerability to create guilt.

You can especially fall prey to this type if you are very kind-hearted, or a natural people-pleaser, but you must be able to recognise this behaviour for what is usually is: Attention-seeking and manipulative. Beware of the delicate flower spiked with thorns.

Option 4. Vulnerability as an expression of growing intimacy 

This is the ideal I talked about last week. It’s engaging in what Victoria calls above the ‘vulnerability dance’.

We share problems with each other. It’s a relationship where each individual is there to support their partner in his or her weaker moments. It is not one-sided, with one person playing constant nurse to the other’s fragile ego.

True vulnerability is mutual, gradual, and is an expression of the strength of intimacy, not the weakness of the person revealing themselves. It is something to be shared and enjoyed when it happens. It’s an expression that your relationship has moved forward a level.

Sometimes it ends with a hug. Sometimes with reassurance and soothing, beautiful words you’ll remember forever. Sometimes it even ends in wild passionate sex.

But it’s function is always the same: to make you a stronger team.

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23 Responses to The Healthy And Unhealthy Way To Open Up To Him

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  1. Callie says:

    Great article! Thank you so much (both of you). I happened to start reading this, put it down, and then happened to pick it up again 30 seconds after someone guilted me! I was so grateful I read this before responding (and haven’t yet).

    Do you have any articles that might share how to deal with those areas when someone is doing them in a relationship? (Of any kind)

    Also, I definitely second the comment about how to change your label as damaged or to emotional and would love any expansion on all four.

  2. Hadar Cohen says:

    I have a question that relates to the topic, that I’d be very happy to be answered.
    I’m a victim of rape, and there is always a time that I consistently think if to share my story with the guy I’m dating.
    In one hand, I don’t want to freak the guy out, and make him go away. On the other hand, I feel the urge to tell him about it, as I’m feeling close to him.
    How much time do I have to wait until I’m telling a guy about it? And how? I’m not even sure if I should tell him about it. Maybe i don’t need to expose my vulnerability. But then,I want to be honest with him about stuff, and I feel like I wouldn’t be honest if I won’t tell him about it.
    So, what do you suggest?

  3. Ria says:

    Hi :) what was that comment about?

  4. Martha says:

    I always did a lot of #1 with men I dated. It seemed once we broke up I felt more open doing #4 if we stayed friends and I always wonder why it seemed to bring us closer. Oh well I’ll have to remember to open up a little more next time I’m actually in a relationship.

  5. Vavavoom says:

    If someone is the oversharer and made the mistake of oversharing in front of someone they wanted to be friends with or date, someone they like and are interested in, how do they recover/redo their image? You wrote that someone would be labeled a damaged or too emotional person. How do you change that image with people you’ve made the mistake around? How do you rewrite your label.

  6. Lisa says:

    #2 makes me Angry, what if the Person was just going through a really tough time and wanted someone to Connect with? I can respect and appreciate someone who is Raw about their Struggles versus those Poser Assholes who like to pretend that their life is all Perfect or who runs away or distracts themselves from their Demons rather than facing them head on. To disqualify Somebody for being too “damaged” or “overemotional” can also mean you’re a Shitty ass Friend with Crappy Empathy Skills who cares more about what other People are supposed to do for you (uplift you with their Sunny Positive Weightless Aura) vs. what YOU can do for them (stick by them during their Shittiest Valleys no matter what and do what you can to help take some weight off THEIR backs)

    I’ve been called an Oversharer before and it is SUCH a Lame and Disrespectful ass Label. I say Stay True to Yourself and don’t EVER let anybody disrespect your Struggle, if they don’t care about backing you up now that’s a Free Truth Booth from the Heavens to find another Person of Substance who will

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Hi Lisa,

      I totally appreciate what you’re saying, and believe me, I know the power of connecting with people and opening up even after a short time. I don’t recommend lying and pretending your life is perfect with a false image of perfection. Rather, I think this comes down to your INTENTION. In other words, WHY are you sharing your most personal feelings with this person? Sometimes it’s because you both have a real, genuine moment of closeness and feel comfortable opening up early on with each other. That’s great. But if you are opening up about your vulnerabilities for attention, or to just receive sympathy points, that’s when it becomes an unattractive behaviour.

      Some people will of course always be closed to sharing and give you labels when you open up to them, but those people usually have their own problems with vulnerability and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

      All the best,

      Stephen x

  7. Victoria says:

    Steve,

    I am honored that my comments have inspired this excellent blog post. Your interpretations and examples are excellent. They reflect what I was thinking, and more.

    Thank you,
    Victoria

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      Thank YOU Victoria! This post wouldn’t exist without you and your thoughtful contribution. Really appreciate it!

      Steve x

  8. A. says:

    Glad you are reading the comments so carefully. I appreciate that.

    I’m having a family emergency at the moment that may take months to resolve. I did tell my boyfriend of 3.5 months but then I wish I hadn’t as he keeps trying to ‘help’ me now.

    I just don’t feel comfortable letting him see me this way, especially in an ongoing thing. I feel less . . . valuable. I just want to tell him not to mention it anymore. :-(

    • Stephen Hussey says:

      I think it’s important to let him support you, but also show that it’s not the *only* subject of your relationship either. Tell him you would also really appreciate him taking your mind off things by doing activities other than talking about your family right now, and he’ll get the message that you don’t need to be supported 24/7.

      Steve x

      • A. says:

        Thank you, Stephen. He actually wanted to take me to a comedy club tonight to distract me but I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to go to that and I didn’t feel comfortable opening up to him.

        I think there are other things wrong here which is probably why I don’t want to share stuff with him. Part of it is I feel like I might break up with him and I just don’t want him closer to me or want him spending a cent on me in case that’s what I decide to do. We went out tonight to a movie and I don’t feel good afterward and that has nothing to do with my emergency.

        Something was wrong before and what’s recently happened is only highlighting that. Sigh. I got the guy, I should be happy. But it’s not that easy. It’s just not that easy.

  9. Melissa says:

    So very well written. Mega kudos to you…and thank you for sharing the knowledge.

  10. zoe says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Thank you so much for this post..
    I’ve always been so good at this kinda thing, but for the past couple of years, I think ive been taking comfort in #1 and wondering why im not creating the kind of love I know I deserve… Once I realised this a couple of months ago, I was seeing someone, and decided i needed to face my fears – so I reverted to #2 instead!!
    This post has been so useful for my self reflection, in reminding me not to try and rush things, but to stick with #4 and I wont go far wrong (again!!)
    TThanks again!

  11. Darla says:

    I missed Victora’s comment. So, thank you for writing about it. Describing vulnerability as a dance will help me remember it. Ditto Arianna… vulnerability pt. 2 rocks! I really enjoy our community here on the blog because we are encouraging and contributing to the discussion. So much value and goodness.

  12. Arianna says:

    Some of the descriptions above are textbook examples of abusive traits/relationships. I think some people are afraid to get into relationships because of the fear that the first three options will occur. Once again, vulnerability and fear go hand in hand. It also speaks to the idea that people interact with others based on the way they expect them to act or behave back. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to do so.

    The last option would be ideal… and lovely. :)

    Thanks for vulnerability pt. 2!
    I enjoy having something to get my brain going in the morning. :)

    Arianna

  13. Kathryn says:

    Victoria shows a remarkable self-awareness. I love her expression of it being a dance, like an equal interplay of emotions. As we all have vulnerabilities, we don’t have them all the time and are obviously expressing and communicating other emotions as well. All leading to what you say Stephen ‘an expression of the strength of intimacy’. Great article, what we were thinking but couldn’t put into words! xx

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