How to Deepen Any Relationship
Rabbi Dov Heller, LMFT
Choosing to be vulnerable is the one sure way to deepen any relationship. When you choose to be vulnerable, you put yourself in an emotionally dangerous position by telling the truth about how you feel about another person or any sensitive issue in your life.
Choosing to be vulnerable feels dangerous because you don’t know how the other person will react. She may reject you or shame you. Ideally, you hope the other person will listen and embrace what you’re expressing. When two people are emotionally vulnerable with each other and listen to each other, the result is always a deepening of the relationship and a greater feeling of connection and closeness.
Max was having a hard time working with his new boss of six months. He was getting worn down and resented her criticism and micromanaging. He considered talking to the CEO about her but decided instead to talk with her. He knew he was taking a risk which might cost him his job, but he felt it was the right thing to do. He refused to continue to suffer and feel resentment.
“Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but it seems since Day One all you’ve had to say to me is negative remarks. I know I have a lot to learn, but your approach isn’t helping me learn. I’m sure you have good intentions, but to be honest I’m beginning to resent you.”
Her response transformed the relationship. “You know,” she said, “I saw you as an ambitious guy who wants to succeed, so I decided to push you. I didn’t realize that my pushing was actually hurting you and turning you off and disconnecting us. Let’s give it another try and see how it goes, okay? To be honest, very few people have ever been so direct with me, and I want you to know how much I respect that.”
From that day on, their relationship deepened, became more honest and authentic.
Joan’s marriage of 20 years was beginning to feel routine and shallow. There were no real problems between her and her husband—they didn’t fight—but she felt like the passion was gone and they were drifting apart. She tried to figure out what was wrong and decided to have an honest talk with her husband.
She took a risk at being vulnerable. “Frank, I’ve not been feeling good about us. I feel disconnected from you and alone. I don’t know what’s going on and what to do about it, but it scares me, and I’m not happy.”
Frank took the opportunity to share his own experience of discontent, expressing to Joan that he had been feeling that her career had become more important to her than their relationship. Although they didn’t know exactly where to go at that moment, they both sensed that a significant shift had taken place and that some new path had opened up for both of them.
Are you in a relationship that feels stuck, lifeless, or is causing you pain? The one sure way to improve it is to risk being emotionally vulnerable with the other person. These questions may help you see some options for how to be more vulnerable:
- What am I feeling towards this person?
- Am I willing to tell him or her exactly how I feel?
- What am I most afraid to share with him or her?
- What is so dangerous about being vulnerable with this person? What do I have to lose?
- What do I long for most with this person?
- What specific change do I want most to experience regarding this person?
- If I could be sure that I would get a positive response, what would I say to this person?
One more thing to keep in mind: It is extremely important when being vulnerable to speak in I-statements, such as, “I often feel scared when you…” or “I find myself thinking that you might…” You-statements, on the other hand, usually are experienced by the other person as being critical or as attacking. “You never seem to understand me when…” “You don’t get me when I try to tell you how important it is to be on time…”
It’s true that choosing to be vulnerable might blow up in your face, but you will always feel good that you gave it a try even if it fails. As they say, “No pain, no gain.” If this is true about life in general, it is certainly true about getting the love and respect you long for and desire.