What does it take to feel love and connection? What does it take to show love and connection? Is vulnerability the path? What exactly does it mean? Can you have a strong, loving relationship without the need to be so exposed emotionally? I do my best to answer these questions in this episode.
The transcript of today’s episode follows.
I wonder how I sound because I can’t tell. I’ve been sick for the last three weeks now. Got COVID a couple of weeks back and just working it out. Hopefully, it’s not long COVID. I think I sound 85% myself, so without rambling on about that, there are a couple of things that I learned that I’d like to share.
Whether it helps you or not, I do not know, but I want to at least let you know what I’ve learned while being sick while recovering. One of them is I save a lot of money by not going out.
We’re both sick, we both have COVID, and we’ve learned that we can save a lot of money by not leaving the house. So we’re lucky that we get to work from home. We’re very grateful that we can do that.
I’m noticing the bank account gets a little bit more funded, or not unfunded, not withdrawn, so that’s a benefit of not being able to go out to restaurants, meet up with friends, go out to events.
It’s isolating, so that’s a drawback, but being able to save some money, that’s very helpful with the price of eggs nowadays.
Luckily, as of this recording, they have gone down. It is now February of 2023. I love eggs and I eat them every day. They were expensive for a while, but we have been saving money since we had to stay home during this time.
Another lesson that I learned is that being physically unwell is difficult. We had to stay in separate bedrooms because we were not sure if we were passing it back and forth or if one of us had a different strain or variant.
It was interesting to learn that it felt more freeing to be in the bedroom by myself at night. I could turn on my phone, TV, and make noise without worrying about disturbing my partner. I did not think about that before, and in a sense, it was an intriguing experiment.
When we were at our most sick and coughing, we had to separate because we did not want to wake each other up. We noticed that we could do whatever we wanted, including cough, get up, or go to the bathroom without disturbing the other person.
It was an interesting experience because when we would normally go to bed together, I would miss being next to my partner. However, if we were on different schedules and sleeping in separate bedrooms, I would fall asleep faster as I did not need to worry about someone else.
We’re back in the same bedroom together now, and it is just as wonderful to be connected and together with the person you love. Nonetheless, experiencing the freedom of going to bed alone for a while was just as interesting. It was weird because it felt like being single again, and that’s not what I wanted. However, if anyone wants to try this experiment, it is also an interesting one.
I appreciate the love and support I have received from people who have wished me well on the Facebook group and sent me messages. Thank you so much. I consider myself not sick at all compared to a lot of people but thank you for your support and love.
Anyway, regarding today’s topic, someone once wrote to me saying that they find my podcast refreshing and inspiring, and it has helped them to realize that their partner’s behavior is turning into emotional abuse. I know it has nothing to do with me. I don’t think he is doing it intentionally.
The latter part is, why am I still in this relationship, making strides to repair and heal it? He has agreed to counseling, but he doesn’t want to talk about anything outside of our appointments. I used your technique of saying, “You may be right,” asking questions like a best friend would. We had a breakthrough.
I’ll explain that in a moment. The first thing he said was, “I don’t understand why we need to be vulnerable to create attachment or connection.” I believe him when he says that he truly doesn’t understand. I think that’s why he can’t be vulnerable. What are some ways I can support him? And when do I leave?
If he won’t ever be ready? I don’t want to keep living like this, but I do see potential. Thanks for sharing that! This came in a while back. I don’t know if the situation is the same, but I always answer questions as if they’re happening now. You might be going through something similar to this person who wrote, so thank you for writing this, and I’m going to address the components of this message because there are a few things that stood out. I think they’re important to discuss.
One of the things that you said was, “I don’t think he’s doing it intentionally.” You might be right. Oh, you asked, “Why am I still in the relationship and making strides to repair and heal it?” That sticks out because not one person, it shouldn’t be one person’s job to make huge strides or any strides to repair a relationship.
It’s not one person’s job to do that. It’s one person’s job to show up as the best person they can in any relationship. That’s one person’s job. It’s both people’s jobs to repair the relationship or heal it or salvage it or work together to fix whatever’s broken. It’s two people, not one. If one person is making the strides to repair and heal it, as this person says, then it’s not a healthy way to do it.
It’s not a productive way to do it. It shouldn’t all fall on your shoulders. It shouldn’t fall on one person’s shoulders to fix things. A relationship is a minimum of two people, but typically two people in a relationship are two people working on keeping things, maintaining things, keeping things good, trying to maintain positivity, trying to maintain healthy communication, healthy boundaries, honoring each other’s boundaries, valuing each other, understanding that both people have their own values, what’s important to them, and valuing the other person’s desire to follow their path and supporting them following that path, hoping, crossing your fingers that the path they’re on is the same path that you’re on, or at least parallel, so that you are kind of holding hands along the way.
If it’s that type of relationship, I think it’s important to make sure that everyone understands that in a relationship, everyone understands that it’s everyone’s job. When it’s two people, it’s both people’s job to work on the relationship, maintain the relationship, keep the line of communication open, stay honest, be as transparent as possible.
One of the things that she mentioned in this email is being as vulnerable as possible with somebody that you’re supposed to be able to trust and being vulnerable with somebody because you trust them.
I’m going to talk about vulnerability in a second, but coming back to what she said, “I’m making strides to repair and heal it.” Then it’s not the correct way to do it. When you have one person working on the relationship, the ship is listing, the balance is off, and that usually means that the other person isn’t taking responsibility for their role – whatever they are doing, whatever they are saying, whatever they are contributing or not contributing to the relationship.
It is a work in progress for two people or anyone in the relationship. It’s a work in progress. It could be a family, it could be a multi-part relationship. Polyamory could be anything, but it takes the totality of the people in the relationship to work on it. Now, if it’s a family, and there are children, that’s going to be different.
You can’t expect the children to say, “Okay, this is my part. This is what I’ll do,” but you can instill in them how they should show up in the relationship, instead of lying to me about that, just tell me the truth, we can talk about it. Because some kids lie. Maybe most kids lie. It’s helpful to instill good values, good communication, honesty, and transparency. You also want to make a safe place for everyone to feel like they can express themselves and be honest, and that safe place isn’t something that, when they are honest, you yell at them, or they yell at you, or they get angry at you.
Anger is allowed, but if you always feel emotionally threatened or worse, physically threatened, and you feel threatened when you share something, then it’s not a safe place. Of course, it’s going to feel less and less like a balanced relationship where both people are working on it together, so that’s important too.
There has to be a safe place to express and be yourself, and that’s my primary goal. In a relationship, when I get into a relationship, I want to be as close to who I am, almost 100%. If I can, I usually can’t. It’s hard for people to be 100% themselves in a relationship because you have to reach an agreement. So, you have to come to terms. You have to find or at least express how you feel about things.
When you disagree about things, you come to a place in the middle, where you can maybe make some compromises. But for the most part, it’s going in the right direction. It still has forward momentum. When both people are working on the relationship, that’s how forward momentum happens. Otherwise, imagine a rowboat where one person is rowing with one or two, unless they’re on the back of the boat and they’re trying to propel the boat that way. But a rowboat requires two oars, one in one hand and one in the other.
If one person has one oar, it’s going to go around in circles, not going to go anywhere. If one person has both oars, it’s going to take a lot of energy. The other person, what are they doing? They’re just sitting there, watching the other person work. It’s not a big deal in a rowboat. That’s fine. A rowboat is a great place to get exercise and to be with somebody where one person does all the work. Not a problem. But in a relationship, that’s a problem. Both people should have an oar. That way, you can continue your forward momentum and try to go in a fairly straight line.
Or wherever you’re going, you want to end up at the destination you’re going to, and neither one person is going to do all the work trying to get to the destination that you both want to go. Or both people can do it together. What typically happens, using this as an analogy for relationships, is that when one person does all the work, they get tired. They will become exhausted. They will look over at the other person and ask themselves, “Why isn’t this person doing any of the work? I’m doing all the work here.”
“My arms are tired, my hands are calloused. I’m doing all the work. Why can’t they do something?” Then sometimes this is what happens, the other person says, “You’re the one who has the issue, so you do the work. You’re the one with the issue, you do the work,” and that should bug you.
If somebody said that to you, “You’re the one with the problems, I think everything’s fine, you should do all the work,” that’s a problem. That’s an unbalanced relationship. It’s going to go in circles, because the person trying to do all the work is going to get tired, and will only go so far, especially against the current. So that’s important, you want to do it together, it has to be a together thing, so the person who wrote and said, “She’s trying to make strides to repair and heal it, it’s just not the way it should work.”
“That’s not your job. It’s both of your job, I’d beat that one to death, I’m going to go to the next thing. You said he has agreed to counseling, but he doesn’t want to talk about anything outside our appointments.” So that’s basically saying, “I’ll bring it up in counseling, which probably feels safe to do so but when we get home, I don’t want to talk about it.” I don’t know how far that’s going to go. Because if you don’t talk about it outside of counseling, does that mean your only connection and your bonding happens during counseling? Does that mean that he’s willing to be vulnerable and maybe transparent or more transparent inside the counseling space? I’m not putting him down for that.
“I think that’s a great way to do it, if he’s being open and honest, and things are happening, and there’s progress there but if you can’t share this stuff with the person that you’re with, that’s supposed to be the person that you can trust more than almost anyone else. When you love someone, especially in a romantic relationship, that’s supposed to be the person that you love and trust the most. Most of the time, this is what happens in a romantic relationship, it gives you the opportunity to trust someone more than anyone else.”
“If you don’t have that trust, where you can’t be vulnerable and transparent and share the deepest, even darkest parts of you, then where does that go? And what do you do with that energy, if somebody is holding back and only sharing with somebody else, and they don’t feel safe enough, or they don’t trust you enough, or they’re just afraid because of fear and fear of whatever – fear of computation, fear of looking stupid or feeling inferior, feeling unworthy, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection and a lot of real fears.”
“That could be the reason that you might not want to share with somebody, but I think it’s important to remember that when you’re with somebody, especially in a romantic sense, that trust has to be really at the forefront. There has to be trust almost above everything else. Without trust, it’s hard for the rest of it to fall into the right place. It’s like all the square pegs in the square holes. It’s hard for that to fall into the right place. Because without trust, it’s hard to feel safe. Without feeling or without the ability to feel safe, it’s hard to open your heart and it’s hard to be vulnerable. In so this is what I see when he says he’ll talk about it in counseling, but won’t talk about it outside the appointments.”
“Again, I’m going to give him this because that’s what counseling is for. That’s what the therapy does. It gives you that safe space to express yourself but I do hope this evolves into conversations outside of therapy, because otherwise, the only place where you actually might be able to bond and connect at a deeper level might be in the therapist office. But I have a feeling what’s really happening is that all of the negative stuff is coming out in therapy, it’s probably unlikely that you go to therapy, and you feel really vulnerable and connected to the person and you’re feeling stronger towards them.”
“Because that’s where we vent, right? A lot of the time we vent in therapy, we express what we’re afraid to express to the other person because we know there’ll be a negative reaction. Again, therapy is great for all kinds of expressions. It could definitely go positive, it could create more bonding moments as opposed to in the end, it’s supposed to either bring you together or help you reconnect with yourself, help you get to the truth of how you feel about each other, and so on and so on. But my point is, if you don’t ever evolve, to talk about stuff outside of therapy, then what you end up with is a very compartmentalized place that may not help the relationship along. We could cut, so this is I can go back and forth with this one, but I do think that eventually, you should be able to talk about things outside of therapy, which brings us to I’m not there yet.
Let’s not go to vulnerability yet, but that’s going to get to vulnerability. The next thing this person wrote is, “I used your technique of saying, ‘You may be right’, and I asked questions like a best friend would. We had a breakthrough. I think this is a great place to stop, and we’re going to get into my technique, I guess you could call it. ‘You may be right’ is how you squash resistance or present something other than resistance.
Fortunately, we’re both starting to feel better. Now we’re moving into the healing part of our journey. But remember that long-term pain I used to deal with? I dealt with sciatic nerve pain for a good 15 years of my life. There were times I was just tempted to press. I felt like giving up. Being in pain all the time was wearing me down and wearing me out.
I’m going to talk about the process I use. It’s something I’ve talked about on the show before. Basically, when you have difficulty talking to someone because they’re trying to convince you of something, this is what you should do: Listen to your heart.
“No, no, that’s not what I want to do, and that’s not what I should do.” Then you get into a long conversation or even an argument that just goes round and round. You’ll never convince them that’s not what you want to do, or that’s not what you should do. They’ll never be able to convince you what they want you to do.
It becomes a pointless conversation. I thought it’s just easier sometimes just to say to someone, “you know what, you may be right.” That’s it. You may be right. When you say that, what it does is it squashes their forward energy. It neutralizes it. When they say, “you know, you should do this, and this is what you need to do, why don’t you do this?” it helps to have a way out.
It’s like the Tai Chi reference I give every now and then. If somebody’s throwing a punch, the person that is a master of Tai Chi is going to allow the punch to pass them. They’ll step aside, and all that energy, all that momentum will just go right past. So, you can either be the wall of resistance and get hit, or step aside and let it pass. That’s how I look at some conversations.
It’s just sometimes a lot easier to allow their energy to pass right by you. How do you do that? This mental Tai Chi is just saying something like, “more along the lines of, well, you may be right.” Because what are they going to say? Okay, well, yeah, I know, I’m right. They might say that. Then you can say, “Yeah, that’s probably something I need to look into. You may be right. I’ll definitely consider that.”
Now, they could be aggressive and say, “Well, consider it now. What do you think now?” And then you just have to say, “No, you may be right. I need to really consider this, so thank you so much for that information. Thank you. It’s really helpful.” What you just told me is very helpful, not a lie. It’s helpful in a number of ways. It can be helpful to let you know that they don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s helpful that they have revealed themselves, they have revealed their level of intelligence. It’s very helpful. Thank you for that. You may be right.
Is that a lie? No. Are you right about everything 100% of the time? Maybe they’re right about something; maybe they spewed a lot of untruths at you, but there was one little truth in there. Hey, you might be right. You’re not saying what they’re right about. It’s just that they may be right.
What that is, is that mental Tai Chi move where you step aside and allow the energy to pass because if there’s nothing to hit, there was no resistance. Then when they throw or spew all this energy toward you, it feels really negative. Often, when they throw that at you, or they spew it at you, and it doesn’t land, then they’re kind of stuck in that energy. They’re still in it. It doesn’t mean that they’re in a negative energy. It just means that it didn’t land on you.
It’s helpful for you to stay out of situations like that. If it’s a pointless conversation, I’m not saying you should avoid every conversation. I’m just saying sometimes it’s pointless.
Some people cannot be told that you don’t want to do something their way. Some people do not want to hear that they may be wrong. Some people do not want to hear that they can’t control you. Some people don’t want to know that you disagree with them. They don’t want to believe that they’re wrong. They don’t want to believe that there could be other truths out there, or they don’t want to open their mind. We have to look at the world and figure out who these people are and stop getting into pointless conversations with them. She said, “I use your technique of saying, ‘You may be right’.”
What I’m going to assume is that what happened in this relationship is that all of his forward energy, all of maybe his aggressive, or at least semi-assertive energy, whatever it was, it didn’t land. Because it didn’t land, it didn’t meet resistance, and because it didn’t meet resistance, there was no fuel for him to continue pushing anything down her throat. It doesn’t give him any more momentum at all to continue going in that direction.
Because he finally feels like maybe she understands, or maybe she’s opening her mind so that he doesn’t feel like he has to push any type of narrative or agenda or whatever it is. All I’m saying is that when you offer no resistance, there is no argument typically that ensues. When there are no arguments, they usually step off of their soapbox or out of their defensiveness, out of their self-protectiveness, and open their mind a little bit. Because now they have nothing to feed off of. They used to feed off of your resistance, or at least, in this case, he used to feed off her resistance. But without resistance, where does he go from there? He’s used to the conversation going in that direction, but where does he go when there is no resistance?
This is where you find out a little bit more about people; you find out where they are inside themselves and what was their primary goal because some people’s primary goal is to get you to disagree so they can have an argument. They want a debate. They don’t want you to agree. They actually want to feel righteous. So this might have been happening here. When you finally give in a little bit, or at least say something like you may be right, you have a point, there might be some details that I hadn’t considered, I’m grateful that you brought that up; that takes away the resistance and allows a different conversation to take place.
This is what happened here. She said, “I started asking questions like a best friend would, and we had a breakthrough.” It can be very helpful to act like a friend and have a conversation as if you were their best friend instead of acting like someone who had been hurt, like a jilted lover.
It can be very helpful to show up and ask questions as if you were their best friend. So there’s a big difference in saying, “You were such a jerk when you did that, and you made everything worse.” That isn’t necessarily something a best friend would say to you. A best friend, what would they say? They would probably ask, “What happened back then? How did you feel about that? How are you now? What’s going on with that? Are you guys getting along? Are you in a better space with that now?”
It changes the conversation if you think like a best friend. That’s hard to do because if you’re triggered, you’re in the middle of an argument, you’re in the middle of some big thing, what do you do from there? How do you get out of that space?
It is a big step to say, “Okay, I’m just going to be a best friend.” You don’t tell them that you just think this, and I’m going to ask questions as if I were best friends. So, what questions would they be? What questions or what would I say, “If this were my best friend going through this?” It’s hard to step out of the role you’re in, in that relationship, because you’re in it.
You’re dealing with your own stuff, you’re dealing with your own triggers. This is why I say it’s not helpful or a good idea to be the coach in your own relationship or be the therapist in your own relationship. Even if you’re a therapist, because you’re in it, you’re being triggered. I’ve been able to do it sometimes; I’ve been able to step into a coaching role, even when it was about me. It takes practice, it takes a lot of practice. It takes a lot of dissociation, stepping outside of my own beliefs, my own values, and just being there for someone unconditionally. Even if they say, “I hate you, and I want you to go away.”
“I want to leave this relationship.” All of that could come out, and it takes a lot of effort to not be affected by that and allow someone that safe space to express themselves, but it’s damn effective if you can do it.
If you can be there for someone without stepping into your own triggers or getting sucked into your own triggers, then that changes the dynamic of the conversation. It can go somewhere. I’m not saying it well because they might not be able to see you as a helper. They might not be able to see you as a coach or a therapist, they just might be offended that you’re trying to help them. They could be just upset at you, and you’ll never be able to help them. It’s usually better for an outside person to help.
In this case, they’re going to a therapist, thankfully, so that’s helping a lot. Now, here we go. Let’s talk about vulnerability. He said, “I don’t understand why we need to be vulnerable to create attachment or connection.” She said, “I believe he really doesn’t understand. I think that’s why he can’t be vulnerable.
What are some ways I can support him? Let’s answer the question. Or at least the comment, “I don’t understand why we need to be vulnerable to create attachment or connection.” Let me present this. If I showed up at your door, and I said, “Hey, I need your help.” How would that feel? You would probably be suspicious.
“Who is this person?” Maybe it’s not me, maybe you know me too well, or maybe you don’t, but somebody shows up at your door, they say, “I need your help.” So, you feel like there might be some vulnerability there and you want to listen, but me I automatically jump into suspicion.
Like, “Okay, what’s this about? How much do you want?” And this person says, “I need your help. I just got a flat tire; I just need someone to come up with a jack so I can help change the tire.” Oh, that feels okay, I can do that because that’s not a big ask. They’re not expecting me to hand money over. They’re not asking to come into my house.
It just sounds like somebody who’s in genuine need of help. Okay, I might do that, but what if they said, “Hey, look, I don’t want to talk about this, just come and help me. I don’t want to tell you what’s wrong. I just want you to come and help me with this thing I’m working on.” You’d be like, “Oh, who are you? And what do you need? I don’t understand.”
“It doesn’t matter what I need, I just need you to come and help me.” You’re not inclined to drop everything you’re doing and help this person because they’re not really being forthcoming with information. They’re leaving a lot out. There are a lot of details that aren’t there; you’re going to have some orange or red flags come up. You’re probably going to say, “Well, I need to know what it’s about.”
“Look, I can’t tell you what it’s about. I just need your help.” Me, I’m thinking unless you tell me, I’m not going to help you. That’s my MO. That’s what I’m going to do. That’s where I go. If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’m not going to help you.
“Okay, fine, I’ll tell you. I have a problem.” That’s not really helpful. What problem? You can see I’m avoiding going any deeper into the details, so this is sort of an example of what it feels like when somebody isn’t vulnerable, when somebody doesn’t allow you to see more of them than they’re showing. Maybe it’s a bad example, but this is the example I just came up with on the fly.
It’s that they’re not giving you enough information; you don’t know enough about the situation. Therefore it’s more difficult to trust them. If somebody doesn’t share enough of what’s going on in their life, and especially if they’re a stranger, it’s going to be more difficult to trust them, so this is how I see vulnerability. The less you share about what’s going on inside yourself, the harder it is to trust. You’ve heard me talk about trust earlier in this episode.
Without trust, you don’t feel too safe, if at all. Without trust, you don’t feel safe. Without feeling safe, it’s hard to love. It’s harder to love somebody if you don’t feel safe, and if you don’t trust. So, when somebody is vulnerable with you, when they share their fears, worries, stresses, challenges, viruses, shame, guilt, when they share all this stuff, not to share all of it, but when they share this stuff with you.
You’re more likely to feel safe with them, you’re more likely to trust them, you’re more likely to love them because you feel closer to them. They’ve allowed you to be closer; they’ve taken off some emotional armor so that you can be closer. They’ve exposed some vulnerabilities inside themselves closer to their heart. That’s how you feel; you feel closer to them closer that to their heart because they’ve shown you parts of themselves that prove to you that they feel safe with you and that they trust you.
So, this is how I feel about vulnerability when you’re vulnerable with someone. Of course, it creates connection. Of course, it creates attachment. It has no choice because you are seeing where the person feels the most fear, you are seeing a part of them that they won’t show to most other people. They are trusting you enough to be this way in front of you with you. They’re trusting you to be vulnerable with you. That takes a lot of courage.
It shows you if they’re doing this with you; it shows you that they care enough about you to show more of them to you, so this doesn’t mean that one has to be vulnerable to complete transparency.
Like these are all my sexual fantasies and I’m going to tell you everything. No, it’s probably not a good idea. I’m just saying, this is how I see vulnerability that absolutely leads to stronger connection, stronger bonding, more trust, and more love because there’s a huge difference in someone coming along and saying, “I’ve had issues in my past. I don’t want to talk about it, but anyway, how are you?”
There’s a big difference between that and saying, “I had issues in my past. I was really afraid during my childhood because my stepfather was an alcoholic. I would cower in my room, I would hear him kicking the walls downstairs and screaming at the top of his lungs, I would hear my mom crying, and he would blast the country music and I never knew when he was going to come upstairs and hurt me. I didn’t know if that was ever going to happen. I remember my sister and I going through this.
I tell you this story is actually from my own past, and I’ve dealt with a lot of it, but this is what I do. I share this vulnerability with you knowing that there are people out there that might think that I don’t know, they might think that I’m worse, they might say, “Oh, come on, that still bothers you, mean, get over it.” I don’t think anybody would actually think that, but some people do. Some people do not want to be vulnerable because they don’t want to get into a situation where somebody thinks badly of them.
Somebody thinks that they are not as smart, not as strong, not as whatever. They don’t want to be in any type of position where they feel weak, and that can happen with some people who have maybe low self-worth, low self-esteem, or fears they haven’t dealt with yet.
Fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, fear of confrontation, all these fears that we carry around with us, usually stemming from coping mechanisms in childhood, but you know they come from all different places. But this is what happens; we don’t address our own fears. We’re afraid to even let anyone else see those fears or know that we have them. Because if we show them what we fear, they could use them against us. If I show you what I fear, you could use it against me.
This is this thinking. When one has that thinking, where if I show you fear, you’ll use it against me, then they are less likely to be able to have very close relationships because that’s a vulnerability. Vulnerability is showing the deepest parts of yourself knowing that somebody could crush you while you’re not exposed, yet doing it anyway, surviving it, and then growing closer because you survived it because you now understand that person that you shared it with is trustworthy.
I shared something from my past that I’ve talked about before; it’s not really affecting me anymore. I’ve healed a lot from it, but there was a point where I couldn’t tell that story without crying. There was a point where I would have to take a break after I said something like that. I say, “Just give me a minute. It was a lot to process; I need to figure this out.” But this is something that happens when you’re more vulnerable; you start to address your old traumas and your old fears.
When you address them, you bring it up, you talk about it, you express to people that you trust more than anyone else, then you can start to heal, and that’s how I did a lot of my healing. I just brought it up, just talked about it. “Hey, this is what I’m embarrassed about. Hey, this is what I feel guilty about; this is what I feel shame around. This is what I’ve done. This is who I used to be. This is what I did to that person. This is when I messed my pants when I was a kid.”
Nobody wants to admit this stuff, but this is what happens. This is what happens when we admit this stuff; we actually grow closer to the people we’re talking to. Yes, there are some people that you can’t do this with. There are some people that you can’t be vulnerable with because they’re not safe, and you can’t trust them, you can’t trust them not to hurt you. This is why you have to distinguish who these people are.
When you find someone that you can trust and you can express to and nurture that relationship, these are the kinds of relationships that you want to keep, the people you trust, the people you can share with, the people you feel like you can be vulnerable with, and they can be vulnerable with you, and that is a bonding experience.
So, this person wrote and said, “I don’t understand her husband or whatever said, I don’t understand why we need to be vulnerable to create attachment or connection.” It’s true; he may not understand, but I just explained why. I don’t know if this is going to help, but it is important, especially someone who feels like they can’t trust unless you share more of yourself.
You’re going to tell me what you need me for. I can’t just say, “Okay, I’ll help you with a problem without knowing what the problem is.” First of all, am I qualified? Second of all, I don’t know you. Third of all, where the heck are we going? I don’t know anything about you. Okay, here’s the thing. I stupidly drove on bald tires. I knew it was wrong; I shouldn’t have done it, but you know, I have my kids in the car. I have my wife in the car. I didn’t want her to know, and I feel so stupid. I don’t, I just don’t want her to know that I did this. I’m just asking for your help.
Will you please help me change this tire? Wow, of course. Of course, I will. Now I feel like I can trust you at least a little bit more. I still don’t know you, and I’m not going to do this in some dark alley, but yeah, it sounds like it sounds like you really are being honest with me; you’re being vulnerable.
You’re being transparent, and I’m finally feeling like I’m hearing the truth of who you are and where you are. Yeah, maybe you should express this to your wife, too, but that’s not what you’re here for. Let’s go change that tire.
So, the last thing she wrote was, “What are some of the ways I can support him? And when do I leave if he isn’t ready? I won’t keep living like this, but I see potential.” Maybe the first thing you can do is allow him to listen to this episode if he wants. Don’t force it on him, but say, “Look, this is why vulnerability creates a closer connection. This is why it strengthens the bond. This is why it’ll allow me to feel closer to you because this is what vulnerability does; it allows you to be closer to someone.
And if you are closer, you are more likely going to be more comfortable in their space. If you’re more comfortable, you feel safe, you feel more trusting, and that’s when love has the best opportunity to grow stronger.
How can you support him, just like this? Just like I’m talking now? This is who I am. Be yourself, be yourself. Maybe he’ll be himself. Because the greatest gift we can give someone is to be ourselves and hope that they like who we are. If I’m myself, and you don’t like me, that’s perfect. Because I’m not going to be someone else for you.
Just like you shouldn’t be someone else for someone else, for them, for anyone. You should be yourself, and the people who like you and the people who love you will want to be in your life. Then, there are those that won’t accept you. There are those that won’t accept you for who you are. It’s important.
This is one of my top philosophies. If you can’t accept me for who I am, I’m not going to try to create a relationship with you. I don’t have time to be with somebody who can’t accept me for who I am. They used to be me. I used to be the person who couldn’t accept the closest people in my life. I couldn’t accept them for who they were.
I tried to control and change them, and that was just the wrong way to do it. It’s just unhealthy, it’s emotionally abusive. So, that’s who I was. It took a lot of failures, it took a lot of relationship failures for me to finally realize that accepting somebody for who they are is the path to the greatest connection, the greatest love you could possibly have.
My definition of love is supporting someone’s path to happiness, even if you disagree with the path that they’re on and the decisions they make. And that can lead to some very hard choices, but this is the healing path that I had to take to become somebody that wasn’t trying to control anyone else, wasn’t trying to change them. Choosing to accept them for who they are instead of trying to change them into who I wanted them to be changed everything.
What I’ve learned time and time again now because I’ve kept doing this throughout the last 12 to 13 years, I keep accepting things that I used to have a problem with. Almost all the time, it works out for the better. What I mean by that is, let’s just say that my girlfriend does something that I don’t agree with. But, I say, “Okay, I’m going to accept this. I’m going to accept you for who you are. I’m going to accept your decisions.”
I may not say this to her, but I’m just going to think this in my head and actually say to her, “Okay. Whatever makes you happy, this is what I want for you. Whatever makes you happy makes me happy. Because if you’re happy, I’m happy.”
So she goes ahead and does whatever it is, then she feels closer to me. She suddenly feels closer because I’m supporting something that I wouldn’t necessarily support in my own life. But because it makes her happy, I’m happy. She senses that. She feels it. She realizes that I am supporting something that I may not agree with but it makes her happy. She knows that I’m happy if she’s happy.
The whole thing makes her feel closer to me. This is what has happened time and time again over the past decade with me. When I support someone doing something that they want to do, they almost always feel closer to me.
When they feel closer to me, they may or may not continue what they’re doing, whether I agree with it or not, totally up to them. But they realize that they don’t have to try to convince me of anything. They don’t have to try to change my mind. They just know that I accept them, and that allows them to feel closer to me. So, this is how you can support someone. Allow them to be themselves. Now, you still have to consider your own needs.
You can support someone and their path to happiness and the decisions they make, but if you are feeling at a loss, if you feel some sort of emotional deficit, if you aren’t getting your needs met by them, of course, express that to them. Have a conversation. “Hey, look, we don’t kiss anymore. We don’t hug anymore. We don’t spend long nights holding hands. We don’t do any of that stuff anymore. I missed that. I want to be closer to you again.” Whatever it is for you. You want to express this stuff.
Of course, if they can’t meet you there, then you also have to consider your own happiness. You have to consider your own needs. If your needs aren’t getting met, and you’re only trying to help them support their needs, but they’re not doing the same for you, then again, it’s lopsided. The ship is listing. You’re rowing in circles with one oar because supporting someone’s path to happiness and the decisions they make means you want them to be happy. It also means that in a good, healthy, balanced relationship they want you to be happy as well, so they’re going to come back and do the same for you.
Always two people working on the relationship. Now, the last thing you asked is, when do I leave? This is your own personal choice. You have to decide if your needs are being met or if they are starting to be met. You have to look at the trend. Are my needs being met? Maybe, but no. Maybe that’s your answer.
Some of them are and some of them aren’t. My first question is, “Will you be okay if nothing ever changes from this point on?” That’s a great question to ask yourself. If you say, “No, I want more. I want something to change.” Then you know your answer. Because if they don’t change, then it’s not going to be enough.
When I say look at the trend, have they progressed? Or have they been the same for weeks, months, or even years? In this person’s case, has he progressed? Has he opened up? Has he become more emotionally connected? Have you felt stronger in your love? Have you felt more bonded? Have you felt him more connected to you? And if you haven’t, then you have to come to the conclusion that he won’t change. We don’t have to, but I think you should. I think it’s important to make decisions based on the conclusion based on the trend based on who they are showing up as today that they will never ever change. But what if they change tomorrow?
Yes, it could happen. But, if you assume that person will never ever change, then you can move forward. They could change tomorrow. They could change next week. You could decide, “Okay, well, they’re not going to change. I’m not going to stick around.” Then, they finally get it. They finally say, “Oh, you’re going to leave?”
I told you I was going to leave. Yeah, but I don’t think you’re serious. I am serious. Oh, now I’ll change. Now I’ll work on myself, now I’ll be vulnerable. I see that happen a lot. This happens with people that are hurtful in the relationship, emotionally abusive people. They keep hurting the person they love. They keep hurting the person they love, then that person finally says, “I’ve had enough. I’ve cried, I’ve told you to stop and you won’t stop. I’m leaving.” Then that person says, “What, what, wait a minute, you can’t leave. Why are you leaving? This is awful. I don’t want this to happen”.
“You won’t stop, I have to leave.”
“Okay, I’ll finally stop.”
Hopefully, they don’t say it like that. Hopefully, they say, “Oh, my God, I don’t want to hurt you. I’m so sorry, I got to work on this, I have to work on myself, I have to get into Paul’s program, I have to do something. Because I don’t want to lose you. I don’t want to be this way anymore.”
Hopefully, they say something like that then they do change but sometimes what has to happen, they have to be faced with the end of something or the big loss of something in order to finally get it through their skull.
That’s what it took for me, I had to finally experience the biggest loss that put that last nail in the coffin and convinced me that I was the problem. No one else was. I needed to take responsibility for what I was doing and for how I was showing up. I also needed to realize that I was the common denominator for all my problems, or all the relationship issues I’ve had.
When do you leave? You leave when you put all these pieces together. Has the trend been the same? Has he been improving? How do you feel today? And assuming that today is going to be the same as tomorrow, and for the rest of the time you’re together, how does that feel? And then you make the decision based on that.
If it turns out that you’re wrong, and you decide “I’m going to leave,” then you discover that he really is changing, you need to be convinced (not by him, but by your observations of him) that he’s going through some serious changes.
Just because you say you’re leaving doesn’t mean it’s forever. It might mean that, but making a decision to leave doesn’t mean it’s over forever. “I’m out of here and you’ll never see me again,” that can happen, but it doesn’t have to mean that. So leaving doesn’t mean you are disappearing from the earth, it might mean that you might want to do that, but I don’t want it to stop you from making decisions that actually might change something for the better.
What I mean by that is if you decide to leave, it could change things for the better. He could actually start working on himself and take it seriously. Or you could decide to leave and he doesn’t work on himself, and he thinks it’s your fault he doesn’t want to work on himself, so silence might be for the best. That might be for the best, and that might be what needs to happen. The last thing you wrote is, “I won’t keep living like this, but I see potential.”
If it’s potential, that means you must see something in the trend, you must see some changes. You have to continue seeing the positive changes, and seeing progress day after day after day. But you do have to watch out for old behaviors coming back and not leaving. Old behaviors have to disappear, old and old negative behaviors have to disappear.
If those don’t disappear, but you see good new behaviors, but the old behaviors are still there, then it’s not much progress. There’s some, but you know, they cancel each other out. A lot of the time, I’m not saying every time, but this is what happens. You just have to be careful about old behaviors still lingering. You don’t want those behaviors to linger.
I dedicated this entire episode to this person, and I hope it has been helpful to you or anyone listening that is in a similar situation or has somebody in their life that might be in that same situation, afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to connect at a deeper level.
I myself have personally experienced deeper love deeper connection when I have chosen to be vulnerable, to be transparent, to express things that I’m afraid for anyone else to know about. Because when I did, it allowed them to feel closer to me, which allowed me to feel closer to them, which continued in that circle of trust and circle of safety that continues to grow. Hopefully, it grows for you.
For my final words, someone I worked with before a long time ago wrote and said, “Hey Paul, I hope you remember me. I started listening to you and 2016 or so and I decided today is going to be a gratitude day. I am on break from grad school after three years and I’m finally going to start my internship as a marriage and family therapist in a couple of weeks.
“When I think back about myself and when I first stumbled onto your podcast, I am reminded of the long journey I’ve been on. I didn’t know what a boundary was until listening to you. I had so much to learn, and I had a lot of confusion about myself, my marriage, and being a parent of kids in distress. I’m so grateful that you were able to be my guide when I was feeling so stuck and so filled with shame.
“From my past traumas, I remember being so grateful you took appointments, and I remember feeling so safe with you and crying on the phone with you and asking you if I would ever stop crying. You assured me that I would. You told me to keep going and don’t fight it, and assured me that I would stop when I am done.
“Your wisdom, knowledge, warmth, kindness, and skill as a coach/therapist/guide was the beginning of me reclaiming myself and my life. I will be forever grateful to you for helping me when I so desperately needed it. I wish you all the best always, with much gratitude.”
Good to connect with you. Thank you so much for your message! I am so grateful for you and for sharing this. I didn’t share this to pat myself on the back or do it through you or anything like that.
I shared it because it was a lot of vulnerability. I remember these calls that we had. I remember you allowing yourself to share some of the deepest, hardest things. It’s very hard to share some of this deep stuff, your past, your shame, your past traumas.
All of that is so hard to share. But when you do, look what happens. This is where you are. You’ve gotten to such a different place than you were. I wanted to read this because this is, again, what happens. This is what’s supposed to happen. It’s supposed to be like this. You’re supposed to get into a better space when you allow yourself to be vulnerable.
Speaking of the message I talked about at the beginning of this episode, she’s being vulnerable and not bottling things up.
What happens to emotions that are bottled up? They come out in destructive ways later, in unexpected ways. They come out through being triggered by certain things, and sometimes when you’re triggered, it’s not necessarily about what’s triggering you, but it’s about the deeper issue. It’s about the bottled-up emotions.
When those don’t come out, when you choose not to be vulnerable, when you choose not to share the deepest parts of yourself, then you have to ask yourself, well, what happens to the negativity inside of me? Where does it go? Because if it’s not leaving, it’s not going anywhere. It’s going to come out in other ways. Not that we just have to be careful about that.
If you find someone that you can feel safe enough to be vulnerable with, and you may never feel safe enough to be vulnerable, but this is why it takes courage sometimes. But this is why it’s important again, to be vulnerable to connect with that deeper part of yourself and allow it to come out, to express it. If not with a friend, if not with a romantic partner, if not with a trusted family member, with a professional with a therapist with a coach. Someone. How about a pillow? Express it to a pillow, express it by yourself in your own room or in your car.
Express it. Bring it out. It might be hard. It might be very hard to express some of this stuff inside of you. I held on to hatred for a long time, a long time. I held on to hatred, and I held on to it because I didn’t allow myself to hate. I had hatred, but I didn’t allow myself to hate. I just denied it, I pushed it back down. I bottled it up. And bottling that hatred up caused me to act out in other ways I didn’t even realize were connected.
And it took a person that I was dating that eventually became my wife, that person, in the first few weeks of our relationship, she knew that I was feeling depression, and I couldn’t get past some of the issues in my life. She said, “Well, I’m going to leave, I’m going to go do my own thing. If you can heal from this, if you can get past it, give me a call. But right now, this isn’t the kind of relationship I want.”
And that scared the hell out of me because here I was thinking that I was going to lose a great relationship. I don’t know what shifted inside of me, but in that moment, I realized that I had hatred inside of me. Not toward her, but toward my stepfather.
I held on to that hatred for so long. I didn’t even know it was there. Then it came out. I just started crying. I fell to my knees. Then I yelled, “I hate my stepfather. I hate him so much.” It was the very first time I allowed myself to feel hate.
I denied myself from feeling that for so long because I thought it was wrong. Everyone told me it’s not good to hate. It’s not good to hold hate in your heart. So what I ended up doing was denying that I hated and just held on to it for a long time. It came out in destructive ways, came out in bad behaviors toward people I loved.
Then when I finally was able to express it and admit that I actually hated someone, I stopped hating. Seriously, I stopped almost immediately because I finally admitted it. I finally allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to admit it. Once I admitted that, the hate was gone.
That’s all I had to do. In that moment, I thought that was way too easy and hard at the same time because I never wanted to go there. But I let myself go there. When I went there, the hate disappeared. Because I finally let it out of its prison. It’s gone. It’s… it just went away.
“I hate him so much. I hate him…” Ah, I feel relief. It’s gone! The hate is gone. Where’d it go? It doesn’t matter, it’s gone.
It’s not always easy to release like that, but boy, if you’re denying something or blocking something or repressing or bottling whatever is inside you, if it’s a negative feeling, if it’s a negative emotion, it helps to be vulnerable to allow yourself to connect with it and release it. And that is hard to do.
It’s like saying, “Okay, I’m going to go pick up that hot potato, and I’m going to hold on to it, and I’m going to throw it. But I don’t want to pick it up in the first place, so that means I’m going to be stuck with this hot potato.”
Hot Potato may mean something like, “I want a burning coal. I’m going to go pick up that burning coal. No, I don’t want to pick it up because it’s going to burn my hand. I don’t want to burn my hand. I’ll just leave it there. Here, I’ll put it in my stomach. I’ll just leave that burning coal in my stomach.”
Now get it out! You might have to burn your hand to do it, but once it’s gone, it stops burning.
It’s not always this fast and efficient. Sometimes you do have to go through some trials and tribulations of expressing yourself, trying to find the courage to do it. But when you express yourself and when you’re able to release some of the stuff that might be inside of you, when you choose to be vulnerable, when you allow yourself to express what you have been so afraid to express, you free yourself.
You start the path of freeing yourself, and that opens you up. That opens you up for love and connection like nothing else can. It allows people to get closer to you, and that can be a wonderful thing.