Not too long ago I had the opportunity to brush up on my therapy skills and put them into practice. Like anything, there are certain things you forget when you don’t have to use a certain set of skills consistently. While it’s easy to get back in groove (like riding a bike), the process requires additional preparation and planning. Something that stood out to me was the role of vulnerability in a successful intimate relationship. We have an impact on each other and walls are sometimes necessary because they serve as emotional protection in the face of real or perceived emotional danger. A certain amount of baggage typically comes along with two people entering a relationship. It’s not about finding a “perfect” person but more about choosing someone whose problems and emotional baggage complement yours. Vulnerability requires a certain amount of trust in the other person. The lines of communication have to be open without any topic being off limits. It’s interesting to witness adults in a variety of situations shy away from being assertive and discussing expectations about an uncomfortable topic. When I think about being vulnerable I think about watching dogs play and fight. Typically one dog wins when the other one surrenders by laying on its back and going belly up. It’s literally a position of vulnerability as it exposes vital organs leaving the dog at the mercy of its opponent. But it also signals the end of the fight. I think it’s important to remember that getting to that point of vulnerability takes time with human relationships. But it can be so worth it in the end when both people can communicate on that level without feeling attacked or judged.
I rarely browse articles but the title of this one caught my eye. After reading it I immediately realized that it was the best non-scholarly article I’ve read this year to date. I’m a psychology junkie and I love reading articles and books related to relationships, human interactions, and patterns of behavior. Very interesting stuff. Now, outside of the fact that the author is a good writer, she also took the liberty of attaching the original research article that she was referencing. This was great because it gave me a little more background on the original study that had been done. Which, by the way, would have been an excellent dissertation topic. The whole idea behind the article is that we choose who we fall in love with and that we can fall in love with someone based on interpersonal interactions we’ve had with them that were meaningful and required both individuals to be vulnerable to each other at the same time. The study the author referenced was conducted with college psychology students that were paired together. They were tasked with asking each other a set of questions and their emotional closeness was measured afterwards. There was also a component that author of the article noted that included looking into the eyes of the person for four minutes straight. Yes, four minutes. The idea behind that is that it is a way for both individuals to feel equally vulnerable at the same time. This builds emotional closeness. The author in the article tried this with a guy using the same questions from the original study and got positive results. It’s interesting how relationship dynamics can change when there are opportunities to talk about personal topics. You can sometimes see a different side of someone when they are by themselves versus when they are in a group because their defenses are down and a one-on-one interaction can foster an environment of intimacy and emotional closeness that is much harder to achieve in a group setting. So hypothetically, you could “gently persuade” someone to fall in love with you by looking into their eyes for four minutes and the facilitation of these discussion questions the author mentions and includes a link for in the article. Interesting.
I think that we all meet people at certain points in our lives who we want to get to know better. The best friendships and relationships are built on common interests. There are some friendships that fall together and others that take time and patience. However, it’s pretty near impossible to get to know someone who does not want to be known. You can beg, prod, plead, scheme, and ask, but a locked door is still a locked door. Some people need time in order to open up for a variety of reasons. However, it’s important to remember that many times these reasons are really good ones. Being vulnerable can be really uncomfortable and hard. I don’t think that it’s something that we should expect overnight. It takes time to build a relationship to the point where both people feel comfortable being themselves 100% of the time. And to be honest, I think that relationships like this are becoming more rare. As someone who is very picky about who my close friends are, I’m much more understanding of people who are totally closed off. It may be that they just want someone to take the time to get to know them instead of letting someone get close to them from day one. Trust takes time. We rarely meet people who we trust 100% after just meeting them. Get to know people as much as they want to be known and let them know that you would like to know them better. But also respect their wishes and don’t push them to open up. They will if they feel comfortable. Point blank.