Focus on the Family

Intimacy Requires Vulnerability

For emotional intimacy to grow, each partner must be willing to meet the other's deepest needs and protect the other's greatest vulnerability.

by Dr. Juli Slattery

The concept of vulnerability helps explain why men may be more likely than women to avoid intimacy, even within the context of marriage. Women are usually far more comfortable than men in expressing and discussing their feelings, which is necessary to becoming emotionally intimate. In other words, when it comes to relationships, women have home-court advantage.

Men may feel as awkward sharing themselves emotionally as some women do playing pick-up basketball. Would you risk your most precious possession on your basketball abilities? People take risks when they feel comfortable about their ability to cover the risk.

If a man is not confident in the arena of close relationships, risking vulnerability makes no sense to him. He concludes, "It is better to be safe than to be satisfied." Although a wife's fear of intimacy is not as obvious as her husband's, she may also struggle with taking the risk of vulnerability.

Intimacy requires that both individuals meet each other at the deepest point of their need. Mutual insecurities and humanity are exposed without defense, so that the other may choose to either embrace the need or exploit the vulnerability.

Ultimately, for emotional intimacy to grow, each partner must be willing to meet the other's deepest needs and protect the other's greatest vulnerability. This produces an environment of trust, allowing each other to feel safe to share more.

However, when vulnerability is met with rejection and pain, both the husband and wife naturally move away from sharing and toward self-protection. They each develop their unique ways of living together, but stay emotionally safe … and distant.

All relationships build on momentum. Every marriage is either moving toward greater intimacy or fleeing toward rigid self-protection.