“We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone – but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy.” —Walter Anderson
There is a very famous place in marriage folklore.
It is a place which lends itself to isolation.
It contains many things that allow its occupant the solitude necessary to stay clear of life’s problems.
It is filled with great distractions from anything which cause angst, pain, embarrassment or discomfort.
It is a musky, dark container that is designed to provide its almost hibernating user the ability to “disconnect”.
It is the all too famous, “man-cave”!
These curious structures are famous for a reason.
Men build them as a safe haven to run to when life’s storms hit.
The sake of this article is not to debate the finer points of the man cave. We are not so concerned about the cave itself. For some men, for some marriages, it is a blessing and a benefit.
Yet, for many households, the man cave provides too many opportunities to leave all too important issues conspicuously un-dealt with.
This is our reason for calling it to the reader’s mind.
Inside the safe space, the husband can sit and process the struggles he needs to, without the hindrance of other people’s needs, wants, and desires. Blissful serenity finds him.
The problem with this is not too hard to see. The very people he is running from are often the very people he needs to work things out with.
He feels vulnerable in some area so he retreats. Yet, it is this retreat that wrecks the thing which will ultimately set him free. Vulnerability!
It allows him to compartmentalize his imperfections. It permits him to hide his foibles.
The more he practices this, the more he shows up in the rest of his life with a “mask” on.
The man caves protects him from the very situations that could be growing him!
He thinks he has created a safe space. Unfortunately, he hasn’t. He has only served to create a safe distance!
Before the ladies start nodding their heads too vigorously, realize that wives may not build caves to run to, but they certainly become just as good at wearing their “masks”.
The woman may find retreat in her friends, her family life, her small group, her work or even her workout. Even though she is much more likely to run to relationship when things go wrong, it doesn’t mean the mask is off when she does so.
Women may be more likely to process publicly, but it doesn’t mean she isn’t hiding something.
Men may process more privately, but it doesn’t mean they bring their true selves back out when they emerge.
This is one of the biggest dangers to any marriage, inside and out!
We have seen so many marriages over the years (ours included) that suffered terribly because spouses were hiding so much from each other.
Even though this isn’t necessarily intentional, and can even be done in the name of self-protection, it is still incredibly damaging.
It not only robs you from a deep potential connection with your spouse, but also with those around you who are naturally designed to be a support and a help.
The strange dichotomy is that each one of us need vulnerability with those around us the most when it is hardest to seek.
When things are the worst, that is often when we want to look the best.
Don’t try to pass off your limp as swagger. It may end up putting you out of commission for good, even if you look admirable the whole time you’re going down in flames.
What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose what’s most important to him?
Stop only bringing out your true self in the perceived safety of the man cave! Stop gossiping about others because, at least they’re screwing up more than you are, and it makes you feel better about yourself!
Get to the root of what you have going on so it stops bearing the type of fruit that you don’t want.
Take off the mask and get vulnerable!
This may be one of the most important ideas we communicate with the ONE family.
If there are cracks in the foundation of a house, no matter how much work it might take to fix, it does you no good to put a paint job on it.
You may be in total agreement with us. You may even be at a point where you know that opening up is exactly where you need to do.
The “how” can become the tricky part.
Instead of pointing you to a few “simple” tried and true tricks to opening up (most of which you have probably already attempted, only to get a less than desirable result) we are going to point you to the benefits of being vulnerable.
Opening up on tough issues can be so intimidating that you often need an incentive that is bigger than your obstacle.
Think of it as the bacon for the soul.
We hope that this will begin to tip the scale away from frustration, isolation and silence towards open and honest communication.
1. Vulnerability Breaks Shame
“Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” —Dr. Brené Brown
Often we wear our “masks” to hide the things we are ashamed of.
Shame is such a powerful emotion that it will even prevent us from getting the assistance we know we need.
It will leave us in a helpless state, too afraid to even get help.
Do you see the Catch-22? We would share if we weren’t ashamed but we’re so ashamed we can’t share.
Intentional vulnerability is the courageous step to get off this crazy cycle.
Whether it is a past mistake, or a once held standard that you know you (or your spouse) aren’t living up to, sharing openly and honestly can open a huge door to break through.
A note about listening: Shame breaks off a life when it is shared openly and met with EMPATHY.
If your spouse is brave enough to share their deepest darkest with you, it doesn’t mean you need to “fix it” or even know what to do.
Simply responding with, “Wow, that must be so hard. What can I do?” can take a 10 year feud and start to heal it. Most couples need help in the process of healing from deeper things. That’s why we developed resources to re-establish trust.
Something crucial, is to make sure you have good friends supporting you when your spouse is opening up and dealing with some of their weakness.
Which leads us to our next benefit.
2. Vulnerability Strengthens Our Support Network
Taking your mask off doesn’t just have to be in your own household.
Our biggest fear, when we take off our mask is that people will no longer love what they see.
The amazing thing about your closest friends is they already sense something is off with you.
They see your blind spots better than you do (Hello, they are BLIND spots).
You may not have even let them into what’s going on with you, but they still see the symptoms and put up with your bad behavior anyway. Why not just take the last step and ask them into it?
Nothing can embolden a person like sharing the shabbiest part of themselves and seeing that someone else still finds them beautiful and lovable.
Taking the mask off lets others “fall in love” with the REAL you.
What a load off your shoulders. Surprisingly, it will be a load off your spouses too.
How does that happen when you haven’t even shared it with them?
You know that thing you have been sharing with them for years and instead of them “hearing” you and giving the gentle, loving response you used to get when you were dating? Yeah, you know how it “triggers” them every time?
Sometimes, you just need to be heard. Bringing the tough stuff to a TRUSTED friend or advisor (who knows the best in your spouse too) can make sure you are only bringing the most edifying subject matter to your spouse!.
The wave of pure emotion can break on the strong listening ear of a strong friend instead of a battle weary spouse. You get heard. Your spouse still gets intimacy.
The caution on this one: Guys, share with guys. Gals, share with gals.
So much trust can be broken with your spouse when you give your emotional best to someone of the other sex besides them.
Which brings us to benefit number three
3. Vulnerability Creates Intimacy
Husbands, it is difficult to pursue your wife sexually when you feel ashamed and weak! (Especially if the weakness and shame comes about because of a failure in sexuality.)
Wives, it is difficult to be sexually inviting when you feel emotionally disconnected.
Opening up in a safe and consistent way ensures that the dull embers of passion can steadily be fanned into a bonfire.
It might sound strange, but anything left in the dark will impact what happens when the lights dim.
Reestablished trust can do wonders for your sex life.
Those are 3 HUGE reasons to take off your mask and be vulnerable, inside and outside your marriage.
Still, if you are like most of us, you are probably feeling overwhelmed with the idea of doing all of life without any mask on.
Just remember, success is a journey, not a destination.
Don’t be afraid to restart your journey again right now, no matter how frightened you might be! We’re with you.