Why on earth would anyone attend relationship counselling and open up about their emotional connection with their partner? What could possibly entice a person to render themselves emotionally naked in front of a total stranger?
As a counsellor, many of my new clients are individuals, paving the way for a reluctant partner. It happens so often, that I wrote a blogpost, entitled But How do I Convince My Partner?
Many of us still nurse wounds from childhood or previous relationships. That teaches us to build walls around our emotions, protecting them from potential threats.
Unfortunately, the walls that initially save us from emotional devastation later jeopardise our intimate relationships. We hold partners at arms-length and pull up the emotional drawbridge at the first feelings of emotional vulnerability.
Vulnerability = Deeper Connection
“Vulnerability is the willingness to show up and be seen, with no guarantee of the outcome.”
For an intimate relationship to deepen and grow, beyond the euphoria of new love or lust, it requires a willingness to be vulnerable, which takes emotional courage. Keeping the emotional walls up may save you hurt. But it will also rob you of the rich emotional rewards that come from truly sharing. Warts and all – with another human.
So how do you reap the rewards of being open and vulnerable, but also ensure that your fragility will be treated with care by your partner? Whilst there is always a risk of experiencing hurt – and causing it – in an emotionally connected relationship, there are measures you can take to reduce that risk.
Emotional Connection and Rules of Engagement:
Before launching into a conversation with your partner about your historical wounds and the resultant emotional fragilities, it may help to first explore some mutually agreeable ‘rules of engagement’. As a Relationship Counsellor, I will commonly use questions like:
“What do you both need right now to feel emotionally safe enough to have this conversation?”
“How would you like your partner to support you when you share something that leaves you feeling open or vulnerable?”
Common responses are: “I just need them not to judge me,” or “Just to hold my hand and tell me they love me.”
A conversation about how you might support each other through a process of opening up emotionally can provide you with the reassurance you need to feel you are ready to take the risk.
Conversely, it might reveal your partner as unable, or unwilling, to support you in the way you want in such moments. Choosing to wait, and not fully expose yourself emotionally until trust and safety have been built is a completely legitimate choice.
Emotional Connection and Third-Party Support
Like any relationship, counselling needs to feel like a good fit. As a therapist, I sometimes seek out a counsellor to help me work through my own stuff. If I don’t get a positive feeling from the counsellor in the first session, I probably won’t go back.
Counselling may not always feel like fun, or even comfortable, but it must feel safe. It takes guts to front up to that first session. For many, that even means a few cancelled appointments before actually seeing it through. I feel privileged to have heard plenty of first-timers share with me those magic words – “I’m so glad I did it.”
Chris Pye is a Relationship Coach who helps individuals, couples and families to transform conflict and communication difficulties into deeper connections. For more about his work, or to book a free ‘first-step conversation’, go to: asinglestep.com.au
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