Vulnerability Ceiling

Safety is overrated. Or, it might be over valued. I work with a lot of couples doing the hard work of counseling that are waiting until they feel safe enough to take risks in emotional vulnerability. Trouble is, both of the spouses are waiting. And waiting and waiting. Neither is taking any kind of new vulnerable emotional risk while they wait for their sense of safety to increase.

I have a theory. Couples hit a vulnerability ceiling as their relationship develops. What I mean is that we get to a point with our spouses where we have made all the vulnerable steps in relationship that we feel comfortable or safe to make and then we stop taking risks. Perhaps we stop because of hurt or unrepaired wounds in the relationship. Perhaps we stop because of boredom or blocks that come from our families of origin. But whatever the reason, when we stop taking emotional risks in our marriages, they stagnate.

  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk in a marriage where initiating sex has become a place of rejection rather than reception.
  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk to share fears around parenting teens when the two have blamed each other for dropping the ball.
  • Someone has to move beyond “if, then” clauses….example: “I’ll sit and share with him about my feelings if I know he will understand.”

Couples can unwittingly hit a vulnerability ceiling and stay stuck for years, all the while thinking that the problem is that the other person isn’t safe. While hurts in the relationship may be very, very real, if both spouses think the other isn’t safe, then it is easy to see how vulnerability ceilings can be constructed. “It’s only safe up to this point. Beyond that, no way!” And there the developmental progress of the relationship halts.

What does it take to shatter the vulnerability ceiling? A great deal of courage. It is far easier to be stuck and protective than to risk hurt, especially when we feel beat up. But how else might a breakthrough happen? Someone has to make the first move.

Next time: how can you make the first move?

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