One time, early in our marriage, my wife and I were at a party; and in an attempt to be funny, I told a somewhat humorous but unflattering story about the hostess. The moment it came out of my mouth, I knew I should’ve kept it in there, but it was too late.
After the party, my wife and I got into the car and she was silent. I didn’t have to ask why though — I knew it was my awkward comedy routine. Rather than address it head-on, I figured I would just wait until she cooled off before I tried to talk to her. Finally, the silence lingered so long that I couldn’t take it anymore, so I prodded her.
“What’s your deal?” I asked, tensing up. This led to an intense back-and-forth between us in which I defended myself and told her she was taking it too seriously, and she kept trying to convince me otherwise. Finally, I did something that felt risky: I told her the truth.
Naked and Ashamed
“Let me tell you how I feel right now,” I said. “I’ve been kicking myself ever since I told that story, and I was afraid you would want to talk about it when we got in the car. I get it. If your goal is to make me feel like an idiot trust me, I’m already there.”
“OK,” Raquel said quietly and dropped it.
We didn’t have some tearful conversation or even talk about it anymore after that. I think my vulnerability and decision not to defend myself stunned both of us into silence.
I’m still surprised when I think back to that conversation. It’s hard to believe I was that honest with her, but I remember feeling such a relief when I opened up. Instead of fighting back, I dropped my weapons, spread out my arms, and basically said, I’m owning it, and I’m going to be honest about how I feel as a result. And when I did so, it was both freeing and risky.
The Power of Intimacy
That element of risk was what made the moment so impactful. My wife instinctively knew it wasn’t a power play; it was an act of surrender. It was giving myself over to weakness for the sake of love. You can’t fake that kind of thing, and there’s not an exact way to go about it. What feels risky and vulnerable for one person might feel perfectly natural to another.
As my friend Bethany Greenoe once wrote to me in an email: “In order to have a genuine relationship, you have to learn to become vulnerable to each other. The foundation of vulnerability is trust. The more we trust that our feelings and thoughts will be protected and respected by our spouse, the more we are willing to share ourselves with that person. The more we share, the closer we become.”
That’s why, for my wife and me, moments of vulnerability have been essential — not just because they are disarming — but because they have fostered the trust that has grown into a friendship. Those vulnerable moments still do not come naturally, but they come more easily than they used to. They also provide a sense of relief, because for a moment, I take a risk and remove the fig leaf covering my nakedness, and when I do so, I discover the power of intimacy.