Vulnerability: The Best Gift for Anyone

As we get closer to Thanksgiving, you are probably starting to kick your holiday preparations into high gear.

But amid your shopping, decorating and travel planning, I want you to steal a few moments for one simple activity that will set the stage for a more meaningful season.

Now is a great time to watch or rewatch Brene Brown’s seminal TEDX talk “The Power of Vulnerability.” It will take you only about 20 minutes.

The holidays can stir up all sorts of feelings and expectations that make you feel more vulnerable this time of year. You may already be feeling some anxiety and stress in anticipation of all that needs to be done before year’s end. Of course, looking cheerful while trying to tame your perfectionism over every detail makes this a much harder task!

Some of you are anticipating sadness and heartbreak about loved ones who will not be with you this holiday. All these emotions can be so powerful that it can be tempting to hide from them through overeating, overdrinking or overspending.

The gift we all really want is to be able to share our vulnerable feelings with others and still feel safe and loved. Unfortunately, many of us — even kids — have had experiences that make us feel unsafe being vulnerable.

Making Space for Vulnerability

You can’t make people be vulnerable with you. But you can create an atmosphere of love and security that encourages vulnerability. What might that look like during the holiday season?

  • Deciding to skip a party you had planned to attend because your husband is at the end of his rope with end-of-year work stress.
  • Not telling your shy kid they “shouldn’t feel that way” if they voice nervousness about seeing their raucous cousins.
  • Taking a timeout from holiday activities to be with a friend who’s grieving or going through a crisis like divorce or a family illness.
  • Giving your aging parents some one-on-one time to just talk to you instead of getting lost in the busyness of the season.

When you show up for others in ways like these, you build trust and intimacy in your relationships which is necessary for anyone to be vulnerable.

Of course, you also need relationships where you can be vulnerable yourself. Before things get too stressful, think about who gives you a sense of safety and acceptance. Who can handle it when you’re not feeling merry and bright? Who would take it in stride if you need to express sadness that your budget is smaller this year or that your parents are having some health troubles?

If you feel that you and your husband are not open and vulnerable enough with each other, think about some small steps that might help bring you closer. You can’t just go from closed off to totally vulnerable overnight — and neither can he. Instead, think about a low-risk way you can test the waters. Maybe that’s something as simple as asking for his help wrapping gifts when you would usually handle the job yourself. You could use that opportunity to connect and find out how he’s really doing. Slowing down your flurry of activity and engaging creates opportunities to share any vulnerability either of you are experiencing.

I hope that this holiday season brings you closer to everyone you care about, especially your husband. To keep strengthening your relationship together, pick up a copy of my book Strong Women, Strong Love.

Improve Your Boundaries to Improve Your Marriage

Take a few minutes today to watch this video on boundaries from researcher and author Brené Brown. It could make a big difference in your marriage.

You’re probably most familiar with Brown’s insights on vulnerability. In this video, she explores a topic that at first seems the opposite of vulnerability: boundaries. But as she makes clear, vulnerability — as well as empathy, compassion and generosity — can’t exist without healthy boundaries.

So much of what she discusses in this video is applicable to marriage. Some of the key takeaways:

  • Boundaries are what’s OK with you and what’s not, so it’s important to define them.
  • We often have trouble setting or expressing boundaries out of a fear that people won’t like us if we do.
  • Because of this discomfort, we often let people get away with behaviors that aren’t OK with us, and end up feeling “hateful and resentful,” Brown says.
  • Although it may not be intuitive, having clear boundaries will allow you to be more empathic, compassionate and generous in your relationships.

Directly (and lovingly) expressing your boundaries isn’t demanding or bossy. It’s one of the healthiest and most responsible things you can do for your marriage. And, as we’ve talked about before on this blog, it’s just as important to be clear and firm when your husband crosses one of your boundaries in order to maintain respect in your relationship.

After you watch the Brené Brown video, take some time to think about what your boundaries currently are and where you need them to be. This could be especially interesting if you’ve never defined them for yourself before. Consider whether you feel hesitant to express your boundaries and, if so, why that’s the case. Finally, try to picture how you would feel and act with more defined boundaries and how that shift could actually benefit your marriage.

Remember Brown’s BIG question: What Boundaries need to be in place for you to be in Integrity and make the most Generous assumptions about others?

As you define your boundaries clearly and start to feel less resentful, you may find that like Brene Brown, you’re not as sweet as you used to be, but you’re far more loving.

Exhausted? Stop Laboring So Much!

Exhausted woman

Be honest: Has the holiday weekend left you refreshed, or are you exhausted right now?

The Labor Day holiday seems like an appropriate time to take a closer look at how much women work, how tired it’s making us, and the effect of all this “laboring” on our marriages and families.

Let’s start with a few important facts that provide clues about why you may be finding yourself so tired these days:

Data from a CDC survey shows that women actually do report feeling exhausted more often than men do. The difference is most pronounced in the years that most of us are raising families.

Women’s financial responsibilities in the family have increased significantly in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, in 40% of the households that have children under 18, mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners.

Although men are certainly doing more domestic chores than in the past, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reports that working women are still carrying more of the housework burden.

This probably won’t surprise you, either: A study published in the American Sociological Review, found that women multitask more than men, spending 40% of their waking hours doing at least two activities at once. Most of the juggling is with household tasks and childcare, two areas in which women are often judged by others if they don’t do them well.

A study by the University of New Hampshire found that when kids were sick, 74% of mothers missed work to stay home with their sick child compared to 40% of men. Many families find that demands made by employers make it difficult to fulfill other important responsibilities, thereby constantly increasing work stress (and exhaustion).

All of this takes its toll on our relationships. We get snappy and impatient with our kids, and it’s hard to have emotional or physical intimacy with our partners when we’re so tired and stressed (See blogpost on “The Science of Flipping Your Lid”).

Speaking with the Washington Post about the topic of exhaustion, author and researcher Brene Brown notes that fear can be a barrier to fighting constant overwhelm. People in her studies have told her: “If I really stopped and let myself relax, I would crater. Because the truth is I’m exhausted, I’m disconnected from my partner, I don’t feel super connected to my kids right now.”

If you see a lot of yourself in this statement, consider these ideas for dealing with exhaustion:

1. Remember you’re not alone. First, it’s important to realize that it isn’t “just you.” Economic realities are having a huge impact on life for American families. Brene Brown reminds us that we’re also up against cultural norms that tie our self-worth to our productivity and make being constantly busy and exhausted a status symbol of sorts.

2. Do one thing at a time when you can. Make every effort to curb multitasking. Although it may seem like you’re getting more done, did you know multitasking actually reduces productivity? Not only that, it’s mentally and physically exhausting!

3. Stop saying, “yes.” Although some reasons for our busyness and exhaustion can’t be avoided, others can. As women, our default answer when someone asks us to do something tends to be “yes.” We don’t want to disappoint anyone, but we’re much more effective, and happier, when we set stronger boundaries. Limit how much you have on your plate, and you’ll have more time and energy for the people and things you love.

4. Choose you. Everyone needs time to refuel. Take time to rest, play, and do things that energize you. Taking time for you is not being “lazy;” it’s absolutely essential to your health and well-being.

5. Work together. Finally, and most importantly, work together with your partner. Instead of stewing about what your husband isn’t doing, ask for more help with housework and child care. And don’t stop him and take over when he doesn’t do things exactly your way. (See blog posts on micromanaging) Instead of trying to divide all your household tasks 50-50, look for ways to share responsibilities that play to your individual strengths. If he loves cooking and you love Quicken, for example, let him handle meal duty while you take care of your finances. All of this takes negotiation, of course, but it’s worth the effort. With all of the overwhelming demands on our families, you’ll both feel a lot better facing them as a team.

So in honor of this Labor Day weekend, make a vow to labor less, and to rest, play, and reconnect with your husband and kids much more.

The Worst Betrayal of All




When the people we love or with whom we have a deep connection stop caring, stop paying attention, stop investing and fighting for the relationship, trust begins to slip away and hurt starts seeping in. Disengagement triggers shame and our greatest fears—the fears of being abandoned, unworthy, and unlovable. What can make this covert betrayal so much more dangerous than something like a lie or an affair is that we can’t point to the source of our pain—there’s no event, no obvious evidence of brokenness. It can feel crazy-making.

~Brené Brown

Vulnerability Glues Us Together



In the following blog post from The Huffington Post, Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW, reveals the pivotal role of vulnerability in sustaining a marriage:

In my over 20 years of counseling couples, I’ve come to realize that vulnerability is the key to a lasting union and that shame and fear are two of the main reasons why couples get entrenched in power struggles that can lead to divorce. Opening up to our partner can make us feel vulnerable and exposed, but it is the most important ingredient of a trusting, intimate relationship. One of the biggest challenges that couples face is being vulnerable with a romantic partner. After all, with over 40 percent of adults growing up in a divorced family, healthy templates for intimacy may have been in short supply. In other cases, many of us were raised in homes where showing vulnerability was seen was a weakness.

What drives our fear of being vulnerable? Dr. Brene Brown, a distinguished author and researcher, informs us that vulnerability is often viewed as a weakness, but it’s actually a strength. In her landmark book Daring Greatly, she explains that vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. She writes, “To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe that vulnerability is a weakness is to believe that feeling is a weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”

In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Given this definition, the act of loving someone and allowing them to love you may be the ultimate risk. Love is uncertain. It’s risky because there are no guarantees and your partner could leave you without a moment’s notice — or betray you or stop loving you. In fact, exposing your true feelings may mean that you are at greater risk for being criticized or hurt.

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