by Joyce & Barry Vissell
(An excerpt from the Vissell’s new book, To Really Love a Woman)
To be vulnerable with a woman is to allow yourself to be seen and known in your entirety, not just your powerful, independent, secure, loving and capable self. Yes, you love a woman by being powerful, by protecting her from all harm, by fathering the little girl inside her, and by gently taking the lead. But without vulnerability your loving is incomplete.
To be vulnerable is to show her your fear, pain, shame, and need for love. Showing your vulnerability, by the classic definition, is showing your weakness and therefore showing the way to be attacked and defeated. This is the military model. If you’re fighting in a battle, you avoid vulnerability. The problem is that this model is entirely useless if you’re striving for intimacy. Many of us have been programmed since our early days on the playground to avoid vulnerability so we wouldn’t get attacked by other kids. The choice is clear. Do we want to avoid vulnerability with our beloved, or do we want to feel the heights of love?
To be vulnerable, contrary to what many people think, makes you truly attractive, even irresistible. The opposite of vulnerability is keeping on your armor, your protection from being hurt. Trouble is, this armor also keeps love away from you.
It’s often more difficult for men to show their vulnerability. We’re so often raised with “machismo.” We hear the messages, “Be a man. Men don’t cry. Never show your fear.” We’re taught to hold in our feelings. We view all feelings except anger (and related feelings like frustration, irritation, and annoyance) as a sign of weakness. Yet it is our vulnerability that is our real strength, not the hollow bravado we usually display to the world.
After years of experience, Joyce and I have come to realize the extreme importance of vulnerability. I feel it is impossible to truly love another person without being vulnerable. I like the expression of “intimacy” as “into me see.” To be intimate is to let your partner see into you … all of you, not just the parts you like about yourself. Intimacy has come to mean sex for many people, but it is so much more. Vulnerability is the cornerstone of intimacy. Vulnerability allows you to be seen at the most fundamental level.
I love to lead men’s retreats, and by the end of these weekends all the men understand the importance of vulnerability. During these weekends we experience the tenderness of fathering one another, and the liberation of having our inner little boys safely loved by other men as fathers. We share our pain, our fears, our shame, our feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. And most importantly, we experience how our vulnerability allows us to be more authentic, and how this authenticity makes us more loveable – and more powerful – in the eyes of every man present.
For most of the men, it’s easier to be vulnerable at these weekend retreats with other men than it is to be vulnerable with the women in their lives. A standard of safety is established from the beginning of the retreat. They often admit that they lack this safety at home with their wives or partners. Some admit to being scared of women, that somehow women have the power to hurt them. Therefore, as a true solution to this problem, I challenge each man to bring their vulnerability to the important women in their lives. By doing this, they create the safety they need, rather than waiting for their women to create the safety for them. It’s touching for me to hear from the wives and partners after a men’s retreat. Quite often I am thanked by these women who are deeply moved by the vulnerability of their partners.
4 ways to be more vulnerable with a woman:
Timing is important here. You need to be sensitive to her level of receptivity. She may not be ready to drop everything just because you want to express your vulnerability. It may not work to blurt out your vulnerability as she races around the house after the children. It never hurts to ask her first: “Honey, I have something vulnerable to share with you. Is this a good time for you?” Then listen to see if she’s really ready, not just automatically saying yes.
- Ask her for help.If you don’t ask her for help, you foster the illusion that you don’t need her. But you do need her … in a thousand ways. And don’t only ask for help in physical ways, like helping you hang a picture. Ask for emotional support, like holding you when you feel sad, or for reassurance when you feel insecure. Ask for spiritual help too, like sitting with you in prayer or meditation.
- Admit that you need her love.When a woman feels needed as well as protected, she feels really loved. If she feels needed but not protected, then she goes into “mother mode,” and you become another one of her children. Definitely not attractive to her! When she feels you need her love as much as she needs yours, she can relax into the relationship.
- Let her know, without anger, when you feel hurt by her.It’s easy to bypass hurt feelings and jump right into anger. Even though I more typically express my anger, reflexively covering over my hurt, I sometimes will let Joyce know I feel hurt by something she did or said. Showing my hurt, without the anger, shows Joyce my vulnerability. It also shows her how important she is to me. She loves this and will usually immediately apologize.
- Be courageous enough to admit your fears to her.Yes, you have just as many fears as she does. Women tend to speak more about their fears. You may hold them inside, or worse, not even be aware of them. That does not mean you’re less afraid. Admit your fears about failure, not being good enough, or even losing her through death. This makes you more human, more vulnerable, and definitely more attractive to her.
The Vissell’s new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man, can be ordered from their website with free shipping at http://sharedheart.org/sharedheart2/books-and-dvds.html, or from Amazon.com
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:
Feb 4-11, 2018 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island
Jul 22-27, 2018 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR
Oct 11-17, 2018 — Assisi Retreat, Italy
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of eight books, including two new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man.
Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.
by Joyce and Barry Vissell
Barry and I have just returned from Assisi, Italy, where we led our second week long retreat with musician and friend, Charley Thweatt. Similar to last year, the retreat in Assisi was life-changing for both of us. Assisi, the home of St. Francis and St. Clare, is a very inspiring place and lends itself to inner reflection and a desire to create a more fulfilling life.
After each workshop session in the morning we walked to various sacred places as a group, singing together when we could. In each holy place, I prayed for guidance on how to deepen my spiritual life. The answer came when we visited San Damiano, the convent of St. Clare, where she lived her entire life in prayer, contemplation, and healing work. The answer was a reminder to live my life more fully in gratitude. The simple act of gratitude in our daily lives has the power to transform any situation, relationship or personal challenge.
Last year, Barry and I were having a difficult time financially. The economic situation of our country suddenly affected us in a big way. We wondered if we could hold onto our home and continue to pay college payments for our son. At the same time all three of our dogs and our elderly cat had major veterinary expenses, our car broke down and needed a lot of repairs, and Barry found out that he needed a very expensive dental procedure. It was not a happy time for us.
During the biggest crisis, we sat on our couch one Sunday morning and pledged to not do anything else until we had spoken everything for which we were grateful. We stayed there for over an hour. Once we started the gratitude process, we could hardly stop. At the end of that time, we saw and felt how truly abundant we really were. True, the money was not coming in, but we were rich in other ways that were important to us. We held onto this feeling of abundance, even when our financial situation worsened. The gratitude saw us through a very difficult time and eventually things turned around for us financially as well.
A practice we do as a couple every day is to notice and thank each other. Sometimes it is in the area of simple things like doing the wash or computer work. And then there is also the deeper gratitude and appreciation of being able to be each other’s partner. We have a friend whose husband was injured when his private plane crashed thirteen years ago. He suffered brain damage among other injuries. He is confined to a wheel chair, cannot talk, and communicates very little through a special device. His wife cares for him on a daily basis. She could understandably feel like a victim of circumstances or even want to leave the relationship for a more exciting life. Instead she has transformed the situation through gratitude. She is grateful that he is still alive and grateful for each tiny communication that comes from him. She is grateful they can continue their love in a silent way communicated through eye contact. Her sense of gratitude has transformed the tragedy into a sacred place of love. We recommend the practice of gratitude to all couples who come to see us in counseling or in our workshops. Those that have taken up this practice notice a beautiful change in their relationship.
We have also used gratitude in raising our three children. Throughout their childhoods we have thanked them for the amazing gifts they have given us. I never wanted them to feel a sense of guilt for all we have given them through our time and money, which is sizeable if you consider private school and college costs. But I wanted them to know that the gifts they have given us just by being our children have transformed our lives. We have a male friend whose mother is never happy with the amount of times he calls her. When he calls his mother she typically remarks, “After all I have done for you, the least you could do is to call me more often.” Imagine if this man called his mom and instead she said something like, “I am so happy to hear your voice. I feel so blessed to have had the privilege to be your mother, for you have brought me so much joy.” He would probably call her every day. It is never too late to thank your child for the wonderful gift of their presence in your life.
Barry and I have a very old hot tub that we go in every night before going to sleep. Lately we have been using that time together to discuss business concerns. In my time in Assisi I received the message to bring just one more part of my life into gratitude and I would be making a major step in my spiritual and emotional well being. I chose that hot tub time. Those 15-30 minutes in the hot tub are no longer used as a business meeting. Now we are spending the time in gratitude, reflecting on all the gifts of the day, so that when we fall asleep we will sleep with this feeling of gratitude. It is a simple practice and doesn’t require any more time, yet I truly believe it is blessing us.
In what way can you add this quality of gratitude on a daily basis? Is there something you do every day that could be turned into a gratitude time? St Francis always greeted people with the phrase, “Pace e Bene,” which means peace and goodwill. I truly believe that gratitude has the power to bring about Pace e Bene within our hearts.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk To Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant To Be, and just released, A Mother’s Final Gift: How One Woman’s Courageous Dying Transformed Her Family.
Call Toll-Free 1-800-766-0629 (locally 831-684-2299) or write to the Shared Heart Foundation, P.O. Box 2140, Aptos, CA 95001, for free newsletter from Barry and Joyce, further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.