Shame & Vulnerability in Your Relationship

I love Berne Browns work on shame and vulnerability. The idea is that shame thrives on secrecy. The more we keep the ****y things we think about ourselves to ourselves the stronger hold shame takes on us. The good news is there is one thing that shame shrivels to, exposure. What might exposing shame look like in a relationship?

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Vulnerability.  This is not a word most of us are comfortable with and it might even have an association of weakness. Being vulnerable enough in your relationship to share your darkest inner thoughts about yourself takes crazy courage and strength.

I tried applying this in my own relationship after reading Berne Brown’s books. I am open to any suggestions that offer a way to turn off that negative inner rhetoric. It's usually nothing big but when I do something embarrassing that I'd really rather no one ever know I tell my husband.  It's weird and uncomfortable but also a relief.  He does not berate me or tell me I'm stupid. He usually offers up his own story of "I've been there." Even though it feels strange it's nice to know there isn’t anything that makes me unlovable. And not only am I not unlovable, I'm not alone.


Vulnerability in your relationship.  Consider today for instance. Did anything happen today or this week that would be great if no one had seen or heard. Something that you would prefer not to have to think about again much less tell anyone else about.  Perhaps on the Katy Freeway this morning you lost your temper slightly and lost it a little on another driver.  Maybe you got to work late again and slipped in hopes no one would notice.  During a meeting you made a mistake. Not even a mistake anyone else was aware of just you and that's enough.  Your teenage daughter goes to toe to toe with you about the outfit she wants to wear and you give in from exhaustion against your better judgement.


Now you are at home with your partner trying really hard not to think about anything especially the thing you wish hadn't happened. Can you imagine turning to your spouse and saying it out loud?  Can you imagine how they might respond?  How they might support you?  If you're like most people you are getting anxious just thinking about it. Maybe you can't imagine it.


If the idea of opening up in this vulnerable way to your partner seems impossible, you are not alone.  I cannot express enough how challenging it is to be open, really open, in our relationships.


Be transparent. Let your partner know you just read this blog or one of Berne Brown's books and you were hoping to tell them when you get stuck in ****y thinking so maybe you won't be so hard on yourself in the future.


State your needs.  "When I tell you something like this just let me know you still love me and that it's ok. We all screw up. Please don't judge me or make fun of me. Please don't confirm, “Yes, that does make you a terrible parent." Not true and the last thing you need to hear.


Start small.  Very small, if necessary especially if you are worried about a less than supportive response from your partner.  Most of the examples from above would probably be safe unless any are sensitive areas for you personally. Parenting, for example might be a tough place to start especially if you do not always see eye to eye with your partner. Our not so proud parenting moments are a sensitive topic for any parent.


Give it a shot.  If not your partner, practice with your best friend or a parent. Start with whoever is safest and you've got the best shot of getting a supportive response.


If you’d like to learn more about Berne Brown’s work, her books, blog, Ted Talks check them out at



Building a closer more supportive relationship can start at any time.  Today is a great day to begin.


Michelle Puster M.Ed., LPC | Katy Couples & Wellness Counseling

Helping disconnected couples grow closer

Couples, Marriage, & Individual Counseling Serving Katy | West Houston

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