Dr. Jess on Sex: Explaining your vulnerable emotions and crafting loving responses are the keys

There are many paths to intimacy in a loving relationship, but one of the simplest and most meaningful ways to cultivate an intimate connection with your partner involves a simple conversation. It arises naturally and it’s formulaic: Intimacy = vulnerable expression + loving response. 

Intimacy arises when one person feels vulnerable and expresses that vulnerability in a constructive manner and the other person responds with love and support.  

It took Toronto couple Serena* and Nicole* some time to understand how this works. Nicole has a high-stress job but enjoys it thoroughly as she’s close with her co-workers. They often go out for drinks after work and share playful messages on a group chat on the weekend. Serena has joined them a few times but felt left out because they mostly talk shop. She finds the weekend text chats intrusive, and Nicole’s relationship with one particularly vivacious woman in the group makes her feel jealous. 

At first, Nicole responded to Serena’s vulnerable emotion (jealousy) by lashing out. When that didn’t produce the result she was looking for, she withdrew. Serena then criticized this “other woman,” insisting that Nicole come home by 6 p.m. and even checking her messages to keep tabs. 

Nicole’s response to Serena’s vulnerability (now expressed as anger, withdrawal and controlling behaviour) didn’t help the situation. 

She was dismissive, calling Serena “crazy, jealous and insecure,” and it’s no surprise that the tension and conflict heightened. It wasn’t until the couple worked with a counsellor who was able to help them name their emotions, express them constructively and craft loving responses that things shifted. 

Serena learned to say things such as “I feel left out and worry that you like hanging out with them more than me. And when you’re texting them at the brunch table, I feel like I’m not enough for you.” 

Nicole learned to respond with love and reassurance: “You’re the one for me. And of course you’re enough for me. I like hanging with my friends, but of course I love our time together. And I should put down my phone.”

I’m summarizing and simplifying their story, but the result is clear: once you learn to express vulnerability in a constructive (non-accusatory manner) and your partner responds with love and reassurance, you reduce relationship conflict, and intimacy soars. 

Vulnerability is a universal experience. Once we accept that vulnerable feelings have the potential to be sources of power and connection, we create openings for a more intimate connection.

*Please note that names have been changed and relationship details have been shared with permission from all parties referenced.