Sharing our Vulnerabilities

Communication, Relationships, Therapeutic Method

We don’t have to be Zen practitioners to hear truths from Zen – particularly when they come in the form of a lovely book like Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck. Here’s a quote from this book that resonates with us and with the work we do with couples:

I recently heard a quotation from a professional athlete: “Love is not shared pleasure. It is shared pain.” That’s a good insight. We can certainly enjoy going out with our partner, for example, and having dinner together. I’m not questioning the value of shared enjoyment. But if we want a relationship to be closer and more genuine, we need to share with our partner that which is most scary for us to share with anybody. When we do that, then the other person has freedom to do the same thing. Instead, we want to keep our image, particularly with somebody we’re trying to impress. Sharing our pain does not mean telling our partners how they irritate us. That’s a way of saying, “I’m angry with you.” It does not help us break down our false idol and open us to life as a butterfly. What does open us is sharing our vulnerabilities.

Time and time again it’s our experience in couples therapy that when partners share their vulnerabilities the space inhabited by the relationship grows. We feel this experientially in the therapy room, when we (Amanda and Ron) sit with the couple – the four of us as a small group, inquiring into such vulnerabilities.

Couples therapy can be the “safe experiment”, the place in which the couple can get a real taste of the rewards of vulnerability, can become committed to vulnerability.

Joko Beck goes on:

Sometimes we see a couple who has done this difficult work over a lifetime. In the process, they have grown old together. We can sense the enormous comfort, the shared quality of ease between these people. It’s beautiful, and very rare. Without this quality of openness and vulnerability, partners don’t really know each other; they are one image living with another image.