Being braver in our relationships sounds like a nice idea. As we’ve read in previous blogs over the past few months, there are several benefits of moving our relationships towards bravery and vulnerability. But at the heart of things, how do we do this? How can we intentionally create relationships that are brave? Transforming our relationships to brave spaces requires a purposeful decision to exercise bravery every day. Here are some methods of creating and adjusting our relationships towards bravery that you can try out for yourselves.
It’s really hard to be vulnerable and brave with the big things when the small things aren’t being taken care of. Marriage and relationship researcher, John Gottman, points out that one of the most fundamental parts of a good marital relationship is a deep friendship. He talks about purposefully carving out “cognitive room” for those we love. This means paying attention when your partner talks about coworkers. This means knowing what your partner’s favorite TV shows are. This means understanding the relationships your partner has with his or her family members. I think we can all agree that it is so much easier to be brave with those who really know us and understand us. If you want to foster more bravery in your relationships, start small. Start by paying attention and designating a portion of your mental space to your partner. There is a beautiful intimacy that comes when someone understands the big stuff and the little stuff: your history, your favorite foods, your biggest dreams, your favorite article of clothing, etc. You might even find that knowing the little things actually feels like a really big thing to your partner!
An important thing to remember about brave relationships is that it involves two people! Bravery isn’t just something you do, but can often be a value that helps govern your life and decisions. The best place for bravery to develop in relationships is when both partners understand and share this value. If you want to foster bravery and vulnerability in your relationships, mutually agree that this is a value to live and love by. Work together to understand what prevents you from being brave and create a space in your relationship where bravery can thrive. In the class I teach at BYU this semester we started out mutually agreeing on being brave in our classroom. Sometimes throughout our class a student would raise their hand and say, “Okay. This is a brave space, right?” and then would proceed to share something vulnerable or difficult. Because we had really solidified bravery as a value for our classroom, we could take risks and show up more authentically. This can be true in our relationships as well! What would it be like to share a vulnerable experience or emotion with your partner and be able to start by saying, “Okay. We value bravery, right?” Being on the same page with bravery as a value and life-framework allows you to practice it more freely with one another.
Try It Out
Ernest Hemingway is famously said to have stated that “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” You might be saying to yourself, “Okay, slow down there, Ernest. Easier said than done.” When it comes to cultivating bravery in our relationships, the best way to see if we can be brave is by trying it out. This can be scary and vulnerable, however, if we really value bravery, we have to put our money where our mouth is and live in congruence with this value.
I had a moment a few weeks ago when I felt the need to have a difficult and very vulnerable conversation with someone in my life. I had successfully avoided it for a time but was starting to feel like this needed to take place. I was really nervous. I remember trying to figure out a way to NOT have the conversation when I then was struck with an overwhelming tough-love thought: “Do you really believe in vulnerability and bravery or not?” Needless to say, I mustered up the courage and initiated this difficult conversation soon afterward.
Bravery doesn’t spontaneously happen in relationships: it is built. I like to think of our vulnerable emotions, experiences, etc. as a series of levels from 1-10. Perhaps a level 1 vulnerable conversation would be about the basics of what you did that day and a level 10 vulnerable conversation would be about a deep emotional experience, a past trauma, etc. I don’t always recommend that people offer up Level 10 responses right off the bat, especially if being more vulnerable and braver in your relationships is new territory for you. Instead, if you’re used to sharing a level 3 or 4 with your partner, try to share a level 5 or 6 and see how that goes. Gather some data. How did your partner respond? Did you feel heard? Do you feel motivated to be vulnerable again? Was your information/vulnerability treated with kindness? Did you feel more connected to your partner? Were they willing to be vulnerable with you as well? Continue to build up your vulnerability and bravery with your partner until you feel like you have enough data to decide if sharing a level 10 would be treated with respect and honor.
I hope that through this Brave Spaces series you’ve been able to gain some insight into how bravery in relationships can be beneficial and beautifully connecting. If you would like more information on brave relationships, I suggest checking out work by John Gottman and/or Brene Brown. I have really loved writing these posts as it reminded me that bravery and connection is worth the risk. I hope you can find this to be true for you as well!
Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.