How Trust and Vulnerability Can Lead to Intimacy

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Being able to trust your partner is the bedrock of an amazing relationship and couples who are are able to achieve secure attachment and stay emotionally connected can risk being vulnerable. As a result, they enjoy sensuality and passion that goes along with intimacy.

For instance, Julia and Rick sought couples’ therapy because they were both in their second marriage and they were struggling with trust issues. Falling in love and getting remarried can be invigorating but can be scary at the same time.

Julia put it like this, “It took a lot for me to trust Rick because my first marriage was so dysfunctional and he betrayed me by having an affair with someone in our friend group. But over time, with the help of our therapist we are building trust and I feel safe with him.

Rick reflects, “When I’ve had a tough day at work and can look forward to spending time with Julia unwinding at the end of the day, it lowers my stress level. I used to feel that we were missing the mark, but lately we’re more in tune with each other’s day. I tell Julia to let me know when she wants me to grab take-out on the way home so we can have more time to relax.”

Couples who have the most successful second marriages know that cultivating intimacy involves allowing themselves to be vulnerable and trusting of one another. All relationships have tension at times, but it is important for partners to use that tension to become more emotionally connected, physically affectionate, and to achieve a mutually satisfying marriage.

Happy couples are able to identify whether their trust issues stem from their present relationship or are emotional baggage from past betrayals. If you understand your own history, and strive to understand your partner’s past, you can stop repeating toxic patterns. It is possible to deal effectively with ghosts from the past by extending trust to each other through words and actions that are consistent with a loving second marriage.

Emotional intimacy, trust, and vulnerability are essential ingredients that will help you feel securely attached to your spouse, and satisfied with your remarriage. A new relationship is often exhilarating, intense, and exciting, but what sustains couples is fostering intimacy by being vulnerable and building trust day by day.

A Sense of Secure Connection is Key to a Successful Second Marriage

One of the most prominent authors on the topic of intimate relationships, Dr. Sue Johnson, explains in her book Hold Me Tight that you might fear intimacy and lack connection with your partner when you don’t feel emotionally safe with him or her. And lacking confidence in your partner’s trustworthiness can cause you to feel disconnected and distressed – which can lead to insecure attachment in your marriage.

Julia never felt comfortable being vulnerable with her first husband because she didn’t believe he truly loved her. By withholding her thoughts, feelings and needs from him, she played it safe but put her relationship at great risk. As a result, when Lisa met Ryan, it took her a couple of years to feel comfortable opening up to him.

Julia reflects: “I didn’t want to be that rebound person since Ryan was newly divorced, so I didn’t allow myself to be vulnerable and tell him how I really felt until I felt secure in his love for me.”

According to Dr. Johnson, by being vulnerable, you can achieve a level of emotional safety with your partner. It’s the primary way to strengthen a marital bond and keep love alive. Thus, you’ll be able to re-establish a secure emotional attachment and preserve intimacy in your marriage. In her landmark book, Hold Me Tight, Dr. Johnson clarifies, “If we love our partners why don’t we just hear each other’s call for attention and respond with caring?”

Dr. Johnson uses the concept of “Primal Panic,” coined by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, to explain why distressed people, who are driven by intense fear of loss, might resort to demanding behaviors when they to seek reassurance – or a sense of soothing and protection when they seek withdrawal. This is especially true for remarried individuals who have endured infidelity and betrayal.

For instance, when feelings of disconnection arise, instead of being vulnerable and sharing your true feelings, you might become demanding rather than requesting something. A demand-withdraw pattern then develops. According to Dr. Johnson, the longer this pattern persists, the more negative it becomes.

One way to change this pattern is to focus on your part in the dynamic and stay in the present moment. This will allow you to bond with your mate through emotional closeness, conversation, touch, and sexual intimacy because you aren’t concentrating on your fears of not getting your needs met.

Julia puts it like this: “Rick accepts me for who I am. He knows that if I feel upset it’s best to hold me rather than back off. He knows that if he holds me close and reminds me to breathe, it will help me. If I I don’t let him know how I feel, how will he know?”

Julia continues: “When I feel mistrustful, I tell Rick, just hold me, just be there for me. It’s the little things that matter. Like when he comes home and has had a tough day and I say I’ve had a tough day, and he makes dinner. It wipes all my mistrust away and we are close and connected once again.”

In the five years that Julia and Rick have been married, they have become masters at being vulnerable with each other and have a satisfying sexual and emotional relationship. Instead of focusing on each other’s flaws and looking to blame each other, they spend their energy fostering a deeper connection.

Julia and Rick are learning to give each other the benefit of the doubt and have put an end to the demand-withdraw pattern so many couples develop. Instead, they are shedding the baggage from their past relationships healing through being taking risks, being vulnerable, and staying emotionally connected.

 4 Ways to Build Trust in Your Partner: 

  • Challenge mistrustful thoughts. Ask yourself: is my lack of trust due to my partner’s actions or my own issues, or both? Be aware of unresolved issues from your past relationships that may be triggering mistrust in the present. For instance, did your parents model a healthy level of intimacy and trust? Have you fallen into the pattern of selecting mistrustful partners in the past?
  • Learn to trust yourself. In other words, trust your intuition and instincts. Have confidence in your own perceptions and pay attention to red flags. Be vulnerable and ask for reassurance if you feel mistrustful. Actions speak louder than words and will tell you whether your partner is dependable and trustworthy.
  • Don’t assume the worst of your partner. If he or she lets you down, it may just be a failure in competence – sometimes people simply make a mistake.
  • Listen to your partner’s side of the story. Believe that there are honest people in the world. Unless you have strong reason been to mistrust him or her, have faith in your partner.

For an intimate relationship to work, you must be able to trust your partner and be vulnerable. If learning to trust again is something you have been struggling with, it will impact all aspects of communication and make you feel as if you are walking on eggshells. However, you’re not alone in this world and many people successfully work through trust issues and go on to have long-lasting and successful relationships or marriages. Remember that you have the power to break free from the hold mistrust has on your life!

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award-winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.

**Terry offers coaching to individuals and couples about divorce, marriage, remarriage, or relationship issues. She is also an expert on matters related to children of divorce and the challenges facing adult children of divorce. You can sign up for low-cost coaching here. In most cases you will be able to meet with her within a week.