Not everyone is always actively seeking a relationship, but when we do land in one, we do all want it to be happy and successful. Although there is no way to ensure this, Brooke Williams, a counselor from Better Way Counseling & Coaching, says achieving vulnerability with your S.O. is a good start. Without it, Williams says relationships become based on assumptions, specifically about the other person’s wants and needs.

A couple hugs

Unfortunately, however, vulnerability — or the expression of one’s wants and needs openly — doesn’t come easily to many people. “This can be because of previous rejection that has shut them off or just from learning behaviors that don’t support openness,” explains Williams. But, as with most things, she says practice makes perfect. Here are five of her professional tips on attaining openness.

1. Accept your feelings. If you haven’t taken the time to be honest with your partner, there’s a chance you haven’t done so with yourself either. Williams says you must acknowledge your feelings with yourself to start. How? She recommends journaling — and not just about menial things. “Go as deep as you can to uncover the thoughts and feelings that you may not have realized were there,” Williams urges.

2. Ask for support. If you have been in a committed relationship without being actively vulnerable, there may be a noticeable shift in the dynamic as you begin to open up. Prepare them for this. “Get your partner on board,” says Williams, because “vulnerability means the good and the bad.” But the payoff — fulfillment, connectedness, intimacy — is worth it, Williams assures us in the same way you should assure your partner.

A couple smiles together on the couch

3. Take it slow. It may seem inorganic initially, but Williams recommends actually scheduling time each week to have these conversations. “This can help to alleviate constant brain/emotion ‘dumps’ and sort your feelings and thoughts first.” Make sure to make these conversations balanced with both positive and more difficult talking points, she suggests, so as to make them more productive and less burdensome.

4. Reciprocate. By being vulnerable with your partner, you are inviting them to do so in return. So Williams underscores the importance of responding to their vulnerability the same way you would want them to respond to yours — with acceptance, empathy, and a lack of judgment or reproach. “The more you do these things, even in moments of surprise or upset, the more you will cultivate vulnerability as a value in your relationship,” she encourages.

5. Practice, practice, practice. Throughout the process, Williams recommends continuing to journal about your feelings, because by identifying your thoughts in this way you will begin to feel safer sharing your feelings out loud. Also, keep up with your weekly check-ins with your partner, and remain open to your partner’s vulnerability. In time, it will become second nature.

If you are still struggling to open up, Williams suggests seeking professional help for support. They will be able to help you identify feelings and open up in a different, non-judgmental environment.

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(Photos via Getty)