“Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, yet each one can be true.”
Highly sensitive people naturally bring some really beautiful, love-promoting qualities to their romantic partnerships. But these same qualities can sometimes end up undermining the strength of the relationship. This was true for me in my first marriage and led, in part, to it ending in divorce.
We HSPs are known for our caring, conscientious, and considerate natures. It matters deeply to us that we do our best to be loyal and caring in our relationships.
And because we tend to have high standards for ourselves, and work hard at being kind supportive friends and lovers, we often successfully create strong intimate bonds with others.
We also have a knack for being aware of the needs of others. Our ability to pick up on subtle cues makes them feel deeply understood and cared for. On top of all of this, we tend to think deeply about our love relationships, giving them much of our mental and emotional energy.
This is all really wonderful for the lucky partner of a highly sensitive person. It’s part of why they felt drawn to you and nurtured, safe, and loved with you. But, things can go downhill fast when our significant other doesn’t behave the same way.
It’s human nature to be unable to deeply understand what it’s like to live another’s experience. Though HSP’s tend to be quite empathic, it’s still nearly impossible to really see through our partners’ eyes. This can be the source of so much pain.
In my first marriage, I often wondered why I seemed to be the one to show more interest in the health of the relationship. I would ask myself things like, “How can he be okay with going to bed when things aren’t resolved between us?” “Does he even notice I’m sad?” “Doesn’t he want to help me feel better?” “What’s wrong with him that he doesn’t think to offer some kind words?”
Because those were things I naturally did for him.
Those high standards I had for myself about relationships? I had them for him, too. When he didn’t meet my ideas about how we should be with each other, I would think something was wrong.
I’d think his lack of consideration and awareness meant he didn’t love me as much as I loved him, that maybe I wasn’t enough for him. Thinking that really hurt.
That pain, unfortunately, only led to me acting far below my own high standards for myself. Because when we humans feel hurt, we say and do things we wouldn’t otherwise.
I’d complain, maybe curl up and cry, or give him the cold shoulder. I’d point out how he was falling short, question why —if he really loved me— he wasn’t more affectionate, more aware of my feelings, more interested in resolving issues—in short, more like I was naturally (well, when I wasn’t upset!).
We’d end up in long conversations that never concluded satisfactorily. He’d end up feeling like he wasn’t doing good enough.
Because I was aware of subtle shifts in him, I could see how badly I was affecting him. And that would only lead to me feeling guilty and bad about myself, which made things even worse. It seemed like a rock and a hard place that we didn’t know how to get out of. After many years of this, we ended our marriage.
What a wake up call! Since then I’ve learned so much and changed my life in major ways, and learned to work with my high sensitivity in ways that not only support me, but also my romantic relationship. I am now very happily remarried.
Though I had to learn the hard way, I now have a lot to share with others about how to have a mutually loving, supportive, and connected intimate relationship as an HSP.
Assuming you're in a healthy, non-abusive relationship, these three tips can help you feel more fulfilled in love and be an amazing life partner.
1. Honor differences, yours and theirs!
Just as they must learn to accept our sensitive natures, we must understand that others may not have our superpowers of high conscientiousness, deep caring attentiveness to others, and the uncanny ability to know just what they most need to feel good.
They may not want to resolve issues as thoroughly as we do, because they may not feel things as intensely and as long as you do. They might not enjoy processing or getting to the heart of the matter the way you do—it may even make them really uncomfortable.
All this can be especially true if your partner’s male, because of some big brain and cultural differences between males’ and females’ approach to relating with others. So he may not be attuned to the play of emotion across your face—or quick to try to make things right for you.
If you fight to change his brain’s wiring, you’re fighting a losing battle. Instead, when you feel like you know better than he does about how to love well, remind yourself, it's not better, it's just different.
2. Stop holding your partner to unreachable standards.
Apples will never be as juicy as watermelon! But you can’t make a great pie out of watermelon.
When I let go of my own high, unrealistic standards and stop comparing I can actually see the way he does show his care and is loving me. Which is what we all ultimately want: to feel cherished and supported.
Maybe your partner doesn't read your mind and give you that hug when you want it most, but he does make kind gestures like offering to take the kids so you can have some quiet time to yourself, or she invites you on some adventure she's excited about. Look for and enjoy the different gifts your partner brings to the relationship. Let them spice up your life.
Would you really want a clone of yourself for a partner, anyway?
3. Attend to yourself.
We need to keep coming back to giving ourselves loving attention, especially as HSPs.
When I don’t, I feel empty and needy, and tend to look to my husband to fix it. Which often backfires and I feel even worse.
When I get complainy or needy or act in ways I don’t like, I know it means I need to pause and notice what I really need. And that take action on it. If it’s something my husband can do for me, I can always ask lovingly for it, without expecting he’ll be willing or able.
So let them be who they are, and take care of who you are. Nothing fills us up like self-appreciation and caring for yourself the way you like to care for others.
My love life changed so much once I deeply understood that my way is just One Way, not The Way to express love for another human being. I can now really feel and appreciate my husband’s unique ways of loving me, and I receive them as big gifts. That allows me to feel truly fulfilled and to easily reciprocate to my sweet husband—in my own unique and special way.