Being in an intimate relationship with a highly sensitive partner is one of the rarest gifts—if you know how to make them feel comfortable with you.
“My wife is (what she labels as) a “highly sensitive person” or HSP. Quite often, things that I don’t see as a huge deal can make her go running for shelter for hours on end. I love her to bits and I just want to understand where she’s coming from a bit better.
Anything specific I should be aware of with her sensitivity? How can I better engage with my highly sensitive partner?”
First of all, let me say that I absolutely adore getting messages like these… messages that have the overarching subtext of “How do I love them even better?” Because people are amazing.
Second, I couldn’t understand this question more—it has been suggested that I’m an HSP, an empath, deeply introverted and a number of other things (all of which have validity).
The bottom line is that I am incredibly sensitive. I get over-stimulated easily during every day activities. I can read someone’s thoughts and emotions from across the room just by watching their face. I write my articles before sunrise because it’s the darkest and quietest hour of the day. I go to movies alone because I want to react to them at my own pace. I go for walks with ear plugs in and sunglasses on to limit stimulation.
Maybe some of these types of behaviors sound familiar to you (in terms of your personal experience, or you recognize these traits in your highly sensitive partner).
Regardless, if you’re still reading, that means that you want to know how you can love your highly sensitive people better. So, what can you do to help your highly sensitive partner feel more loved and cared for?
1. Don’t rush them.
Highly sensitive people tend to have rich inner worlds with a mass of swirling thoughts. So when you ask them something or are waiting for a decision from them, do your best to not rush them. They have a lot going on in their minds and might need a bit longer to respond than most.
2. Fully support their need for quiet time, alone time, or less stimulating time.
Yes, it’s true that every person has some need for alone time, regardless of how extroverted they are. But sensitive people don’t just have a “it would be nice” kind of relationship to quiet time—they have a “I need quiet/alone time or else I can’t function in society” kind of relationship to it.
I know that, for me personally, if I do more than 10 hours of coaching in a week and I don’t prioritize time in a silent, dark room then my mental and emotional energy gets thrown out of whack in no time. There’s a reason I wear ear plugs so often in my daily life when I’m outside of the house. HSP’s see, feel and hear everything.
So even if your highly sensitive partner says that they’re fine, really make it known that you are always happy to make their sensitivity a priority.
If they need to leave a dinner party because they feel overstimulated, go with them. If they get that dissociated look in their eyes because they’ve had a stressful week, ask them if they’d like to meditate or go lie down for a nap. Do whatever you can to let them know that you understand them and want to cater to their unique way of experiencing the world. When a highly sensitive person feels and trusts that they are safe with you, they will give you access to the richness and beauty that is their soul.
3. Calibrate your environment to further suit them.
This one was an absolute game changer for me.
Knowing that your partner is easily overstimulated by their environment, you can proactively calibrate your home environment to better suit them. Have soft throw pillows and blankets lying around. Put dimmer switches on your lights. If you live in a noisier area or have loud neighbors, invest in sound proofing your walls.
The less stimulating an environment is, the more your highly sensitive partner will feel like they can let their guard down and really be there with you.
4. Work out signals for when they’re feeling overstimulated.
Sometimes your highly sensitive partner will become so overstimulated that it will become increasingly difficult for them to verbally communicate.
When this happens, it can be massively beneficial to have some kind of signal worked out so that they can communicate their state without having to articulate it. I have had clients use the following:
– Making a peace sign and putting it over their heart (to signal, “Give me a few minutes, I’m feeling a lot right now.”)
– Fanning their fingers out and waving them back and forth in front of their face (to signal “I’m overstimulated and not feeling very present right now.”)
– Putting their hands over their ears and looking down (to signal a combination of “It’s really loud/overstimulating here, and I’d like to change environments/leave soon.”)
Whatever signal you work out, make sure that it makes sense to you both and that the signal will be respected when it is used.
Just the fact that you took the time to read this article says so much about you as a partner.
As always, proactive communication from the mindset of “How can I best love you?” will always be well received.
And since HSP’s are used to feeling like they don’t really belong in the world (because daily life often doesn’t feel like it’s geared towards being sensitive), the gesture of you trying to understand and love them better will be doubly appreciated.
This article was originally published with JordanGrayConsulting.com in partnership with the Good Men Project.
[Image: via MFer Photography on flickr]
About the Author
Author and relationship coach Jordan Gray helps people remove their emotional blocks and maintain thriving intimate relationships. When he’s not coaching clients or writing new books, Jordan loves to surf without a wetsuit, immerse himself in new cultures, and savour slow-motion hang outs with his closest companions. You can see more of his writing at JordanGrayConsulting.com.