Why Two Highly Sensitive People In a Relationship Make Magic
Love is where sensitivity finds a place to shine
Disclaimer: Being highly sensitive is only one part of who you are. Not all qualities associated with Highly Sensitive People apply to every individual in this group. This article is based on research and personal experience.
When you search for information about Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) online, you’ll come across all the reasons why it’s so difficult to be part of this group. In fact, research by D. Elaine Aron shows that HSPs may have a harder time in relationships. If you’re an HSP you’re probably already familiar with these challenges.
Since your mind is always in over-drive, perceived threats to your relationship tend to jump out at you and send you spiraling into a panic. Your need for alone time might be misinterpreted by your partner as apathy.
You might find it hard to relate to your partner since HSPs tend to enjoy things that others often don’t. Reading Aron’s research for the first time gave me relief because I felt like less of an alien but it also felt like a death sentence for my romantic happiness.
High sensitivity is a biological trait found in several species including dogs, cats, fish, and even fruit flies. It is an adaptive survival mechanism that involves being observant or aware of one’s surroundings.
It affects fifteen to twenty percent of the human population and causes a sharp awareness of subtleties in the environment. HSPs tend to think and feel very deeply, needing more time to process sensory information than others which makes it hard to navigate this fast-paced world.
As a highly sensitive person, I confirm that it can be tough to feel fully calm and normal but life isn’t an endless saga of pain and misery.
Quarantine has allowed unlimited time for reflection, and to prevent a mental health crisis, I’ve been trying to stay grateful. One joy of which I’m constantly reminded is my current relationship. It’s been nearly two years and I can’t imagine being without my boyfriend, Jesse.
There have been challenges and I’m sure there are plenty more to come but I have confidence in our ability to face them because of the understanding we share. Both Jesse and I are highly sensitive people and although we face a unique set of difficulties every day, the care we give one another makes worries melt away.
I thought the two of us might make an emotional, dare I say melodramatic pair, and I was correct. While there have been tears shed from both of us, the tears are sweetened with love, not embittered with resentment (usually).
Avoiding resentment is the secret to success in any relationship. It festers in the deepest waters of our psyches and bobs its ugly head above the surface uninvited at the worst possible times.
We HSPs bury our resentment deeper than others to keep the peace or please our partners but we all know this only ends in disaster. Resentment erodes love over time until it feels like there’s no good reason to carry on.
In my experience, the main struggle for an HSP pair is to avoid this sorrowful outcome by staying attentive and focusing on communication no matter how unpleasant the issue at hand. Then, the beautiful strengths of high sensitivity reach their full potential, brightening the lives of others. I’ve enjoyed the following five strengths in my relationship and I believe they have a lot to do with the fact that we’re both highly sensitive.
Have you ever watched giraffes fighting? These fights are actually very serious and can be fatal but they look quite docile compared to other battles we see in the wild. Likewise, HSPs can still cause a lot of damage in personal conflicts, (high sensitivity does not make us angels) but for the most part, screaming and swearing are not our preferred weapons.
Usually, HSPs will avoid conflict because of our compulsive need to maintain a zen environment but when the feelings come out as they must, tears are far more likely than hurtful insults.
Emotionally tuned in
As mentioned, HSPs are particularly observant and pick up on subtleties in the environment. Our hyper-alertness makes us extra familiar with the needs of others, especially our partners.
Some people need to work on putting their partner first a bit more but with high sensitivity, the opposite tends to be true. In this research by Dr. Aron and five others (including her husband, Dr. Arthur Aron), studies explored brain activity in response to the emotions of others, comparing the MRI scans of HSPs and non-HSPs.
Participants were shown pictures of strangers and their spouses with happy, sad, and neutral expressions on their faces. In the area that deals with empathy, highly sensitive brains were more responsive to the emotional expressions of both strangers and their spouses (spouses especially).
HSPs are hyper-aware of their partner’s emotions and because they often take pride in caring for others, they make it a point of duty to nurture the emotional well-being of loved-ones. It may be pretty annoying how well your highly sensitive partner can read your feelings (and vice-versa).
That’s certainly the case for me. Sometimes I just want to be crotchety by myself for a while but it’s comforting to know that my partner cares about how I feel, understands my moods and, doesn’t judge me for being emotional.
Animals are important to HSPs; they provide the closeness we crave without the anxiety that tends to come with people.
They give us unconditional love and we give them nurturance and warmth (something HSPs have lots to offer). Having a pet has been associated with stress relief and other health benefits — perfect medicine for the disquiet that often plagues the highly sensitive mind.
Sharing a pet as an HSP couple can provide another avenue for bonding. My cat, Maud, has had this effect on my relationship. She enjoys two homes and unlimited attention. In return, we enjoy her quiet affection and laugh at her strange cat habits.
Many HSPs struggle to balance their relationships with friends, family, and lovers with the solitude they need and desire. When you’re in a relationship with someone who has the same want for alone time, a lot of resentment and guilt are avoided.
It’s so freeing to be with someone who respects your needs rather than taking offense. Of course, a partner who is not highly sensitive can give you the same freedom but sharing this instinct to retreat from life takes the pressure off.
Olympic champions of chilling
Highly sensitive people need more downtime than others because they tend to get overwhelmed easily. This does not mean we are inactive or lazy, we are simply more susceptible to burn-out (emotional, professional, or social) and the best defense against this depressing state is rest or at least avoiding high-stress situations.
An HSP pair may love doing calm activities together like watching movies, listening to music, or taking leisurely walks. We are deeply moved by art and soothed by nature.
You don’t need to feel doomed to a dissatisfying love life as an HSP. Whether you find love with a fellow HSP or not, recognize the strengths within you that make relationships magical. Acknowledge conflicts that arise and learn how to express your emotions freely because your needs are just as important as your partner’s.