How to Overcome Dissatisfaction in Your Relationship as an HSP
Have you struggled in relationships as a Highly Sensitive Person? Perhaps feeling bored by a lack of deep connection, resentful because your partner is not attuned to your needs, exhausted from the pressure to maintain a full social schedule or overstimulated by your partner’s loud habits. This experience is all too common for Highly Sensitive (HSP) folks, whether in a relationship with another HSP or a non-HSP. Having an innate tendency to be more empathetic and notice subtle details such as non-verbal cues, we often make superstar partners! However, due to our tendency to put others first and minimize conflict, we don’t always feel appreciated and supported in our relationships. Prioritizing ourselves and being more intentional about how we navigate our relationship can make a big impact on our relationship success.
6 Ways Highly Sensitive People Can Feel More Satisfied in their Relationships
Be More Direct
In order to get our needs met in the same way that we respond to the needs of others, we may have to be more direct. As Highly Sensitive People, we have the strength of being able to pick up very subtle cues such as slight changes in body language or tone of voice and strong intuition that allows us to be masters of anticipating need. Naturally, we expect the same level of attentiveness from our partners.
Unfortunately, a non-HSP partner may be unable to meet our expectations because their brains are not wired to be as perceptive or our HSP partner may be too overwhelmed to notice. This is why it’s important to be more direct when expressing our wishes. Think of it as “turning up the volume” on your voice. It’s important to set your partner up for success by expressing your needs directly. When partners repeatedly don’t respond to our “bids for connection”, resentment begins to build and create disconnection in our relationship.
Set Aside Alone Time
Since HSPs have competing needs for downtime and meaningful connection, finding the perfect balance between alone time and quality time with your partner can be very challenging. However, if we don’t prioritize alone time, we’ll end up feeling overstimulated which leads to irritability, anger, anxiety, burnout, illness and other struggles. It helps to create a consistent routine for downtime such as setting aside time for yourself immediately after work or scheduling a self-care day once per week.
Allow for Differences
Something I often see when working with couples is the conflict that can arise because of different capacities for empathy, emotional responsiveness and overall sensitivity. Since we only have our own experience to reference, we expect that everyone else has similar needs or rhythms as we do. Whether both partners are Highly Sensitive or not, it’s important to remember that there will be differences in preferences and levels of sensitivity. If both are HSPs, one person might be super sensitive to bright lights while the other partner isn’t bothered as much but is very sensitive to loud noises. Or perhaps one partner is an Extrovert, Introvert or High Sensation Seeker.
There are so many combinations of personality traits and learned experiences, that two people will always have some differences. Overcoming this is as simple as noticing when you’re making an assumption about your partner and instead asking about their point of view instead.
Create Shared Experiences and Intentional Connection
Without meaningful connection in our relationships, Highly Sensitive folks are easily bored, feel misunderstood and are at risk for emotional distress. With so many things pulling for our attention these days, it’s easy to take our partners for granted and assume the relationship will maintain itself while we tend to work, family, friends and other obligations. We’re often feeling too overwhelmed to tend to everything equally.
Unfortunately, when we aren’t actively connecting with our partners, the bond begins to weaken and is more susceptible to stress and conflict. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman states that “if you don’t start off with a deep knowledge of each other, it’s easy for your marriage to lose its way when your lives shift so suddenly and dramatically.”
As HSPs, it’s necessary for us to prioritize what’s most important to us and set strong boundaries on our limited capacity for connection. Reserve a certain evening or day of the week for your partner. Use this time to engage in a fun activity and then spend some time communicating without interruption, perhaps over dinner or during a long walk. Just listen to each other with curiosity and without interruption. Get to know the inner life of your partner (their worries, hopes, goals, joys) and discover what happened in their world over the past week. When couples create shared experiences, they build a strong foundation of connection.
Take Breaks During Conflict
Conflict is a huge challenge for Highly Sensitive folks because we get overstimulated often and move into fight or flight mode more easily. When this happens, you’ll notice that you or your partner will start to express anger (fight) or withdraw by leaving the room (flight). Due to the intense degree of emotional and physical discomfort a conflict creates, HSPs tend to understate our needs during a conflict and are usually the first to initiate a truce. Ending the conflict creates a temporary solution, but doesn’t prevent the conflict from recurring and opens the door for resentment to build (the ultimate destroyer of relationships).
When you’re both feeling relaxed, create a plan with your partner to determine how you want to manage moments of conflict. What are the rules of how you want to talk to each other, when to take breaks and how to communicate your needs non-verbally if you’re feeling flooded by emotions. Having structured rules around conflict will help the HSP partner navigate the discomfort of fighting with more ease.
Celebrate Your Wins Together
Due to our “negativity bias” as humans, we tend to focus more on what’s going wrong instead of what’s working well. This is a smart survival technique, but we get trapped and forget to notice the positive around us. Focusing on the difficulties increases anger towards our partner and also creates more stress on our emotional and physical health as Highly Sensitive People since we feel EVERYTHING more deeply. On the other hand, we thrive more than non-HSPs when our relationships are going well.
My favorite practice of increasing positive thinking in a relationship is creating a shared gratitude journal, where you each write down your successes and what you appreciate about the other from the previous week. Then spend a few moments reading over what you have each written and celebrating together.
To feel satisfied and connected in our relationships, it’s important that Highly Sensitive People find a balance of quiet downtime for ourselves and meaningful shared experiences with our partners. To get these needs met, we may have to be direct with our partner and accept when their preferences are different from our own. When our relationships feel balanced and mutually supportive, Highly Sensitive People will thrive in all areas.