HSPs want their partners to understand that getting alone time — separately — makes time together even better.
Before I met my now-husband, I had never heard of the terms “highly sensitive person” or “HSP.” I learned about HSPs after we were already married, and when I did, so much of my life clicked into place.
I am an HSP married to a man who I would categorize as sensitive, but not highly sensitive. And as we’ve been together for many years, we’ve learned a lot about each other. We know what we each need to feel happy and safe, and a lot of my needs have to do with my being highly sensitive.
My marriage has made me step back and think about what HSPs tend to need more of in committed relationships. Here are some of those things — a few tips for non-HSP partners.
9 Things HSPs Need Their Partners to Understand
1. It helps if you know what “highly sensitive” means.
Your partner is the person you’ll be spending more time with than anyone else. HSPs need someone in their corner who can:
- Understand the definition of a highly sensitive person
- Have an understanding of how being highly sensitive affects daily life
Personality traits don’t exist in a vacuum. Being highly sensitive will impact how you handle work and life stress, your social interactions, how you decompress at the end of the day, and what you need to feel mentally sound.
When someone isn’t an HSP, it can be hard to understand how being highly sensitive feels. Thankfully, partners can learn a lot from a simple Google search, online articles like these, and asking their HSP significant other about their experiences.
I often like to equate my high sensitivity to my attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although being an HSP is not a mental disorder like ADHD, it is forever a part of me and how I move through this world. While I can adapt habits, routines, and thought processes that work with my brain, some things will still be harder or more overwhelming for me than for those with neurotypical brains or non-HSPs.
HSPs need their partners to understand their natural limits so that the HSP is not constantly overstimulated, leading to anxiety, depression, obsessive worrying, insomnia, and more. When the other person “gets” it as much as they can, the relationship can be a safe place to land in a world that is often too loud.
2. If they appear to be moody, irritable, or rude, they’re just overstimulated.
High sensitivity means that you are very often overwhelmed by life. Getting snappy in response to a simple question or having a negative attitude is often the result of sensory overload for HSPs.
When I have my mind on my to-do list, there are dishes in the sink, I’m nursing a headache that’s come on suddenly, and my husband comes in and starts talking to me or starts playing music, I’ve been known to lash out or to get teary-eyed because it all feels like too much. And, after I’ve withdrawn to mull over my emotions, I’ll apologize and wish I hadn’t reacted that way.
I have learned to speak up when I’m feeling this way, and my husband has learned to recognize the signs of me being overstimulated. Often, I’ll just say something like, “I’m feeling really overwhelmed and just need to sit quietly for a bit” or that I need to shut myself in my office for a while to get things done. My husband knows that it’s nothing personal, just my way of regulating my emotions. After all, we HSPs need alone time to reset and recharge.
If an HSP is overly upset or irritable, they could be deficient in alone time and overstimulated. Even if they’re brief, honest conversations can help both parties better understand what’s going on.
3. They’ll often absorb your emotions, sometimes before you even recognize them.
HSPs pick up on the smallest of facial movements, voice tone changes, or shifts in body language. The minutest change can sometimes alert me that something is off, leading me to ask my husband if he’s okay.
HSPs will also soak up others’ emotions. I often find myself mirroring my husband’s mood. If he starts talking passionately about a social or political topic, I feel my blood pressure rising, my heart rate increasing, and my whole body feels amped up. When I’m not as passionate about that topic, or I don’t want to get worked up, it actually starts to feel emotionally painful.
The same goes for when he’s had a hard day at work, is feeling down, or has any other strong or subtle emotion. Ever since we’ve been together, I’ve had to regulate my responses to support him and try not to let the emotions get to me too much. (And this is easier said than done.)
4. A good set of headphones goes a long way.
This one has seriously made such a huge difference in my marriage.
When we’re doing things separately throughout the day, we each use our own pair of headphones. He can blast whatever he wants into his earbuds while I enjoy the quiet or play something soothing in mine. (On that note, noise-canceling headphones are a fantastic gift for HSPs who need to block out all sounds and noise while getting things done.)
He can have music, podcasts, or TV shows going in the background all day long, but just the thought of that makes me batty. Constant auditory stimulation prevents me from getting anything done, and it often leaves me emotional and stuck in “fight-or-flight” mode. When I have something playing, it’s usually something I’ve listened to or seen a million times before and that I can pause or mute as needed.
Headphones let us be in the same room without forcing certain stimuli on the other person. Then, we can watch or listen to things together when we’re both ready.
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5. Getting alone time, separately, makes time together even better.
It’s honestly nothing personal — HSPs just need a lot of alone time to process the world; it’s a little (yet big) thing that makes us happy.
When I’m deficient in alone time — which is when HSPs process the world and recharge — it’s hard for me to be present with my husband during our time together. My brain wants to shift into daydreaming mode and process my day, which just leaves me frustrated.
But when I have regular time to myself each day, I can bring the best energy to our relationship when we are spending time together. Hopefully your partner will not take it personally when you need time alone. When they see how present and recharged you are afterwards, they’ll see how beneficial it is.
6. Their definition of “intimacy” might look a little different.
Sex is different for HSPs, and so is any form of intimacy. For example, HSPs are often prone to overarousal and might need more transitions into intimacy. Also, HSPs often appreciate more low-key moments together, such as reading beside each other in bed versus going out to a crowded bar or restaurant.
HSPs are also people-pleasers, so they might not speak up about their preferences in the early stages of a relationship. Open communication can help the couple find a balance when doing things together.
7. For social commitments, they do best with a game plan.
We’ll go to the party with you, but we’d prefer to leave early.
HSPs enjoy relationships with other humans; we just have a hard time with overstimulation, especially if we’re feeling tired or stressed. We can have a better time during social engagements if we know how long we’ll need to socialize. That way, we can better manage our energy.
I’ve found a successful strategy to be RSVPing “yes” to that party, having a nice time while you’re there, and setting a “hard out” time for when you’ll head home. Then you can prevent yourself from getting an “HSP hangover,” which happens after too much overstimulation.
8. They need time to mull over important or complex conversations.
If the couple needs to figure out a problem, talk about any upcoming vacation, or have some other meaningful conversation, it’s difficult for HSPs to jump right into it — they need time to process the details first. Instead of talking about these things impromptu, it’s best to schedule a time to talk about them at a later time.
Chances are good that the HSP partner is already having many conversations with themselves throughout the day. When a conversation requiring a lot of processing is sprung on an HSP, it’s jarring and hard to shift their current mental processes to something new.
Most of the time, my husband and I will make a plan to talk about complex things later in the day. Then, I can bring my full attention to it after mulling over specific details beforehand.
9. They might need extra reassurance from their partner.
Most HSPs have spent a lifetime being told they were “too sensitive” or “overreacting.” Over time, that can start to make anyone feel a little broken. HSPs actually hate inconveniencing others or making them uncomfortable, so we are overly worried about doing something wrong.
We might need extra reminders that there’s nothing wrong with us — being sensitive is just a part of who we are. And we are really doing the best we can, whether that’s in life or within our relationship. A supportive non-HSP partner means everything to us, and a little understanding goes a long way from both sides of the relationship.
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