As an HSP, I’ve discovered some key strategies that serve as “relationship fertilizer” — they help strengthen and fortify my marriage.
Growing up, I loved fairy tales. There was just something special about hearing “and they lived happily ever after” that always put a huge smile on my face. When I got married, there was a little girl in me still wishing for that “happily ever after.” I mean, being happily married is the ultimate goal in marriage… right?
During my 15-year marriage, my goal has shifted from solely happiness in marriage to actual healthiness in marriage. Such a large emphasis is placed on the various social benefits of marriage — comradery, companionship, and coupling, for example — that sometimes the health benefits of marriage are overlooked. In fact, according to WebMD, marriage is not only good for your emotional health, but for your physical health, as well. Although I wish I could just wriggle my nose like Samantha in Bewitched and magically source my marriage into health and happiness, that is just not possible.
Fifteen years of mountaintops, valleys, and plateaus have all taught me that maintaining a balanced homeostasis within marriage is a goal my husband and I must continuously work toward. There have been times where our marriage has felt much more like a battlefield than an oasis, and it is in these times that my highly sensitive mind and heart have earned their “battle-tested” accolades. It’s been in these times that our marriage has tested the bounds of both happiness and health.
Before we can understand how to improve a marriage — or any type of romantic partnership — as a highly sensitive person (HSP), it’s important to understand what being highly sensitive even means in the first place.
What Is Sensitivity?
If you’re “sensitive,” it’s not what most people think it is. Instead of being seen as a weakness — which is a falsehood — being sensitive is a healthy personality trait, a core part of our being. We can’t change it even if we tried. This means that everyone is sensitive to some level, yet some people are more sensitive than others. In fact, highly sensitive people make up nearly 30 percent of the population, which means almost 1 in 3 people are more sensitive. By this, we mean both physically (to stimuli such as lights, textures, sounds, and temperature) and emotionally (to the words, feelings, facial expressions, and social cues of those around them).
The sensitivity trait is associated with many strengths and superpowers: we all know a sensitive artist (highly sensitive types tend to be creative) and those who are empathic more than most (they feel your pain as much as you do). Plus, sensitive souls tend to be deep thinkers, have a lot of emotional depth, pay much attention to detail, and an intuitive gift for making connections and witnessing moments that other people miss. Collectively, all these qualities make up a different definition of “sensitive” than you may be used to. Sensitives are anything but weak; they’re strong, gifted, and thoughtful.
Within a marriage, highly sensitive people bring a lot of positive qualities to the relationship. But how, exactly, does sensitivity apply in a marriage? Read on to find out.
Understanding My Sensitivity and How It Can Benefit My Marriage
As a highly sensitive person, I’ve always taken my marriage very seriously and have actively sought to improve the quality of it. I’ve spent hours researching resources available to HSPs to aid in understanding how to improve the quality of our marriages and to be better spouses. I’ve literally studied how to be married.
Due in large part to our love of deep connections, our empathetic nature, and our pervasive conscientiousness, HSPs inherently demonstrate key characteristics vital to maintaining successful relationships, especially long-term ones, such as marriage. Sometimes, however, these same attributes can overwhelm a person who doesn’t identify as highly sensitive (like my husband). This is why it is important for both parties to take proper care to understand and accept their partner and their needs. A collective effort is necessary to provide a fertile environment in order for marriages to flourish.
Yes, sensitive types have a tendency to place the needs and comfort of others before our own. Though I have come to embrace this sensitivity personality trait as a superpower, like most superpowers, there is a catch: putting others before myself can act as my kryptonite, becoming a source of angst and/or resentment.
Being highly sensitive, I am constantly prioritizing my spouse’s needs at the expense of neglecting my own. This sometimes causes me to miss some of the classic signals of HSP burnout. There are times when I have begun to feel overlooked, neglected, and taken for granted, pouring out of my highly sensitive love bucket without feeling as though I was receiving a reciprocal effort. Without addressing these feelings, my husband and I have found ourselves in a vicious cycle that in no way benefits our marriage.
In order to aid in building strong and long-standing marriages — and to help us to avoid experiencing burnout — HSPs must enlist the use of various tools and strategies (especially if you are in a relationship with a non-HSP). We must actively identify areas that need individual attention, and also those areas that we must enlist the help of our partners to improve.
I’ve discovered four key strategies that have served as “relationship fertilizer,” adding tremendously to the continued growth and strength of my marriage. Whether you are a highly sensitive person, or you are married to one, perhaps you will find these tips beneficial as you seek to improve your marriage. It is my fervent hope that you will be able to implement some — or all — of them as you seek to strengthen, grow, and fortify your marriage relationship, as well.
4 Ways to Improve Your Marriage When You’re a Highly Sensitive Person
1. You must have honest and open communication
Honesty provides a solid and reliable foundation for successful relationships. Highly sensitive types need to be in relationships in which honesty is the rule, not the exception. HSPs crave honest and heartfelt conversations. To that end, it is vital that we are safe to communicate things that we like and dislike, as well as those things that trigger certain emotions and responses in our partners.
I recognize that being married to a highly sensitive person can, at times, be delicate for a non-sensitive person. Unaware of what to say, how to say it, or even when to broach certain conversations can add to tension and strife within marriages. The dynamic between the HSP, who wants nothing more than to connect with their partner by expressing their deepest selves, and the non-HSP partner, who is unaware of exactly how to broach certain conversations, can be somewhat tricky. However, navigating this dynamic is not impossible.
We sensitive people need to be heard, but, more importantly, understood. Here are a few strategies that can be employed to further fruitful dialogue between HSP and their spouses:
- Respect that both parties have different opinions, and that the goal is not necessarily agreement, but understanding
- Read the body language of one another so you can gauge the temperature of the exchange and determine how to best proceed
- Avoid invalidating one another’s emotions
- Schedule time to talk about hard conversations; sometimes we must respect the idea that “now is not a good time”
These four strategies can help create an environment that will benefit both of you, and may offer the opportunity to delve into more difficult, but necessary, conversations. Remember: Marriage is a team endeavor — you are both working toward the same goals with one another, and not against one another.
2. Be willing to enlist the help of a professional
There may be times that the previously discussed strategies will not work. Perhaps the more sensitive partner is still unable or uncomfortable tackling the tough issues with their spouses. Or maybe they have difficulty pinpointing the exact issues that need to be addressed (an already frustrating event in our highly sensitive minds, as we have likely spent endless hours overthinking the situation). In moments like this, it is sometimes beneficial to enlist the help of a professional: a therapist or trained marriage counselor. They can:
- Act as an unbiased third party, giving honest feedback to both spouses
- Identify relationship roadblocks before they become too daunting to effectively maneuver
- Help find ways to increase the intimate connection between you and your partner
- Offer a safe space for spouses to further educate themselves about one another in a judgment-free zone
I sometimes make the unfair assumption that my husband automatically understands how my highly sensitive mind and heart work, since we have been married for so long. I’ve been guilty of placing unfair expectations on him, tasking him with reading my mind and understanding the meanings behind my words, rather than the words themselves.
When we have found ourselves unable to communicate our truest feelings to one another, we have turned to the professional guidance of our marriage counselor. Something that we have found to be key in counseling has been the education we have both gained surrounding highly sensitive people in marriage. Even identifying as an HSP, there are still those critical moments when I cannot fully conceptualize or explain the “me” of things. Counseling not only offers me the opportunity to dig deeper into this understanding, but to do so with my husband by my side gaining understanding, as well.
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3. Be willing to continue to educate yourself
Marriage counseling provides an invaluable educational opportunity for couples. Even still, in order to continue to improve our marriages, sensitive people must be willing to enroll in “Maintaining Marriage 101: a life-long continuing education course in marriage.” (Yes, I made that up). Spouses who love their highly sensitive partners invest time and effort into understanding our needs. HSPs think deeply, feel intuitively, and are highly observant, and we are willing to do the work to help to insure the longevity of our marriages and to meet our partners where they are, as well. Learning about one another is vital. The more we know together, the more we are able to grow together.
As a sensitive person, I am always seeking to connect deeper with my husband. Some things that have proven valuable in intensifying our connection have been:
- Carving out date nights for just the two of us to disconnect from everything except one another
- Celebrating and respecting one another’s individuality by embracing the differences each of our personalities brings to the marriage
- Identifying mutual interests that we can enjoy as a married couple
- Honoring one another’s space and autonomy by allowing for times to recharge so that time spent together can be fully enjoyed
Regularly incorporating these practices into our marriage has allowed me to view it as a safe and welcome space. An added bonus has been that this space contributes to my highly sensitive superpower of enjoying deep connections within my most intimate relationship.
4. Establish both individual boundaries and marital boundaries
Boundaries are fundamental in allowing both parties in a marriage to thrive both as individuals and as a part of the marital team. HSPs sometimes find boundary-setting difficult, due to the importance we place on other people’s feelings and needs.
As a sensitive soul, I often have to remind myself that boundaries are not negative. Let me say that again: boundaries are not negative. In fact, boundaries are necessary and take a lot of the guess-work out of relational expectations. Healthy boundaries aren’t set to benefit one person at the expense of another; rather, they consider each party’s rights and dignities.
Once I had a better understanding of how boundaries could benefit my marriage, I became more aware of those areas around which I needed to set boundaries for myself, and those I felt were important to protect my marriage. Keep in mind: boundaries are not a one-size-fits-all idea. There are, however, some general considerations you can make when establishing personal and marital boundaries. For instance:
- Make sure each boundary’s purpose is to better the relationship
- Acknowledge that the boundaries aren’t being put in place to be rigid and harsh, but rather to protect and provide structure
- Respect both parties’ individual rights and needs — neither more than the other
- Embrace the differences in one another’s feelings, and aim to never, ever invalidate what is important to one another
I once read that, “Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” Writer Robert A. Heinlein is behind that quote and, as an HSP, this rings especially true. My goal within my marriage is to contribute to an environment that helps to plant seeds of happiness, love, and deep connection. By intentionally practicing behaviors aimed to improve our relationship, my goal is to harvest a marital garden that reaps good fruit, while tilling the soil and pulling out the bad weeds. It’s in this “garden of love” that I am sure “happily ever after” continues to grow, season after season.
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