Getting your needs met in a relationship starts with knowing how to express them — and accepting that they matter.
Relationships are challenging for anybody, but when you’re a highly sensitive person (HSP) in a relationship with a non-HSP, it can be a whole other level. There’s definitely a learning curve; at least there was for me.
Already, HSPs tend to feel things more deeply and notice subtleties that non-HSPs may not. Although these may seem like positive assets, they may not always manifest that way.
To give you some backstory on my relationships, I’ll take you back to high school. When I was a teenager, I had a female friend whom I had a crush on. I never said anything or acted on it because I thought I had no chance with her.
Well, sure enough, one day, she met me as I was on my way to one of my classes and handed me a note. I read it as soon as I got into the classroom. She confessed that she had feelings for me.
I didn’t respond. Even though this was exactly what I’d wanted, I didn’t have the courage to tell her that I felt the same way. We continued talking online as we always had, and she tried to bring it up several more times, but each time I brushed it off. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell her how I felt, although I spent plenty of time overanalyzing the situation in typical HSP fashion (even though I didn’t yet know the term “highly sensitive person”).
Looking back, I realize now that I was — and still am — an HSP and that my desire not to make a fool of myself, get hurt, or “impose” myself on other people manifested itself in many ways. In this case, it may have cost me something great. Yet back then, I had no idea that was the case. I thought I was just being shy and humble, a typical teenage guy.
Years later, another female friend confessed her feelings for me, and I was determined not to make the same mistake again. I immediately said that I was interested in a relationship; today, that woman is my wife of nearly seven years.
I wish I could tell you that’s where this story ends, but it’s not: My high sensitivity — or at least my perception of it — nearly cost me my marriage on many occasions. But in the end, it’s also helped me save it and is now an asset to it.
4 Ways My High Sensitivity Has Saved My Marriage
1. Having time to myself actually brings me closer to my partner.
For a long time, I had a hard time understanding why my wife got upset when a Saturday night went by without me making plans, or even why she got upset when I simply didn’t spend enough time talking to her on a given day. I did this largely out of fear that I’d mess the plans up or even that I was “forcing” her to spend time with me.
There was another force at play here that I didn’t see until recently: my own need to have alone time. I used to think that everyone needed lots of alone time like I do. I realized that, while everyone needs some of it, not everyone needs it as much as I do.
Highly sensitive people value alone time — it gives us a much-needed break from the overstimulation we experience.
I had to find that balance between keeping my marriage strong while staying mentally healthy. Communicating that to your spouse is critical, because they may not understand that it’s less about you not caring about the marriage and more about trying to meet your own HSP needs.
2. My strong ideals helped me become better to my partner — and better to myself.
My insecurity used to get the best of me, something many HSPs struggle with. For instance, I would let my wife watch Netflix by herself on a Saturday night instead of trying to do something with her. I thought that’s what she wanted, but instead, she was actually hoping I would try to do something with her. When I didn’t, it led her to believe that I didn’t care about her.
HSPs already have a tendency to be especially hard on themselves and overthink things, so the more I’d upset her, the more upset I’d be with myself and the more my insecurity festered. It was a vicious cycle.
I started to overcome this by just making plans anyway, disregarding my fear of messing them up, which has led to my wife being happy with the fact that I’m just trying. Even a two-hour dinner date, outside the house with no kids, can really show that you care.
My personal belief is that every life has value and that we all matter to God and have a purpose. I just didn’t believe that about myself for a long time. I thought that I was an exception, that God somehow made a mistake.
I don’t believe that you can feel that your spouse has value to you unless you see value in yourself first. If you struggle with this, you must find a way to work through it.
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3. I learned to use my deep thinking skills to keep the lines of communication open.
Although HSPs are very different from introverts, I happen to be both, I am certainly both, and each of them contribute to my struggle with communicating verbally.
As an introvert, social situations can be draining to me, even if they are with just one person. As an HSP, I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing or getting my feelings hurt when I share myself with someone.
In any case, you must communicate in order to make a marriage work, and I don’t think there’s such a thing as too much of it. You will make mistakes. Come to terms with that now, along with the fact that you’re human; saying and doing the “wrong” thing will happen. Believe it or not, saying the wrong thing is often better than isolating yourself and not saying anything.
But here’s where being an HSP comes in handy — most of us are deep thinkers, so when our spouses voice their concerns, we’ll take all the time we need to process what they said and come up with a solution. I used to not do this as much, but now make it a point to and it’s helped the communication between me and my wife tenfold.
Also, be sure to communicate your needs to your spouse and how being an HSP makes you different — and what your needs are because of it. Don’t use that as an excuse to not work on your marriage; instead, it’s for your partner to know how to be a better spouse for you and you for them.
4. My sensitivity lets me care deeply — and show it.
Being an HSP can be challenging, yet also can be an advantage when it comes to your relationships; after all, your partner fell for you (and your high sensitivity) for a reason.
For example, part of the reason my wife fell in love with me was because I had the ability to express my care and understanding whereas others had not. She also saw that I didn’t get upset or judgmental when she or one of my stepkids did something wrong or made a mistake.
At times, my confidence and ability to express myself failed me, but in time, I’ve learned to be more confident and better express myself.
Bottom line: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Believe in yourself. And make sure your spouse knows that you care about them. You don’t want to miss out on a really good thing.
By simply reframing how you view and approach your high sensitivity for the gift that it is, you can turn your relationship around and have it contribute to a great marriage versus having your HSP traits cause turmoil. It worked for me — and can work for you, too.