You could be in a relationship with a highly sensitive person and not even know it — but you’ll definitely recognize some of the signs. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are deeply thoughtful, often creative individuals who feel their emotions deeply. A biological difference in their nervous system means they literally process information and ideas more deeply than others, which leads to their greatest strengths (and also their occasional vulnerability).
(Read more about what it means to be a highly sensitive person.)
Loving an HSP can be breathtaking, but it’s also somewhat different from other types of relationships. So what does an HSP need in order to trust and love their partner? Here are 12 secrets that real HSPs wish their partner knew.
What You Need to Know About Being in a Relationship With an HSP
1. Your HSP will notice (and feel) what you feel.
Sometimes people navigate life by telling white lies about their feelings. For example: “What’s wrong?” “Nothing, I’m fine.” These little fibs are meant to lubricate relationships by smoothing over the uncomfortable bits.
Highly sensitive people, however, can’t help but pick up on the subtle emotional cues that are often left unspoken — the tension in your voice, the slump in your shoulders, or your sudden avoidance of eye contact. HSPs don’t even do this consciously; they just process the signals and “absorb” what you’re feeling — and that means they feel it in their bodies, too. Your stress is their stress, and your suppressed anger can become their all-night worry session.
This can be hard, but it helps if you’re willing to talk openly about your emotions and, most of all, if you have (or teach yourself) good listening skills. When the HSP can talk about what they feel, and they know that it’s being heard and accepted, they’ll know they’ve got a keeper.
2. Give your HSP a little more time to adjust to changes.
Change can be hard for anyone, but HSPs process things more deeply than others do. That means that even positive changes, like starting a new relationship, can be really overwhelming. (If you’ve ever seen someone cry because of good news, they may have been highly sensitive.) As a result, HSPs take relationships slowly, especially at the beginning. Don’t be surprised if your HSP needs time to themselves or seems “lukewarm” at first. They’re doing what they’ve learned they need to do to protect their heart (and their stress level).
3. Choose your first movie carefully.
I think we all know that a slasher horror film isn’t a great first date movie unless you know the other person’s tastes well. But even with more mainstream movies, avoid anything likely to be super violent or gory (like most action films), because HSPs tend to “feel” the pain and emotions of those on the big screen. Some tasteful suspense is fine, but violence and cruelty often leave HSPs somewhere between upset and overwhelmed.
4. No more sneaking up!
It’s not cute to sneak up on an HSP and scare them — they have a high startle reflex. And no, they won’t laugh afterward. They’ll need minutes (or longer) to recover.
5. There will be times when you’re amazed.
All this talk about processing and stress — it has an upside. The same qualities that make it so hard to be an HSP translate to a rare gift that gets even stronger as life goes on. Dating an HSP means that every so often you’re just going to be blown away by the insights they come up with, or the beauty of something they create — seemingly out of nowhere. This is “the deal” with dating an HSP: Once they truly trust you, they share their brilliance as well as their vulnerability.
6. Sometimes they need time alone.
Some highly sensitive people are introverts. Some are extroverts. But all of them, even the most social and chatty, sometimes need to disappear on their own and be left alone. This is because stimulation of all kinds — social or otherwise — can quickly overwhelm an HSP’s senses, and they need time without stimulation to “come down.”
If you’re living together, your HSP may have a room that’s just theirs and ask you never to enter. If you live separately, they may seem to vanish for a few days (or an afternoon) to process. If you want your HSP to alert you when they have to do this, so you know what’s going on, you’ll have to be willing to respect them and not disrupt their alone time when they say they need it.
7. They love being engaged on a deeper level.
Highly sensitive people process things deeply, so they’re usually thinking about the big things in life. That could be as personal as how a friendship is going to work out, or as cosmic as the future of humankind. Either way, HSPs want to move quickly beyond surface-level chitchat. Come with an open mind and willingness to talk big topics.
8. They know that most people don’t understand them.
Only about 15-20 percent of the population are HSPs. And much of the remaining 80+ percent has never even heard of high sensitivity. As a result, HSPs don’t just feel misunderstood — they are misunderstood. And they’re used to how most people handle it: by trying to pigeonhole them, stick a stereotype on them, or simply tell them there’s something wrong with them. If you take a different approach, like listening openly and trying to understand their experiences, you will stand out. And they’ll love you for it.
9. Never use these two labels.
HSPs are sick of being told that they’re “too sensitive” or even “shy.”
If you’re about to use these words, don’t. Give them time or let them tell you how they feel. Your highly sensitive person will appreciate you taking the time to understand.
10. Their environment affects them.
We all like some types of environments better than others. But an HSP’s system puts a lot more energy into processing the signals around them — be that noise, light, activity, or the presence of other people. That means that even a moderately “busy” space can quickly become all-consuming for an HSP’s system, and they may have to leave or face overwhelm and collapse.
For an HSP’s partner, that means three simple rules: Think about whether your HSP will enjoy a setting before you make a plan; give them plenty of advance warning if a venue is going to be loud, crowded, or busy; and be understanding and supportive if they say they have to leave — even if they were having fun just minutes ago.
11. Nothing takes a bigger toll than conflict.
Lots of people don’t like conflict. For an HSP, however, it’s more than that: Conflict is a major source of overwhelm. It’s a situation that demands fast, firm responses (sensory overload) while dumping emotional signals on them (emotional overload). Basically a one-two punch for high sensitivity. (This is related to why HSPs have a hard time dealing with criticism, which comes loaded with the potential for conflict.)
For better or for worse, many HSPs deal with this by going out of their way to keep their partner happy. This can become a problem, particularly when they don’t speak up for their own needs. If you’re dating an HSP, be aware of this tendency; help your partner feel safe to speak their mind, and look together for ways to manage conflict gently. Again, listening skills and creating safe space for honest, no-yelling discussion go a long way.
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12. Nothing is sexier to an HSP than being accepted.
Let’s be real for a second. Most HSPs have had a long list of suitors who took zero minutes to understand them. These are people who saw the HSP’s creativity, their sensitivity, or their quirky personality and said, “I love that. That’s charming.” But these same people never took the time to say, “I also accept and love the side that has needs, the side that has to process, the side that feels things so deeply, the side that’s inconvenient when it gets overwhelmed.”
Those two sides are part of a single package. No HSP can have one without the other. And every HSP learns to avoid people who only want half of them.
If you can take the time to listen and accept your HSP — for their whole being — they will love you more deeply than you have ever been loved before. And if they can trust you when they’re overwhelmed, they will know they’ve found a soul mate.