One summer, my new husband said, “What? You planted something in that spot?” with a TONE, you know the kind? Like I did something wrong.
I snapped back, “I can make some choices of my own! You don’t get to control what I do!”
After a few more such exchanges, I walked away, roiling in anger. Until the inevitable tears came.
Yes, I was hurt — simply by his tone (and all I thought it meant).
But I was also upset at myself for being upset. For making a mountain out of a molehill. For creating distance and hurt when I only wanted love and closeness (and a garden outside my door).
For me, like many sensitive beings, deep meaningful connection is what I most long for and thrive on in intimate relationships. I live for it. I seek it out. And verbal communication, of course, is a primary path to it.
But, because of not knowing how to work with my sensitivity, in the past, my communication created the opposite of connection so many times. So often that I ended up divorced to my first husband.
My Way of Communicating Backfired
Many a night back then, he and I sat on the couch after the kids were asleep, me asking probing questions about how he was feeling or what was going on for him. He’d answer with one brief sentence. Sometimes his eyes would droop shut as he began to drift off into sleep. Not only was this never enough to satisfy my desire for deep conversation, but it felt like being rebuffed.
So I’d say, “Talking to you is like talking to a stone wall! You can’t even stay awake to talk to me. You don’t even care about me or our relationship!!”
Or, I’d huff and say, “Fine. Let’s just live here like roommates then!” and walk away.
Of course, this never got me the closeness I wanted. Reliably, this way of communicating totally backfired, leaving me ever more lonely and unfulfilled, and him ever more unappreciated and rejected.
Highly Sensitive People Desire Deep Closeness
Similar types of experiences are all too common for us highly sensitive people (HSPs).
Ironically, our deep desire for the kind of closeness we so enjoy may contribute to us having trouble connecting with those we love, becoming a wedge that drives us apart.
When I started to see the same patterns sneaking into my second marriage, I decided it was time to stop getting in my own way. It was time to learn how to enlist my sensitivity to SERVE our love and deepen our connection.
The good news was, I had some things going for me, in that regard! And so do you, because we sensitive beings can be great at creating emotional intimacy. This is exactly what I did and continue to do, and my marriage now is deeply fulfilling. You can do the same.
Why HSPs May Struggle to Create Closeness
Although I can’t speak for all HSPs, let’s start with some common reasons we may struggle to create what we most want in our relationships:
- When overstimulated, which may be often, we lose access to the part of us that can express ourselves effectively.
- If an interaction goes poorly and strong emotions arise, we may feel upset for a long time, creating drawn-out distance. We lose access to the loving person we are at our core.
- We are sensitive to how things are being communicated, picking up on the nuances of how our partner is feeling and reading into subtle cues in their tone of voice or body language. So if they are a little “off,” we get thrown way off.
- When they don’t attend to us with the same kind of care, attention, and empathy as we attend to them, we may take it to mean something’s wrong and end up feeling hurt and resentful.
- Our sensitivity may inflate our partner’s flaws. Our awareness of subtleties in our environment means we notice all our partner’s flaws — so we see a lot of things “wrong” with what they do or say.
- Due to growing up sensitive beings in a world that doesn’t understand us, we may have a deep unconscious sense of something being wrong with who we are, resulting in a low sense of self-worth.
Luckily, these same parts of our trait can be assets when we learn to use them to consciously create more of the connection we want.
How to Create Closeness That Deepens Over Time
When we focus on and grow the strengths our sensitivity brings, we can create closeness that deepens over time. Here are some suggestions on how to work with the above areas, so they become an advantage in your love life:
1. Take good care of yourself.
Our tendency to become overstimulated quickly can become the impetus we need to stay attentive to our own needs — as well as take the space we need to stay centered. When centered, we can access the subtle rich ways to express ourselves, and come up with unique and brilliant solutions for challenges that arise in our relationship.
In addition, when we learn to take good care of ourselves, we model the importance of this to our partner. We may even, as I have in my marriage, learn to recognize when our partner is overstimulated and encourage him or her to turn to their own self-care activities.
I enjoy how this has brought my husband and I closer. Because when we’re enjoying our own lives deeply, we have more energy for each other, and are more present for each other when we are together.
2. Cultivate positive emotions.
As HSPs, we are very responsive to emotions. When we feel positive ones — like love, joy, and compassion — they have a powerful effect on us, helping us thrive. And a thriving sensitive soul is a balm for any relationship!
So, some of our work is to feel more positive emotions on purpose.
We can do this by giving the weight of our attention to our successes and what we appreciate in our lives, including little moments of connection with our partner. Let yourself really soak it all up.
Because we glean so much satisfaction from a deep sense of connection, any effort we put into creating positive healthy interactions with our partner will feel deeply good to us and contribute immensely to our sense of fulfillment in our relationship.
3. Notice negative stories, and question them.
Catch yourself in the fictions you are telling yourself and label them as just that. Fictions that you can choose to believe or not.
You can even name them out loud to your partner. If I’d had the skills I do now, that’s exactly what I would have done with my husband years ago when we had that spat about the garden. After I cooled down, I would have said, “When you spoke to me in that tone, I told myself the story that you didn’t care about what I wanted — and even that you didn’t care about ME!”
Now, I name the stories I make up about his behaviors and subtle expressions. It has a magic effect because it helps me see how extreme my interpretations can be. It also allows my partner to get to know my mind more intimately, showing him how I process my experiences. That not only creates more intimacy and understanding, but it also shows him that he can do the same with me.
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4. Honor your differences.
Understand that your partner may not have your superpowers of caring attentiveness to others or ability to sense what makes you feel loved, but it doesn’t mean they love you less. Instead of being resentful, remind yourself, my abilities to love them are not better, just different. Focus on how good it feels to be able to offer that deep care. And, always remember to directly ask for what you want, and teach your partner about the ways they can help you feel most cared for.
5. Choose to see the good.
Sensitize your mind to what’s good about your partner, instead of what isn’t. Human brains are wired to look for the negative, and the HSP brain is no exception. But the beautiful thing about our brains is they are malleable.
So, with commitment, you can retrain your brain — instead of seeing what’s wrong with your partner all the time, you can consciously choose to look for the positive in them, from the grandest things down to their subtlest emotional cues and nuances. This allows you to notice with more frequency the ways your partner is good to you, the times they smile, the times the warmth and care comes through their voice or eyes.
Then, you will feel much more love, appreciation, and admiration. When we feel those things, we act in loving ways, and show up in ways we feel good about in our relationship. Lead the way so your partner sees how it’s done.
6. Become the partner you want to be.
If you struggle with self-worth, turn your sensitive awareness to your own goodness, strengths, and deep beauty. The more you begin to show up in your relationship as the partner you want to be, the better you’ll feel about yourself naturally.
And the better you feel about yourself, the better you show up in your marriage, the more you naturally communicate in ways that lead to the deep connection you long for, and the more meaning and fulfillment you and your partner get to experience together.
Since it’s innate in you, and only needs some nurturing, identify the places you need to harness the strengths of your sensitivity to be a force of good in your lovelife. This will ultimately gift your loved one — and yourself — with a depth of love you’ve never before experienced.