Making Relationships Work Even When a Cave Sounds Good

February is LOVE month. HSPs and Love, in particular. 

These two things go together well, and also sometimes it’s not so smooth. This blog has FIVE pieces of curated (for HSPs) relationship wisdom plus a link to FIVE common questions HSPs ask about close relationships, you know, the kind we hope to celebrate on Valentine’s Day. (My 5 Questions blog on Highly Sensitive Refuge is here.)

Sometimes HSPs find themselves dreading Valentine’s Day. If that’s you, check out these two short videos about how to make the day yours.

Initially, I was calling this blog: Our Love-Hate Perspective on Love because I keep hearing so much ambivalence from HSPs about how hard it is to cohabitate, hurt feelings, putting up with your partner’s stuff, communicating your needs, etc. (Not to mention the annoying sounds we all get to hear when living with a family and not in our cave, but make no mistake, the rodents and bats in that cave would also be noisy.)

So, here is Relationship Wisdom #1

Welcome everything and push away nothing.

I learned this from my colleague, Sage Lewis, who learned it from someone else. (We chatted about it in this video.) What is important about this for a highly sensitive relationship is this: When we are feeling overwhelmed or caught up in difficult emotions, we usually feel like pushing away everything and welcoming nothing. Now, no one will be surprised to hear this is not good relationship hygiene. I hope you can laugh about it because it is real for HSPs. Good hygiene is softening your heart and mind to find that welcoming you. That you comes from lots of inner compassion, genuine rest, and all around self-care (see Wisdom #4 below.) 

Relationship Wisdom #2

HSPs can’t be highly empathic when overstimulated.

It’s a dance and a balance. In our great moments, we have so much empathy. In our ugly moments, the empathy is just gone. No one can be their best self when they are highly stressed. 

And, remember this about empathy… There is that little issue of our big feelings and high empathy which means that sometimes LOVE just feels overwhelming, especially the falling in part. But dating… talk about being overwhelmed. Navigating empathy is not optional for HSPs when it comes to love, whether new or seasoned.

Relationship Wisdom #3

It’s not fair to expect my relationship partner to know what I want or need unless I tell them.

I preach a lot about the importance of partners understanding each other’s temperament and how that leads to longer and better partnerships. Imagine if your partner does or says something that hurts your feelings and you know without question that they did that because of who they are. It has nothing to do with you and who you are. Maybe they have a really loud and strong response to something. You remember that they are high on the intense temperament scale and thus they have strong reactions. The big intensity will pass and the reaction isn’t personal.

Or perhaps they have a more negative mood, and when you are excited about telling them something, they aren’t as enthusiastically positive in their response as you expect. Instead of thinking, “They don’t appreciate me or what I’m saying,” you know that “Oh, really?” means that they are really thrilled for you. Of course, over time, we ask for what we need and learn about each other and how to meet in the middle and offer a little more or a little less while accepting each person’s unique temperament profile.

Relationship Wisdom #4

We have to move toward our partners when we can, and move inward when we can’t.

John and Julie Gottman, couples therapy experts who have interviewed and observed thousands of couples, call this moving toward “making a bid for connection.” It is very important to the success of a relationship, and for overaroused HSPs, can be so tremendously challenging. It takes a lot of moving inward and here are five areas that HSPs must do well in order to “move toward” our partners. If you struggle with moving toward, focusing on and improving these categories will create amazing improvement.

1. Nutrition

2. Sleep

3. Exercise

4. Personal Growth

5. Meditation

I won’t advise you in these topics, but as a deeply processing highly sensitive person, I know you will do the research and find out exactly what you need in these five areas of moving inward for relationship health (and of course they make you better in all areas of life.)

Relationship Wisdom #5

Focus on the advantages.

That sounds better than focus on the positive which is a little trite for an HSP, or at least for some of us. This means seek out the advantages to your relationship and your partner. Make a list, check it twice, add to it often. Be a detective and LOOK for the advantages. Just noticing one or two can make a big difference. Even if, as some of you have told me, the relationship is irreconcilable, there are still some advantages to it, even if they seem to be long gone in the past. 

Many theories of human development, psychology, and spirituality speak of healing in the present as a means to heal both past and future generations. Some spiritual traditions tell us that the conflicts and personal struggles we don’t resolve in this lifetime will continue to follow us to wherever you believe you go next, or will be passed on to our descendants. Regardless of your beliefs, your heart and mind can only benefit from finding and focusing on advantages in your relationships.

Highly sensitive people are uniquely equipped to be skilled in close relationships. Deep processing plus high empathy adds up to a person who truly enjoys and revels in all kinds of love romantic, familial, and friendship. 

When we become proactive about our inner work as well as our relationships, we will find joy in love, the birthright of all humans, and HSPs in particular. 

Wondering if you are highly sensitive?

Listen to a short talk on it.