You might assume that a highly sensitive person is someone who simply gets emotional easily. While that’s one aspect of being an HSP, there’s more to it.
Those who possess the highly sensitive personality trait ― an estimated 15 to 20 percent of the population ― also pick up on subtle changes in their environment; they’ll notice if you got a haircut or if the mood in a room has shifted. Loud noises, large crowds and bright lights can be overwhelming to HSPs, so they may need to retreat to a calm, quiet space after a chaotic day. HSPs are often deeply moved by music and the arts, and they make great friends and romantic partners because they’re good listeners and empathetic by nature. (To find out if you’re an HSP, you can take this self-test, developed by Elaine Aron, researcher and author of The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You.)
Anne Marie Rooney ― a self-proclaimed HSP who is married to a non-HSP ― told HuffPost she’s grateful that her husband has taken the time to really learn about this aspect of her personality.
“Large crowds really stress me out, l can’t stand loud noises, beautiful artwork might make me cry, and having too many unread emails or texts sometimes gives me palpable anxiety,” Rooney told HuffPost. “At this point, my husband knows how to identify situations that may cause me HSP-related stress, and I’m very lucky that he’s always supportive and does his best to help me alleviate negative feelings in these scenarios.”
“Large crowds really stress me out, l can’t stand loud noises, beautiful artwork might make me cry, and having too many unread emails or texts sometimes gives me palpable anxiety.”
If you’re not a highly sensitive person, it can be difficult to comprehend why your highly sensitive partner reacts a particular way in certain situations. That’s why we asked HSPs what they wish their loved ones better understood about them. Here’s what they had to say:
1. We get overwhelmed and exhausted more easily than you do.
“My husband is very accepting, but I think, in general, it is difficult for a partner to understand how easily a highly sensitive person can be overwhelmed and how exhausting it is for a highly sensitive person to take in stimuli and feedback. Family activities can be challenging because environments like amusement parks, malls and parties can be difficult for me. We’ve worked hard at trying to accommodate my sensitivities in a way that allows us to enjoy fun out as a couple but where I don’t get too exhausted.” ― Therese Borchard
2. We need alone time to decompress. Don’t take it personally.
“I need space, quiet, and alone time in order to properly function. Without these, I get irritable and frustrated. I also start getting physically ill when there is too much going on since my nervous system overloads. Needing alone time or space isn’t a reflection of the person I’m with, nor does it mean I don’t want to spend time with them. It just means I need to recharge in order to better function.” ― Sezín Koehler
3. Your moods have a big effect on us.
“A partner who is having a bad day and makes a careless comment, or who is tired and not interested in sex, puts my mind into a spin of questions, self-doubt and over-analysis.” ― Tasha Batsford
4. We can open your eyes to things you might ordinarily overlook.
“My husband greatly appreciates my extra attention to detail and beauty, as I often notice and point out subtle joys that he may have otherwise missed. He also enjoys my creativity, genuineness, and endless quest for passion, purpose and meaning in life.” ― Anne Marie Rooney
5. When you get frustrated with us, try to put yourself in our shoes.
“I understand that it must be very difficult for my wife to understand what I am experiencing and what my needs are. We can both drop into our default modes of behavior and forget about the needs of the other. Sometimes I wish that I could put my wife into a sort of ‘experiential chamber’ that allowed her to experience the world as I do (She probably wishes the same for me at times!) ― how some sounds and lights are just too much for me. Or how I can mop up the experiences and emotions around me.” ― David Johnson
6. We’ll probably need to call it a night before you do.
“The main thing for me that is important for any potential partner is that they are willing to be patient with me as an HSP. A prime example is leaving an event, be it a night out or a party or any other event with a lot of people or a lot of noise. I have a maximum tolerance level. Once I surpass that, however much fun I may actually be having, I will need to leave and recharge. I can’t be pushed. If I’m forced to stay, I’ll be even more determined to find a way to leave!” ― Cwene D.
7. Doing some research about HSPs might help you “get” us.
“Education is good. My husband read Elaine Aron’s book The Highly Sensitive Person, which really helped him to understand the difference in the way the brain of a highly sensitive person processes things. He was then able to not take things personally ― for example, if I didn’t want to go out, or if I wanted to leave a certain place, or even if I got emotional over something small.” ― Therese Borchard
8. Check in to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves.
“I think most highly sensitive people are naturally empathic and compassionate because we can sense other people’s feelings. And we want to help. I can’t bear it when I know someone is upset or hurting and I want to do something about it, even if it’s just listening. But the greatest challenge for sensitive people can be helping too much. We’re so aware of what others are going through that we often forget to look after ourselves. So I think a happy, successful relationship with me would have to include understanding and acceptance of my sensitivity, with someone who can appreciate my giving nature while making sure I don’t give too much.” ― Deborah Ward
9. We’re very intuitive so we often go with our gut.
“I’m highly intuitive, and this is something that my partner didn’t really understand at first or didn’t necessarily know how to trust. I didn’t understand or trust it myself since for most of my life I was accused and gaslighted for being ‘crazy’ or ‘too sensitive,’ taking things too seriously, or letting my imagination run wild when I was, indeed, accurately assessing and processing things around me. It’s just that those people didn’t like what I had to say. The more I have been able to understand my sensitivity, the easier it has become for me to communicate with my husband about what’s going on. And the more he learned about the highly sensitive personality, the more he was able to support me.” ― Sezín Koehler
10. When we’re hungry, we are not the best version of ourselves.
“Be willing to feed me. I’m not a nice person when I’m hungry.” ― Cwene D.
11. Being a highly sensitive man comes with its own set of challenges.
“Being a highly sensitive man can sometimes cause added pressure on the relationship, as some of the personality traits that come with being a highly sensitive person do not lend themselves to some of the expected traits of masculinity. From my perspective, though, I believe that that is more a fault of society’s understanding of masculinity than the fault of the highly sensitive men. Our personality differences can be the source of great richness in our relationship and, at times, tension.” ― David Johnson
12. Don’t bother lying to us. We’ll be able to tell something is off.
“There’s no point trying to hide things from me or lie because I can always tell. If I call someone out on it, it’s better to just come clean rather than lie or obfuscate further. This can be a hard one for people since sometimes they are withholding information simply because they are not ready to openly process it yet. I also have to work on being aware that just because I can sense something’s up, it doesn’t necessarily mean I am right about why. People shouldn’t be afraid or nervous to call the highly sensitive out, and in particular, if we’ve made an incorrect inference.” ― Sezín Koehler
13. Compromise is key.
“I realize you can’t live your relationship in a bubble just because someone is highly sensitive. So I try to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone, and in return, my husband is sensitive to my needs.” ― Therese Borchard
14. We’ll be loving, supportive partners if you give us a chance.
“At the core of it, as an HSP, what I want from my relationships is to share some of my deeply felt love and joy with my partner. I see the world through passionate eyes and live through big emotions. There is nothing that gives me more joy than bringing the positives of that existence into my partner’s reality, and nothing more terrifying than having them rejected.” ― Tasha Batsford
Some responses were lightly edited for clarity.