Here’s How Intimacy Is Different For Highly Sensitive People


I thought I would never find the right person for me. I was afraid of intimacy, to begin with, let alone imagining spending a lifetime with someone. Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD, in her article “Different Worlds at the Extremes,” said, “They feel they must choose between loneliness and the negation of the Self.”

That was me. I had experienced engulfment in a primary relationship and didn’t want to give up my freedom, yet deeply wanted that connection and intimacy. Besides, when you consider that only 20 percent of the population is highly sensitive (experiences the world in 3D or Technicolor) and 70 percent of those are introverts, it logically follows that we might have trouble making life-long intimate connections.

I did meet and marry someone eventually. He was introverted too and had many highly sensitive traits. Anyone will tell you that a long-lasting relationship takes patience, love and work, but as Elaine Aron, PhD, soon-to-be author of The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, says, “being highly sensitive may include additional challenges.”

“Maybe we are afraid, have been hurt and can’t forget it or we have trouble being known and appreciated for who we really are. Or we have trouble in relationships because of our different needs, so that we always feel ‘too much’ or ‘overly sensitive.’”

If we start to factor in some of the common highly sensitive traits, we can begin to communicate with our partners about why we react as we do or what we need in the relationship. This is a two-way street, of course.

We are both intuitive and empathic. This means we can read people more quickly and easily than most. If you lie to us, we will usually see right through it. We also pick up on subtle nuances—whether a facial expression or tone of voice. If I hear a hint of sarcasm or distain in my partner’s voice, you can bet I’ll mention it.

We love deeply. We are driven by our deep emotions, so when we do make a commitment and open our hearts to someone, we don’t take the feelings, intimacy or relationship lightly. Aron says anything we think about is because we feel something. If we’re not motivated by some emotion, whether it’s curiosity, love, anger or fear we won’t pay attention to it.

We also struggle with conflict. Fighting with a significant other is hard for anyone, but for highly sensitive women, conflict is particularly hard. According to Aron, we’re having an internal debate of our own during the process. “Sensitive people get torn between speaking up for what they feel is right or sitting back because they don’t want a violent type of reaction (from others.)”

I’d like to add that if we are Empaths (we feel the emotions or pain of others as well as our own), we experience a double whammy. I know I can both feel my hurt and my partner’s anger at the same time and it gets overwhelming. I have to take time out before I can continue to deal with the issue.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert, all highly sensitive people need their downtime away from people. We need to re-energize by ourselves. It’s just the way we were made. Often our partners don’t understand that and feel we are shutting them out. It’s so important to the relationship to explain this and have it understood. Otherwise either partner will build up resentment and/or illness over time.

It will go a long way in a relationship if our trait to react more deeply and express our feelings, (whether it’s crying, showing anger or happiness) is appreciated instead of denigrated. We’ve often experienced a lifetime of being told, “Don’t be so sensitive,” which is like saying, “Don’t have blue eyes.” Just know that these are passing storms of emotion. We will move through them and sometimes need a little love, intimacy and support in doing so.

On the flip side, you will never find a more loving partner. We cherish the earth, humanity, nature, spirit and we cherish those we love, deeply. I believe the world needs this kind of love, compassion and light now more than ever. When we are in relationships that support and nurture our sensitivity, we come into full bloom and have much more to give.