The topic of today’s post is highly sensitive person marriage. Or more specifically, an HSP being married to a non-HSP.
This combination of temperaments often leads to some unique struggles.
Like how to make it work when you and your partner have TOTALLY different ideas about what constitutes an ideal level of activity and stimulation?!?
And how the heck are you supposed to deal when your partner’s frantic-to-you lifestyle leaves you feeling utterly exhausted?!?
Plus what about the guilt you feel for being the “weak” one?!?
If any of this sounds familiar, I got you covered. Been there, figured it out. 😀
But before we get to my secrets to success, let me be upfront about the biases in this article.
First of all, this article is written from the HSP’s point of view to a mostly HSP readership. One of these days, I’d like to get my husband to write an article from his point of view, but he’s so busy getting stimulated it’s kinda hard to pin him down. 😉
Second, this article is written from a FEMALE HSP’s point of view. Because of cultural pressure for men to appear tough, I think male HSPs sometimes have it extra hard. Gender stereotypes are definitely not favorable to sensitive guys. And as a woman, I can’t claim to fully understand what that’s like. But I hope my article will still be at least somewhat helpful to male HSPs as well.
Okay, with those caveats out of the way, here are my 10 secrets to a successful HSP marriage with a non-HSP.
10 Secrets To A Successful Highly Sensitive Person Marriage With A Non-HSP
1. Make Sure Your Partner Understands What Being An HSP Means
If you only take one piece of advice from this article, make it this. Simply having my husband learn what high sensitivity is all about has made ALL the difference in our marriage.
I’m not rejecting him. I’m not rejecting his friends and family. I’m not lazy. I’m not crazy.
I JUST have a nervous system that gets fired up more easily than his. And that means I burn out quicker, so I have to be more diligent about my self care routines, which leaves a little less time and energy for all the hustle and bustle that he lives for.
When your partner fully understands this, s/he is in a position to support you rather than put pressure on you to live a life that will, sooner or later, make you sick.
So how exactly do you make sure your partner understands? Well, here are a few potential ideas:
- Tell him/her about it.
- Show him/her this short article that explains what high sensitivity is.
- Ask him/her to take the highly sensitive person test and share your own results, so s/he can get an understanding of the different ways in which you are sensitive.
- Watch Sensitive – The Untold Story together. If you don’t want to buy the DVD, you can also rent it on Amazon.
2. Learn To Value Yourself
You know how I mentioned feeling guilty in the intro? Well, the only way to get rid of that guilt is by learning to value yourself. Exactly as you are. As a highly sensitive person.
Lots of HSPs have VERY low self esteem. This stems from:
- Being sensitive to other people’s judgments – both real and imagined.
- Being in the minority. Being different.
- Trying to lead a lifestyle that is designed for non-sensitives and failing at it.
And with this low self esteem as the foundation, it’s really easy to slip into a mindset where non-HSPs are perfect and we are all wrong. At the marriage level, it becomes your partner being perfect and you being all wrong.
Not exactly the basis for a healthy and balanced relationship, right?
So how do you learn to value yourself? Well, it takes repeating certain ideas over and over again until they get stuck in your brain for good. Here are a few things to try:
- Read the 10 Positive Traits You Possess As A Highly Sensitive Person. Frequently.
- Ask your partner to let you know what s/he values about you. Frequently.
- Connect with other HSPs either online or in the real world.
3. Have Together-Lives And Separate-Lives
When you value yourself exactly as you are, you have the confidence to form an equal partnership – one where both parties get their needs met to the highest degree possible.
This is the opposite of a lop-sided relationship where one person’s needs always take precedence. And that relationship-model just isn’t going to work long-term. If an HSP and a non-HSP try to completely adapt to each other’s preferences, one of two things will happen:
- The HSP will end up chronically overstimulated (ie. severely stressed out with physical and mental health consequences) OR
- The non-HSP will end up chronically understimulated (ie. bored and maybe even depressed).
Instead of these sad outcomes, what you want to aim for is the optimal amount of activity and stimulation for each of you. So you do some stuff together – up to the point the HSP enjoys and can tolerate without burning out. And then the non-HSP does extra stimulating stuff on his or her own, while the HSP takes some time for low-key living.
Let me tell you what this might look like in practice using my own marriage as an example.
First of all, my husband and I have very different work lives, designed to suit each of our personalities. I work at home at my own pace with a small number of 1:1 meetings (ie. low stimulation). My husband works for large organizations, has deadlines, travels some, and interacts with a ton of different people most days (ie. high stimulation).
Then in our free time, we spend time together every single day, and we also go out as a family fairly regularly. However, I don’t go out nearly as much as he does. So we do some stuff together, but he also does extra stuff either on his own or with the kids.
And that’s my time to practice being a hermit. 😀
4. Realize That Children Are A Stressor
Although the topic of this article is marriage and not parenting, I want to say a couple of things about having kids because many married couples do and because having kids majorly affects your marriage.
The key factor to keep in mind for any highly sensitive parent is that raising kids is a stressor. Kids themselves are stimulants! And all the physical caretaking kids require is hard work. I’m almost embarrassed to emphasize this, because it seems so obvious to me now. But there was a time when I was pretty oblivious to this fact.
I was completely unprepared and caught off guard by the extent to which interrupted sleep, endless rounds of cooking-feeding-cleaning-laundry-bathing, and sharing a house with three extraverts plus one introvert who only wanted her mother was going to test me. And it’s a test I was very close to flunking!
To make it through this trial in one piece, both my husband and I had to understand that when you add stressors like that to an HSP’s plate, then other stressors have to be removed. Or otherwise the load is too heavy and the plate will crack. And eventually it will crash into a gazillion tiny little pieces.
So in order for an HSP to withstand the stress of having a family, it may be necessary to let go of other stressors. For me personally, surviving parenthood ultimately meant letting go of a stressful career. It also meant letting go of trying to be everything to everyone outside my immediate family.
5. Reserve Your Energy For Those Who Matter Most
Here’s something ironic. Back when I was still in people pleasing mode, trying to fake it as a non-HSP extravert and keep up with my husband’s ideal lifestyle, the people who got the shortest end of the stick were actually my husband and kids.
I was so exhausted and irritated from the effort I was putting in to being what I thought they wanted me to be that – at the end of the day – I actually had nothing left to give them.
What I had to realize was that my family didn’t need me to be interacting with the whole world. They just needed me to be interacting with them.
What my husband needs most of all is for me to have fun with him when it’s just the two of us, to be there for him when he’s had a bad day, and to have the bandwidth to co-parent our kids.
He doesn’t need me to be friends with all the people he’s friends with. He doesn’t need me babysitting him at a party, looking bored and wishing I was somewhere else. He doesn’t need me to be going to “girls’ night out” just to seem more like the other wives.
The reason I can now happily say yes to spending quality time with my husband and kids almost every day is that I learned to say no to all the extra shit I wasn’t really enjoying and they didn’t need me to be doing anyway.
As a highly sensitive introvert, I only have so much time and energy for socializing. And what ultimately saved my marriage and my family was my decision to:
- Consistently prioritize self care so that I can feel well enough to be present and enjoy spending time with my family.
- Always spend energy on my husband and kids before squandering it on other people.
6. Don’t Try To Talk When Overstimulated Or Overly Emotional…
Okay, this wouldn’t be a true marriage advice article if it didn’t address communication. 😉
Communication is obviously key in any marriage, but there are a few potential communication issues that are particularly relevant in a highly sensitive person marriage that I want to mention.
One thing I have learned the hard way is that trying to talk when overstimulated or overly emotional is totally counterproductive. Why I kept doing it for years anyway is beyond me, but I’m SO happy that I finally saw the light and stopped. 😀
I don’t know about you, but when I’m in that lovely “fired-up-but-exhausted” state, my brain is not capable of anything even closely resembling productive problem solving. Trying to talk in that state will only lead to one or more of the following:
- Further overstimulation and exhaustion.
- Irrationality, exaggeration, generalization.
So zip it, lock it, put it in your pocket. 😀
When overstimulated, the only reasonable thing to do is to give yourself whatever you need to return back to baseline. For me that’s walking in my bedroom, closing the door, going to bed, turning the lights off, and waiting it out.
7. …But Do Talk
With that being said, you DO want to talk. Even if you’re an introvert and don’t always feel like talking. Even if you’re a people pleaser and hate “bothering” your partner.
Just wait until you’re in a semi-calm state and then go for it.
Here’s just one of the reasons why it’s important. Highly sensitive people also tend to be high on empathy. And especially when we’re close to someone (like a significant other), we can read them like an open book.
Or at least we think we can. 😉
See, what happens is that we sense their moods and if we detect anything the least bit negative, our imaginations start running wild and we come up with all kinds of horrible things that are almost certainly going on.
Except we can’t really be certain about what’s going on.
Unless we ask.
So to figure out what’s ACTUALLY going on, keep those communication lines open. 🙂
8. Communicate Clearly And Directly
Another thing that I have found helps a bunch is to put some effort into communicating as clearly and directly as you possibly can.
You may be an empath and a mind reader. You may be especially skilled at predicting other people’s needs.
But that doesn’t mean your non-HSP spouse is the same way. Your non-HSP spouse may not be capable of reading your moods and mind the way you can. So you may need to spell out exactly what is on your mind.
At a volume that s/he can actually hear.
In straight-forward and logical sentences and paragraphs.
NOT in a mumbled mess of stream of consciousness chaos. 🙂
For important matters, I find that it helps to clarify my own thoughts before voicing them by writing them down. And sometimes I actually just share with my husband what I have written to be absolutely certain that nothing is lost in my poor verbal communication.
9. Remember That Grass Isn’t Always Greener
Does my husband sometimes wish that I was more into hosting guests at our house?
Does my husband sometimes wish that the world didn’t come to an end whenever my bedtime slips by 15 minutes?
Do I sometimes wish that my husband didn’t get so goddamn antsy after two seconds of sitting around quietly?
Do I sometimes wish that my husband wanted to read all the same books I’m reading and then have four-hour conversations about each?
But here’s the thing. If these wishes came true, then he wouldn’t be him and I wouldn’t be me anymore. And so we aim to accept each other exactly as we are.
Plus, being married to your identical twin would be totally boring.
And unless you actually marry your identical twin, there are going to be personality clashes in every marriage. Even if you married another HSP.
Which, by the way, comes with its own set of problems. What if you had different sensitivities and had to watch out for twice as much stuff? And who would take care of all the stuff that you can’t stand doing?
Which brings me to my last point…
10. Take Advantage
There are so many ways in which being married to your opposite ROCKS.
First of all, there’s the balancing effect.
My husband pushes me to experience the world more than I would bother to do on my own. I mean if it weren’t for him and the kids, I would probably venture out of the house about once every six months. 😀
But I think I broaden his horizons too. He’s actually using the Audible membership I got him for his commutes.
Second, non-HSPs don’t mind doing some of the stuff that HSPs can’t stand and vice versa.
My husband doesn’t mind being the playdate and birthday party coordinator for the kids and accompanying them to these events. He doesn’t mind making phone calls. He doesn’t mind running errands. He doesn’t mind driving. He doesn’t even mind pumping gas and being exposed to the fumes.
So I just let him take care of all that! 😀
In return, I take care of all the things that he doesn’t have the patience for. I do all the meal planning, grocery ordering, online shopping, bill paying, family fun planning, travel planning, and laundry folding.
It’s not like either one of us is totally in love with doing chores, but it helps a bunch when you don’t have to do any of the stuff that you dislike the most.
This is NOT something I thought to consider when I married a non-HSP, but every time my mini-van’s gas tank miraculously fills itself, I thank my lucky stars that that’s the way it worked out. 😀
P.S. I have pumped my own gas exactly twice in the past 20 years. Both times I had written instructions on a post-it note, because I had no idea how to do it. Is this something I should be proud of or embarrassed about?