Do you constantly seem to have problems getting or staying in a relationship?
In my practice and workshops, many sensitive people come to me wanting a long term soul mate.
Yet, despite online dating services, expensive match-makers, friend fix-ups, and blind dates, they still remain single. Or sometimes, they’re in relationships, but they feel constantly fatigued and overwhelmed.
The reason isn’t simply that there aren’t enough available people “out there” or that they’re neurotic. Personally and professionally, I’ve discovered something more is going on.
What Is A Relationship Empath?
In my life, I’ve found that a vital missing piece to this relationship puzzle has been discovering I am a relationship empath.
Empaths are highly sensitive, intuitive, and caring, but they’re also shock absorbers with an extremely permeable nervous system and hyperactive reflexes. They experience everything, pleasure and pain, sometimes to an extreme.
Related: The 7 C’s Of Happy Relationships
This differs from ordinary empathy, like when you sympathize with your partner’s harrowing day at work. Relationship empathy goes much further.
You merge with your partner and actually feel his or her joys and fears as if they were your own. Thus, romantic relationships, particularly live-in ones, can be challenging.
The amazing part of being so sensitive is that empaths are attuned to people and can be exquisitely sensual, responsive lovers.
The downside, however, is that empaths are sponges for the world’s angst. Without a membrane between themselves and the world, they unknowingly absorb other people’s stress into their own bodies. Then they become overloaded, anxious or exhausted.
Are You A Relationship Empath?
If you’re highly sensitive and haven’t identified this dynamic, you may unknowingly avoid romantic partnerships, because deep down, you’re afraid of getting engulfed. A part of you wants a soul mate; another part is frightened. This inner push-pull stops you from surrendering to a partner.
To feel safe enough to let go in a relationship, it’s crucial for empaths to learn how to set healthy boundaries and assert their needs. Then intimacy becomes possible.
To surrender to a soul mate, it’s important to discuss your fears of letting go with each other. However, if you’re an empath, you may not know what these are or that you’re even resisting intimacy. Thus, you can’t convey your needs or set healthy boundaries – and this may be hurting your relationships.
To determine whether you’re a relationship empath, take the following quiz.
Related: QUIZ: How Stressed Are You?
* Have I been labeled as overly sensitive?
* Am I afraid of getting engulfed or losing my identity in intimate relationships?
* Do I prefer taking my own car places so I can leave when I please?
* Do I get drained by too much togetherness and require time alone to refuel?
* Do I sometimes prefer sleeping alone?
* When my partner and I travel do I prefer adjoining rooms?
* Do I tend to take on by my partner’s stress or physical symptoms?
* Do I feel overwhelmed by noise, smells, crowds, or excessive talking?
If you answer yes to one to three of these questions, you’re at least part relationship empath. Responding yes to four to six questions indicates strong empathic tendencies with partners. If you answer yes to seven or more questions, you are a certified relationship empath.
Related: 7 Ways To Have Lasting Relationships
Okay, I’m A Relationship Empath. What Do I Do Now?
Recognizing that you’re a relationship empath is the first step to removing this obstacle to finding a soul mate.
Next, you must redefine the traditional paradigm for coupling so you can find a comfortable way of being together. This means letting go of society’s stereotypes about marriage or relationships and forging a new path for yourself.
If you’re an empath, or if the ordinary expectations of coupledom don’t work for you, practice the following tips.
6 Tips Relationship Empaths Should Follow
1. Evaluate a potential mate’s compatibility
As you’re getting to know someone, share that you’re sensitive, and that you value having alone time. The right person will understand; the wrong person will put you down for being “overly sensitive.” The latter isn’t someone you should be spending time with in the first place.
2. Date “authentic” people
Notice how you relate to a potential mate’s energy. Ask yourself: does the person’s words match their energy? Or is something off?
If you have any doubts about his or her authenticity, go slow. To avoid getting involved with someone who won’t be good for you, keep tracking the person’s energy with your empathic abilities to find out who they really are.
3. Allow quiet time at home to decompress
Get in the habit of taking mini-breaks throughout the day. Tell your partner how important this is to you. Stretch. Breathe. Walk. Meditate. Listen to music. This time alone will replenish you.
Related: 9 Benefits Of Meditation
4. Limit your time socializing with others
Tell your partner what your ideal time limit is to stay at parties or other social occasions before you burn out. If your comfort level is three hours max–even if you adore the people–make an agreement with your partner to take your own car if he or she prefers to stay longer.
5. Negotiate your square footage needs
Breathing room is a must. Experiment with creative living conditions. Ask yourself, “What space arrangement is optimal?” Having a private area to retreat to? Separate bathrooms? Separate houses?
Agree not to crowd each other. When traveling together, you may prefer getting adjoining rooms with your own bathroom (this works wonders for me). If sharing a room is the only option, hanging a sheet as a room divider will help.
6. Sleep separately from your partner
Traditionally, partners sleep in the same bed. However, some empaths never get used to this, no matter how caring a mate. Nothing personal: they just like sleeping in their own space.
Related: How To Sleep Better In 4 Steps
Discuss options with your mate. Give yourself permission to sleep separately. Separate beds. Separate rooms. Sleeping together a few nights a week. Because non-empaths can feel lonely sleeping alone, make compromises when possible.
You may have been having problems in your relationships because you’re a relationship empath…and you didn’t even know it! However, if you’re a relationship empath, have no fear.
In my medical practice, I’ve seen this creative approach to relationships save marriages and make ongoing intimacies safe for emotional empaths of all ages–even if they haven’t had a long-term partner before. Relationship empaths need their space – and when they get it, they can be some of the most loving, happy people in the entire world.
Judith Orloff MD is author of The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life (April 1, 2014). An Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and New York Times bestselling author, Dr. Orloff teaches workshops nationwide, has given a TED talk on this book, and has appeared on The Dr. Oz Show, Today, PBS, CNN, NPR, and many others.
Photo by María T Pons