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Why emotionally intense and sensitive people struggle in relationships

From the get-go, intense and sensitive people feel the world on a different vibration. They may feel 'out-of-sync' and are told they are 'too intense', 'too extreme', 'too much', or 'too sensitive, all their lives. 

Intense people are fierce and passionate lovers. However, they face specific challenges due to their sensitivity. If you are emotionally intense and sensitive, here are some obstacles you may face in intimate relationships (or the lack of them).

Feeling bored, irritated, and impatient

To your fast-moving brain, the world moves just too slowly. It is no one’s fault, but it is easy for you to be frustrated by a partner, as you think, feel, and sense the world at a different pace. 

Most emotionally intense people are also highly intelligent and intellectually rigorous. It may not be easy for you to find someone who is both romantically and intellectually compatible. You are eager in your search for life’s meaning. If your partner is not as rigorous, curious, or excitable as you are, you will be under-stimulated and feel trapped.

You are enthusiastic about learning new things and exploring various subjects of life, but your partner may be content with the 'known'. As a result, you are not able to do things together or be on adventures that you both enjoy. You bring a lot of ideas and inspirations to the relationship, but they are not always reciprocated.

You may try to fill the gap with friends and other exchanges, but you may also see other couples who seem entirely in-sync and feel envious. Because it is in your nature to learn and grow continuously, you find yourself outgrowing people rapidly. When the boredom overrides any sense of affection, it is a warning sign the something needs to change.

You find work more interesting than your partner

You have a rich inner life, and enjoy a wide range of stimulations - from art, to music, to current affairs. When you are infatuated with an idea, you will work tirelessly on it. From the outside and from those who don’t understand, you may seem 'obsessive'. You know you have the potential to make something magnificent, and your existential guilt would not allow you to stop. You are anxious about time passing by without you making a mark in the world, or those divine ideas will slip through you because you are distracted.

Therefore, you might want a lot of time to be in solitude, to reflect, to make things happen. This can be in conflict with your partner’s agenda and demand. 

When you are in a relationship, there are social expectations you need to meet - how much time you spend, and what you do, together.

While you may enjoy these mundane activities for a while, you soon find yourself itching to get on more exciting projects again. You may be thinking about your work when you are stuck in a movie theatre, or would rather be at an interesting seminar than to be at a party making small talk. 

When you are on overdrive, you don’t want to 'relax' or chill out with your partner. They may judge you for being a workaholic, or neglectful, and get resentful. If you don’t understand your nature, you may also blame yourself, and start to think there is something wrong with you, leading to low self-esteem and more frustrated talents.

Your partner may not be able to understand your sensitivities and needs

Many emotionally sensitive people also have physical sensitivities - they get jumpy with loud noises, dislike too many sensory inputs, get allergies, migraines, and fatigue easily. You may share characteristics with people who identify as 'highly sensitive (HSP)' (Elaine Aron).

What excites your partner may be aggravating for you; the roller coaster, the loud music, the constant background TV noise, an abrasive sense of humour, or ridiculously strong perfume. It would be great if your partner would be understanding towards your idiosyncrasies, but if not, you will feel judge and even shamed.

You pick up on every emotion and nuance

With your sensitivity comes intuition. You are highly perceptive and can pick up all the social nuances and small changes in human interactions. This applies to social situations and in groups, but also your intimate relationship. When your partner lies, you know it. When they are upset or angry, you may sense it even before they do. Due to your hyper-empathic tendency, you may 'absorb' whatever they feel, or even feel feelings for them. Being the more emotionally aware one, you may always have to be the one who initiates important conversations or addresses issues in the relationship.

Your perceptivity creates two problems:

  • Being an emotional sponge is exhausting for you. Without healthy emotional boundaries, you may get burned out.
  • Your partner feels intimidated or violated by you, as you always seem to see through them.

You look for depth in a shallow world

With the advancement of the internet and technology, our world is moving at a pace that is sometimes too fast for our human soul. Getting to know someone is a scary process that requires patience, commitment, and gentleness. In our fast-moving world, these virtues are not easy to come by.

It can be difficult for a sensitive and intense person to find love in our increasingly shallow and fast-moving world. Research has found that people tend to represent how they want to be seen rather than who they really are in online dating, and most lie online (Ellison, Heino and Gibbs, 2006; Toma and Ellison, 2008). As a truth seeker, this may frustrate you. You do not separate sex from an emotional and soulful connection. You need more time to get to know someone than the social norm prescribes.

Your emotional depth and complexity mark you away from the crowd. You may struggle to fit into the mainstream culture in various ways - having an interest in spirituality and personal growth rather than entertainment, having an entrepreneur spirit or an artist’s temperament, being the black sheep of your family or community. Being out of sync is lonely, and it is harder to find people who are 'on your radar'.

As a result, you continue to feel like a lone wolf in the world.

You prioritise others’ needs before your own

Being the sensitive child, you always have in one way or another - either physically or emotionally, visibly or invisibly - played the role of a caretaker. If your parents suffered from mental illnesses, were too busy or stressed, were immature, traumatised, or due to any other reason unable to be emotionally attentive, it is likely that you, as the most sensitive and intuitive child, stepped in as a 'mini-adult' within the family system. This role reversal between adult and child is known as 'parentification'. You might have been your siblings' caretaker, or your parents' confidant, therapist, and support.  

Having been parentified means you are conditioned to prioritise others' needs before your own. It may feel like an auto-pilot, but you are so in tune with your partners' unvoiced needs and desires that you sometimes jump in to solve their problem before they even say anything. 

You had to grow up too fast, too soon; you were deprived of a carefree childhood. Perhaps you had never experienced what it is like to express your needs and have them met. As a result, you struggle to tell your partner your needs, act assertively, and constantly feel like you are 'too much'.

Since you are used to taking care of yourself, you may not share your distress or vulnerabilities with your partner. Even if they try to help and be with you, they feel like they hit an invisible wall.

To conclude

You are not alone. With self-awareness comes understanding and compassion for yourself. Just because relationships are challenging, does not mean they are impossible. You can start by sitting down with yourself and clarifying your values, beliefs, and desires. Then, you can go into the world with a clear mind and an open heart.

It is not easy, but for the right journey, it is worth it.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Coach (MMH, FRSA, UKCP, AthR)

Imi Lo is the Founder of Eggshell Therapy and Coaching, author of the book Emotional Intensity and Sensitivity (Hodder & Stoughton, 2018), and host of the Eggshell Transformations podcast. She specialises in Emotional Intensity, Sensitivity, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Complex PTSD. (www.eggshelltherapy.com).… Read more

Written by Imi Lo: Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Coach (MMH, FRSA, UKCP, AthR)

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