by Judith Orloff MD: Empaths are highly sensitive people who often have special challenges in intimate relationships…
Intimacy can stretch our hearts like nothing else. It challenges us to become braver, more confident and giving people.
The right love relationship empowers us. When both partners are emotionally available and committed to each other, the empath feels secure knowing that someone’s “got their back.”
Being valued and adored makes us stronger.
However, for empaths like myself, togetherness can be difficult. At times it can feel overwhelming and make us want to bolt. Why? As sensitive people we often take on our partner’s stress in an intimate relationship and can fear being suffocated if we don’t know how to set boundaries with the person.
Here’s our struggle: We want companionship, but, paradoxically, it may not feel safe.
Becoming calloused, numb, or pretending we’re not frightened isn’t the answer; learning how to navigate and protect your sensitivities in the relationship is.
In my book on how to achieve emotional freedom I discuss four emotional types that can potentially make good partners for an empath. Knowing your soul mate’s type can provide insight into how you interact with the person. It will also help you master your emotions instead of simply reacting when the love of your life pushes your buttons (which soul mates are known to do!). Dealing with emotions effectively doesn’t mean repressing them or feeling them less. It’s about finding balance, strengthening your vulnerable areas, and maximizing your assets.
Which type makes the ideal soulmate for empaths?
It depends on your temperament and needs. Read on to figure out which type you prefer.
Type #1. The Intellectual: Intense Thinker.
Intellectuals are bright, articulate, incisive analysts who are most comfortable in their mind. The world is powerfully filtered through rational thought. Known for keeping their cool in heated situations, they often struggle with emotions, don’t trust their guts, are slow to engage in anything light-hearted, sensual, or playful.Relationship tips:
Intellectuals prefer staying in their heads whereas you tend to be more sensual and intuitive. They love to fix things, so the best approach is often to offer them solutions. For instance, empaths have special needs and need quiet, alone time to replenish themselves. Express this to your partner, making sure you let them know it’s not personal and they didn’t do anything wrong.
As an empath, it’s important to express your needs so you and your intellectual can discover creative ways to find balance.
This is a potent self-care technique for you to keep your mood and energy high.
Exercises to help your intellectual:
- Breathe. If you’re mentally gridlocked simply inhale and exhale deeply, in through your nose out through your mouth.
- Exercise. Whether you’re walking, rollerblading, or lifting weights, exercise creates an acute body awareness that relaxes a busy mind.
- Empathize. Before working on an issue, ask yourself, “How can I respond from my heart, not just my head.”
Type #2. The Empath: Emotional Sponge.
Empaths are highly sensitive, loving, and supportive. They are finely tuned instruments when it comes to emotions and tend to feel everything, sometimes to an extreme.
I’ve treated many couples where both partners are empaths. I’ve taught them how to honor each other’s sensitivities.
The positive side is that they easily understand what each other is feeling; the more challenging aspect is defining your own needs and setting boundaries with each other to feel safe and calm.
Two empaths who are both overwhelmed by the world can create anxiety at home. That’s why it’s crucial for each partner to have his or her separate quiet space to unwind. When empaths are triggered, they need a time out to regroup and decompress. Though it is often challenging for two empaths to be in love, over the long term the relationship can be successful when mutual respect and communication is there.
The passion and heart connection is incredible!
Exercises to help two empaths in a relationship:
- Take calming mini-breaks throughout the day. Go outside for a walk, meditate in your room alone. Focus on exhaling pent up emotions such as anxiety or fear so they don’t lodge in your body.
- Protect your sensitivities. Make a list of your top five most emotionally rattling situations, then formulate a plan for handling them so you don’t get caught in a panic. For instance, take your own car places so you don’t get trapped in social situations. (For more strategies read my article, “6 Relationship Tips for Empaths.”)
Type #3. The Rock: Strong and Silent Type
Consistent, dependable, and stable they will always show up for you. You can express emotions freely around them—they won’t get upset or judge. But they often have a hard time expressing their own feelings, and their mates are always trying to get them to articulate their emotions.
Empaths and rocks can make wonderful partners. They balance each other and help each other grow. The rock can learn from an empath to express his or her passion and emotions more clearly, while you can learn grounding from the Rock. It’s not that rocks don’t have feelings. They just need you to help nudge them out. I love having a partner who’s a rock. They’re like big bears who are solid on the earth.
Exercises to help the rock:
Stir things up. Begin to initiate emotional exchanges instead of simply responding to them. Remember that showing emotions is a form of passion and generosity too.
Express a feeling a day. In a daily journal, write down an emotion you’re experiencing. Don’t hold back. Are you pissed off? Content? In love? Whatever you feel, bravo! Tell someone. Express the emotion.
Type #4. The Gusher: Expresses Emotions but risks giving TMI
Gushers are in touch with their emotions and love to share them. No one has to wonder where they’re at. Gushers are able to quickly process negativity and move on. Their downside is that they tend to share “too much information” and over-sharing can burn people out.
The gusher’s intense, ongoing need to share their emotions (even to the point of some drama) can overload and burn an empath out. For an empath and a gusher to successfully be partners it’s important for the gusher to balance emotional sharing with going within more to find answers—rather than always using the empath as a sounding board. Empaths need to set clear limits and boundaries with gushers to protect their sensitivities.
Exercise to help a gusher:
Before seeking support, tune into your intuition. Spend a few quiet moments going inward to find out what your gut says. Try to solve the situation from a calm and centered place. See what flashes or “ah-has” come to you. Take time to build your own emotional muscles so you don’t have to share everything you feel with your empath partner.
The rewards of being an empath in an intimate relationship are many: the comforts of companionship, passion, trusting the person and yourself enough to keep surrendering to the healing power of love.
As a psychiatrist, I want to support empaths to be confident enough to risk surrendering to love, maybe even for the first time.