Clear and honest communication can be a challenge in just about any relationship. But when you’re in a relationship with a highly sensitive partner, effective communication can be especially difficult.
Topics or concerns that, to you, may seem small and relatively easy to deal with can evoke big emotional reactions from your significant other. He or she may break down in tears, become angry and start to shout, or completely disengage.
If your relationship is still in its early stages, you may find yourself completely caught off guard each time this happens. You just can’t understand how something you see as so minor can elicit such a disproportionate reaction from your partner.
On the other hand, if you’re in a long-term relationship, you’ve likely come to anticipate your partner’s sensitivity in certain situations. This awareness can be helpful, but there’s also a common trap that people with sensitive partners often fall into.
Many of us end up biting our tongues and holding things inside. After all, when compared to dealing with the emotional fallout that tends to happen when we bring up certain concerns, sometimes saying nothing at all can feel like the far better option.
Problem is, an overreliance on saying nothing usually comes at a cost. Disagreements go unaddressed. Wants and needs go unspoken and unmet. And inevitably, resentment builds, slowly robbing your relationship of happiness and fulfillment.
So, let’s get to the million-dollar question:
How do you communicate with a sensitive partner?
Here are 5 tips for how to communicate effectively with a sensitive partner.
Be mindful of your own emotions
If you’re in a relationship with a sensitive partner, it’s important to recognize your own emotions around your partner’s sensitivity. When he or she reacts in a way that, from your perspective, seems unwarranted, do you feel angry? Confused? Alone?
Often, I find that people with sensitive partners try to approach their partners in a stoic, emotionless way, convinced that this will prevent an unwanted emotional reaction. When this is the case, I remind people that they are emotional beings.
So, rather than trying to “shut off” your emotions, focus instead on noticing the emotions you’re experiencing in the moment. After all, effective communication with a sensitive partner isn’t just about anticipating your partner’s emotional response; it’s also about recognizing your own emotions and managing them effectively in the moment. Simply put, you can’t manage emotions you’re not aware of.
Avoid judgment and evaluation
Truth be told, your partner may be on the more sensitive side of the spectrum than you. But chances are he or she may take issue with being labeled a “sensitive person.” And odds are this especially holds true for terms like “oversensitive,” “too sensitive,” “hypersensitive,” “thin-skinned,” and “overly emotional.”
These and similar terms carry a tinge of judgment. And like anyone else, if your partner feels judged, he or she is likely to go on the defensive.
Of course, naming and talking about your partner’s sensitivity is an important part of improving your communication with your partner. And we’ll discuss productive ways to do that in just a moment.
Here, the tip is simply this: avoid judging or evaluating.
Should you use the term “sensitive”?
If your partner uses this term first, sure. Otherwise, probably not.
Speak in objective terms
So, how do you talk to your partner about his or her sensitivity without using the s-word?
The important thing is to be objective.
Rather than saying, “It’s really difficult to talk to you when you’re having an emotional meltdown” or “I don’t know what to say to you when you’re being so reactive,” you might go with something like, “I can see that you’re crying” or “when you raise your volume….”
What’s the difference?
Well, the first two statements are far more subjective. Your definition of an “emotional meltdown” may not be the same as your partner’s. Probably isn’t, in fact. And who’s to say what really counts as being “so” reactive?
By comparison, the other statements leave little if any room for disagreement. When your significant other is crying, “You’re crying” is simply a statement of fact. Likewise, if he or she has gotten louder, “when you raise your volume…” is just naming what’s happening in the moment.
The more you can speak objectively, the less room there will be for arguments or other intense emotional reactions to occur.
Use “I” statements
When you find yourself in situations that, in the past, have brought out your significant other’s sensitive side, try to focus on beginning sentences with “I” instead of “you.”
“You won’t let me finish what I’m saying.”
“You always lose your cool when I try to have serious conversations with you.”
Your partner is likely to experience “you” messages like these as accusatory. But by keeping the focus on you, it’s far less likely that your partner will feel accused or blamed
Better yet, try to communicate what you’re feeling with an “I feel” statement. After all, your feelings are exactly that—yours. And this usually goes without saying. In most cases (emphasis on “most”), it’s hard to imagine a partner, no matter how sensitive, responding unfavorably to you stating your own emotions.
Notice the difference when we make these simple changes to the statements above.
“I feel unimportant when you don’t let me finish what I’m trying to say.”
“I feel sad that we struggle to have serious conversations.”
Ask for what you need
Sometimes our partners really don’t know what we need from them, especially when it comes to communication.
Clearly stating your wants and needs around productive communication can make a world of difference.
A great way to make your wants and needs known to your partner is by asking the simple question, “Would you be willing to…?”
For example, “Would you be willing to let me finish what I’m saying without interrupting me?” Or “Would you be willing to spend 5 minutes talking with me before leaving the room?”
Are you struggling to communicate with a sensitive partner?
You’re not alone. Effective communication takes work in any relationship. If you’re interested in identifying further ways to improve communication in your relationship, contact Modern Era Counseling today. We’ve helped a lot individuals and couples in this area, and we’d be happy to support you!