Relationship Advice For Dating An Empath

The term empath exploded on the pop psychology scene in the 2010s and has only grown in popularity since. "Empath" actually first appeared as a specific type of Star Trek alien who possessed an ultra-sensitive nervous system, allowing her to take the wounds of other beings onto herself (via Vice). Since the 1968 episode aired, other entertainment franchises have cashed in on the idea, typically as a way for villains to manipulate their victims. Interestingly, pop culture villains like Victoria from The Bachelor and fallen YouTuber Shane Dawson have latched onto the controversial term to describe themselves as well (via People).

While the term empath is not officially recognized in the psychology field, many of its descriptors overlap with a more accepted diagnosis: highly sensitive person (HSP). Both a highly sensitive person and an empath will subconsciously scan a room full of people and notice subtle indicators of negative changes in tone or mood and internalize those changes, as detailed by Psychology Today. A psychologist might explain that the HSP suffers from hypervigilance, a constant state of fight or flight mode that keeps the senses in overdrive. A spiritualist might tell you that the empath literally absorbs the invisible energy fields of the people near them. Regardless of where you fall on the science versus spirituality spectrum, dating someone who exhibits the traits of an empath or HSP requires special care. Here's how you can show up for your partner while still preserving your own wellness. 

Educate yourself

If your partner seems to absorb and hold onto the mood or energy of other people, some research is in order. First, ask them if they're aware of this phenomenon and if they identify as either an empath or a highly sensitive person. If they aren't familiar with these terms, you can learn about them together. Start with a simple Google search and look for reputable websites like PsychCentralPsychology Today, and Healthline. As you gain knowledge together, pay attention to whether your partner seems to identify more with either label, and if so, guide additional research in that direction. The term itself isn't particularly important, but your partner's ability to feel seen, heard, and identified with is.

If your partner already identifies as an empath or another similar term, let them guide you to resources they think explain their experiences most accurately. Once you've learned enough that you can confidently say you have an idea of what your partner experiences on a daily basis, you're ready to offer them the everyday support they need. 

Find your patience

No matter how much you educate yourself on the matter, there will still be times when you feel like you just can't understand where your partner is coming from. There will be occasions when you become frustrated that the negative mood of a stranger has seemingly ruined your date night or a deadly natural disaster on the other side of the world has derailed your anniversary celebration. Always do your part to actively listen when your loved one makes an effort to share how they're feeling with you, even during moments of frustration (via MindTools).

Try to keep in mind that your partner did not choose to experience life the way they do. It is very likely that if they could turn off their sensitivities, even just for a day, they would. Check in with yourself to find patience in your most frustrated moments, as suggested by Psychology Today. Always know that your partner is likely more frustrated with themselves than you could ever be with them.

Provide a safe space

A person who is deeply affected by the emotions, moods, or energies of the people they share spaces with can experience burnout on an intense level, as explained by Highly Sensitive Refuge. Understand that your partner needs alone time to recharge from the draining experience of socializing with others, even if they find that time enjoyable. This also applies to socializing with you. Don't take it personally when your partner wants to spend time without you. In fact, encourage it.

You should be the first one to suggest that they take a recovery day, whether that includes booking a solo spa service or purchasing a couple of new books for them and scheduling somewhere else for yourself to be. Ensure that they always have a safe physical space to relax in as well, even if it's just one corner of the bedroom filled with their yoga mat, a comfy chair, calming décor, and all their fuzziest blankets and pillows (via The Daily Crisp).

Take your own space

When you're in a relationship with a partner who is severely impacted by others' feelings and reactions, it's easy to find yourself walking on eggshells. You may start to feel like you have to bury or hide your own emotions so that you don't upset your partner by introducing any vibes that are less than positive. However, this isn't healthy or sustainable for you. In fact, according to the CALDA Clinic, suppressing your emotions can cause them to manifest later in the form of physical or mental illness.

When you're experiencing a bad mood or a negative emotion, assure your partner that you aren't necessarily upset with them. Gently explain that you'd like some space to process your emotions without negatively affecting them, and then follow through. Go out on your own, take a solo run, or just curl up in front of the TV by yourself for an hour or two. It's just as important for you to have your safe physical and emotional space to use as a retreat as it is for your partner to have theirs (via Eugene Therapy).

Support healthy boundaries

A person who experiences absorbing the moods or energies around them often won't realize exactly what's happening to them in social situations until later when they've removed themselves from the event. If you've been with your partner for a significant amount of time, you might be able to spot the early signs of social burnout — like physical fatigue — before they can (via Choosing Therapy). In these instances, gently nudge them towards taking some time alone to recuperate.

If you've noticed that your partner becomes particularly drained or negative after spending time with a particular person, don't be afraid to share what you've observed. Work with your partner to identify some healthy boundaries they can put in place with this person to protect their own well-being. This might look like limiting contact to once a month or controlling the environment where meetups occur, as detailed by Talkspace. Then, support them in enforcing those boundaries when the time comes. Loving an empath or a highly sensitive person might require some extra mindfulness and effort, but it also pays off in the form of a deeper connection than you've likely experienced with any other person.