A few years ago, my husband Shmuel and I stopped communicating—and it wasn’t the first time. After returning to New York following several high energy days of great teamwork in Atlanta, I suddenly receded into my cocoon. Days of tension followed in which Shmuel was deeply disappointed and both of us felt upset.
Shmuel and I made the brave decision to leave our home in Atlanta and start an adventure in New York when we became empty nesters. Since then, we have traveled back to Atlanta often to visit and work with the big, loving Beacons of Change community there. These trips are always valuable and fulfilling.
Although I am the “face” of our business—the one who teaches, hosts workshops, and does all the public speaking—we work together really well as a couple, personally and professionally. From the minute we land in Atlanta until we board our flight back to New York, we fall easily into our roles, getting tasks done, solving problems, and creating a meaningful experience for our students. Our ability to work so solidly as a team is what supports the success of our business.
But within a few months of traveling back and forth from New York to Atlanta, I started to recognize a pattern. Every time we got on the plane home, I shut down. By the time we got back to our Brooklyn apartment, the tension between us was heavy.
You would think that, as a woman who has known for years that she’s a strong empath, I would have understood immediately what was going on. Instead, it took a year of living in New York and a heart-to-heart conversation with a friend for me to get it.
My friend, who is also a strong empath, shared with me that sometimes she and her husband sleep in separate bedrooms because she’s on overload and needs time alone. That’s when it hit me: I shut down after we leave Atlanta because I too am on overload from teaching, mentoring, and guiding others all weekend.
This understanding led me to an honest conversation with Shmuel. I explained to him that the distance I created after an intense weekend of being “on” while we worked was not personal. I asked him to respect my need to get quiet and withdraw while I recharged my internal batteries.
This example is just one of the challenges Shmuel and I face in our relationship when my empathic tendencies kick in. For those of you who are also empaths, below I share some tips I’ve learned in our relationship that might work for you too.
Tip #1: Ask your partner to respect your need to retreat and be in solitude, especially after being overstimulated.
Another challenge Shmuel and I faced when we moved to New York was living with the consequences of downsizing. We moved from a big house in Atlanta to a small apartment in Brooklyn. We love our simpler lifestyle and the fact that we own less stuff, but we mostly work from home, which means spending a lot of time together in a tight space.
Working together enriches our marriage and helps us deepen our relationship. It is fun to get creative together, and it brings us a lot of joy. But spending so much time together in close quarters does not support my needs as an empath.
The solution was simple: Shmuel rented an office space outside of our home. We work together in the morning, Shmuel spends the afternoon in the office, and I enjoy an afternoon of spaciousness and quiet while I continue to work at home.
Tip #2: Create a physical space to retreat to that is roomy, quiet, and supportive enough for you to thrive as an empath.
My conversations with many sensitive souls have taught me that we always live with an internal conflict. We want to connect with others and develop intimacy in relationships, but we also need to retreat and spend time alone. We want to love and to be loved, but we can’t breathe when there is an overwhelming flow of love. Empaths are often overwhelmed and overloaded by the added stimulation that comes with togetherness, so it is important to create a comfortable space for yourself to retreat to alone when you need to decompress and recharge.
Tip #3: You must balance alone time and togetherness when living with a partner, and it is your job to explain this need to your partner.
There is one desire that comes up again and again in my conversations with women who are empaths: they crave more support from their partners. They feel disrespected when they come home after a long day at work wanting to wind down, and their partner chooses to listen to music or television at top volume. The noise makes them crazy. They get frustrated when their partner dwells on the events of a bad day when they need a break from negativity.
One of the women I mentor is a strong empath and a mother of three. She told me that her husband gets upset every time she goes running by herself. He can’t understand why, after a day of working at the office, then coming home and feeding her kids dinner, she doesn’t want him to join her on a walk or a run.
She has tried to explain to him that after a long day of interaction, she needs to move her body and spend some alone time so she can clear the energy she absorbed during the day.
It seems clear to her that she is a nicer person for their nightly Netflix date after she has returned from a run and taken a shower, ready to start afresh. She had to stand strong in her decision to run by herself in the evenings. Eventually, her husband realized that they both benefit from her alone time.
Tip #4: Remember that your partner cannot read your mind. It is your job to educate, communicate, and explain how you think, feel, and respond. Initiate “educational” conversations when both of you are calm and patient and share how it feels to be an empath.
Women have many talents. One of them is making up stories in our heads.
If you are an empath and your partner is not, your brains are wired differently. Your tendency to feel others’ emotions as if they are your own is not familiar to your partner. While you persist in overthinking everything your partner shares with you, your partner has no problem switching gears and forgetting about these conversations immediately.
Similarly, the conversations that you don’t have can cause just as many problems.
When Shmuel and I were newly married, I was always disappointed that he didn’t buy me flowers from time to time. I decided that he did not love me enough. It took a few years for me to be brave enough to ask him why he never gave me flowers. I will never forget how surprised he looked when he said, “Flowers mean nothing to me. It never crossed my mind that bringing you flowers is a sign of love. Why didn’t you tell me?” Over the years, I’ve learned that our love languages are different.
Ladies, open your heart and speak up. Otherwise, you will never know if the stories you are telling yourself about your relationship are true.
Tip #5: Once you explain your intentions kindly and share from your heart, if your partner chooses not to accept your choices, it is time to set a boundary. There are times when we need to stand up for ourselves, even when we have to disappoint others.
If you feel that you are stuck in a rut of feeling misunderstood and unsupported in your intimate relationship, you should talk with your partner again. But there is one thing I suggest you do first.
Imagine your ideal relationship with your partner in which your empathic needs are being met. Don’t try to make it “realistic.” Allow yourself to dream big.
Once you have a clear vision, write it down. Then have a heart-to-heart conversation with your partner, and together try to develop a realistic plan to turn this vision into a reality.
Invite your partner to share their needs as well. Believe in the power of an honest conversation and good teamwork. You’ll be surprised with the meaningful change you can create when you tap into the power of love.