Whether you’re an empath or someone who knows an empath – you’ll know the struggle is real when it comes to romantic relationships.
As it turns out, being sensitive to people’s emotions, always being aware of energy shifts, and easily becoming emotionally invested aren’t the best ingredients for finding and keeping love.
As loving (and loveable) as empaths are, with their compassionate souls and caring hearts, they can often be their own worst enemy when it comes to relationships.
It’s brutal but true.
But the good news is that an empath can work on themself to be more aware and in control of their emotions, and with the help of a supportive partner, overcome some of the issues they face.
Read on to find out more about empaths, the problems they face in relationships, and what can be done to create a healthy, long-lasting relationship.
What is an empath?
Just to be clear – empaths aren’t just ‘overly sensitive’.
An empath is someone who takes in, absorbs, and feels the emotions and energies of others.
It’s an incredible gift to have, even if it does wear down the empath over time.
They’re highly intuned and intuitive with how other people feel, and it’s for this reason that empaths make such great friends.
Although there are lots of positives, being an empath can be tough.
They often struggle to deal with the amount of emotion that they’re bombarded with daily, leading them to become burnt out and drained.
And whilst they are great at listening and helping others with their problems, they can end up not looking after themselves as a result.
Why do empaths face problems in relationships?
They’re compassionate, understanding, and highly caring, so they should be great in relationships right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
For many empaths, it’s a struggle to be in long-term relationships.
In her article about being an empath in love, Judith Orloff explains how before her current relationship, she was never able to keep a relationship going, let alone live with a partner:
“Until I met my partner, I was mainly single, except for occasional short-term love relationships.
Typically, I’d bolt out of these relationships by year two, because I’d feel overwhelmed and suffocated from interacting with someone so much.”
And for reasons such as Judith’s, many empaths find the whole process of a relationship too much to cope with.
The whirlwind, thrilling starts of a relationship can send an empath into overdrive, with too many emotions and changes to deal with all in one go.
From needing their own space to struggling with intimacy, an empath has it hard.
Let’s look into some of the main problems empaths face in relationships, and if you’re an empath reading, you can check out the tips on how to deal with each problem.
11 issues an empath encounters in relationships
1) Empaths have low boundaries when it comes to emotions
For many empaths, drawing the boundaries at where their emotions end and their partner’s begin can be tough.
Because they feel the energy and emotions of those around them so clearly, it can be hard for them to know which emotions are theirs and which belong to their partner.
This can be completely draining.
Imagine suddenly feeling an overwhelming sense of joy, or a sudden plunge into sadness, and not being able to tell if these feelings are your own or of the people around you.
In relationships, empaths might unnecessarily take on their partner’s emotions, and eventually, it can lead to becoming completely exhausted.
Tips for empaths:
To help draw healthier boundaries, you should try to spend time away from your partner.
By spending time alone or with other people, you’ll be able to recenter your energy and start to become more aware of which emotions are yours, and which belong to others.
Here are some of the ways you can spend your time:
- Socializing with friends
- Taking part in activities or hobbies
- Meditating or journaling
Not only is a little space important in a relationship, but it can greatly help you in working out your energy and emotions, instead of being overwhelmed by your partner’s.
2) They need their own space
As an empath is always tuned in to how other people feel, it can be hard for them to relax and switch off.
Being around people all day can become tiring, so empaths crave having much needed alone time.
In a relationship, this could be seen as acting distant or not wanting to spend time with their partner.
It’s a common misunderstanding but still one that can cause a lot of hurt and damage in the relationship.
In reality, empaths need solitude to help ground themselves, recoup from other’s energies, and process their own emotions.
Without this much needed alone time, they can become irritable, worn out, and stressed.
For partners of empaths who don’t realize this, it can seem like the empath is lashing out simply because they don’t want to spend time together.
Tips for empaths:
Being honest with your partner is the best way to avoid them feeling unwanted or ignored.
A non-empath might not realize just how much an empath needs their space, and a simple conversation could make them more understanding.
It’s also important for you to reassure your partner, and for your partner to respect your space in return.
Without this mutual respect and understanding, it can be hard for you to get onto the same page and work out a way that suits you both.
3) They struggle to be vulnerable and intimate
One of the main reasons empaths struggle in relationships is because being close to someone else is overwhelming.
The fact that they’re constantly in a state of awareness towards others, absorbing people’s energies, and feeling overstimulated. This means being in close contact with someone is completely exhausting.
It’s pretty much like going into overdrive.
For non-empaths, relationships are a whirlwind of emotions and ups and downs, so you can imagine how it’s drastically worse for empaths to deal with all this.
Tips for empaths:
If you find that you’re struggling to get close to your partner, it’s important to have an open and honest conversation with them.
As well as working out times where you can be alone and have your own space, try suggesting some activities that you can do together which are very low-stimulation.
You can even do things separately but together, such as reading your books but sitting together on the sofa, or doing your daily workout while they do theirs in the garden at the same time.
4) Empaths won’t let their partner step up for them
You have a problem in life, such as a fight with a friend, your car has broken down, or maybe you’re struggling with something at work.
What does your partner try to do for you? Everything they possibly can to help.
Herein lies the problem with empaths.
It’s perfectly natural for someone who loves you to step up to the plate and try to “save the day”. It’s actually an excellent sign that you want a deep and passionate relationship with you.
However, empaths can struggle to accept this help. They’re too emotionally invested in the other person and their needs that they simply don’t accept the help, even when it’s genuinely and sincerely on offer.
But there’s something empaths can do to stop this self-defeating trait.
There’s a new concept in relationship psychology that explains why people step up like this for those they care about, and why you need to let them.
It’s called the hero instinct.
(While the hero instinct was coined with men in mind, it can explain how both sexes act around people they love).
According to the hero instinct, men have a biological urge to step up for women and protect them against the big and little things in life. He derives meaning from being the guy she turns to for help.
And he won’t enter a relationship (or stay in one) unless his hero instinct is triggered.
Tips for empaths:
Watch this excellent free video about the hero instinct.
You’ll learn the things you can do, words you can say, and little requests you can make to activate this very natural male instinct in a guy.
Some ideas are life changing. And when it comes to an empath developing a passionate relationship with a guy they love, this is one of them.
5) They’re always tuned in
Empaths can’t help but tune in to the energies, feelings, and flows of whoever is around them.
Can you imagine always being super aware of your partner’s energy shifts? It’s a lot to deal with and there’s no switch to turn it on and off.
Whilst it’s a great quality to have – to pick up on people’s energy – it’s difficult for an empath to stop always being tuned in.
This can be very overwhelming for the empath and their partner.
Whilst it’s lovely to have a partner who is always tuned in to their needs, sometimes they might have just had a bad day and need some time to get over it, without their partner being aware of it and bringing it up.
Tips for empaths:
As an empath, you might not always be aware that you’re so heavily tuned in to your partner’s energy shifts.
To combat this, try getting into the habit of taking a step back, observing your partner, and simply being a witness, without getting emotionally involved.
Repeating this whenever you find yourself being overly aware of your partner’s energy should help you to learn how to tune in or out, depending on the situation.
6) They tend to put their partner first
Because empaths feel their partner’s emotions so intensely and intimately, they may find themselves becoming the ‘pleaser’ in the relationship.
Whether it’s because they feel very strongly towards their partner and want the best for them, or because they’re afraid to confront their partner over certain issues, they can end up looking after themselves last.
Putting their partner first includes things like prioritizing their feelings, not questioning their partner’s decisions, and not asserting their own opinions.
And once you’re in this situation, it can be hard to get out of it.
In some cases, the partner might be taking advantage of the empath, in other cases, they begin to enjoy being the more dominant role in the relationship.
Tips for empaths:
Try being building up your confidence and being more assertive with your partner.
Start with small decisions and actions, and work your way up. It shouldn’t be a battle to have equal power in your relationship (if you’re in a healthy one).
Instead of seeing your opinion as something challenging and conflicting, adopt the mindset that what you have to say is important, and if your partner respects you they’ll appreciate you voicing your feelings or thoughts.
7) They try to control their partner’s emotions
A downside of feeling their partner’s emotions so much means that empaths can end up feeling like they should be the ones to ‘fix things’.
They almost feel a sense of responsibility, because they’ve taken in their partner’s feelings internally.
Whilst their intentions may be out of love and care, it can end up feeling like they’re trying to control or change their partner’s emotions.
For the partner, this can quickly become annoying and a challenge to express their emotions healthily.
Tips for empaths:
Begin by talking about this with your partner first. The first step to making changes is to acknowledge the issue and then find a way to go forward.
You might want to try keeping a note of times when emotions have been running high and recording down how both of you behaved during that time.
Using this you can begin to understand how each person’s emotions affect the other and from there you can start supporting each other more healthily.
8) ‘Little’ things get to them
Although taking the small stuff to heart can happen to all of us, empaths feel it a lot stronger.
Whether it’s a sarcastic comment or slight disagreement with their partner, an empath might struggle to get over it and move on.
And this isn’t because they’re out looking for reasons to be upset, but rather because they simply can’t detach from their intense feelings.
In most relationships, the saying ‘know when to pick your battles’ tends to be the general rule of thumb.
But with an empath, it’s harder for them to shrug off the argument or comment and continue as if it hadn’t happened.
This could lead to a lot of pressure on the relationship, especially if the empath’s partner doesn’t understand what triggers them.
Tips for empaths:
If you’re faced with this situation, it’s important to communicate it clearly with your partner.
Together, you should decide on points to implement when your conversations get a bit heated or negative, such as :
- Pausing the conversation and returning to it when tempers have calmed
- Clarifying what each of you meant so there’s no room for misunderstanding
- Going about your arguments in a calmer way, so that you don’t become overwhelmed with emotions which may make the situation worse
9) Their partner might struggle to understand an empaths needs
Most empaths out there will agree that it’s hard to find a partner and stick with them if they have zero understanding of what an empath is.
For empaths who are in a relationship, even with the most well-intentioned partner, there are going to be times when the empath feels misunderstood.
A non-empath can’t fully understand how much their empath partner is going through, and although they might be very patient and considerate towards them, there’ll inevitably be times when they miss the mark.
For example, an empath needs some space and time alone because they had had a highly stimulating day surrounded by lots of people.
Their partner had made plans for them that night, and can’t understand why they don’t just ‘have a shot of coffee’ and get energized to go out.
What the non-empath fails to understand here is that they aren’t craving solitude out of choice, it’s out of necessity.
Without it, they’ll be left drained, unhappy and agitated.
Tips for empaths:
In this type of situation, when you feel misunderstood by your partner, it’s a good idea to have some space from them.
Meet up with friends or spend time alone in a comfortable, undisturbed space, just do something which grounds you first.
This is important because feeling misunderstood can be highly upsetting, and rather than descend into despair over every misunderstanding, it’s better to take a step back and look at things objectively.
Once you’re calm and rested, weigh up how much your partner is supportive of your empath needs and how much they aren’t.
If it turns out that 99% of the time they are considerate towards you, but every once in a while they slip up, your partner is probably trying their best.
On the other hand, if there are no signs of willingness to understand your emotions and feelings, it could be that they are taking advantage of being with someone as emotional and caring as you are.
10) Making an effort in the relationship can sometimes be tough
Taking on other people’s emotions is tiring.
Not only do empaths take on their partner’s emotions, they feel and absorb the energy of everyone around them.
Think about how many people you come across in your daily life. From your family to coworkers, your local barista and then friends, and finally your partner when you get home in the evening.
That’s a lot of emotions to deal with, which is why it can be hard for empaths to keep up with normal levels of socializing.
When it comes to relationships, that can make it tough, especially in the beginning.
The non-empath might wonder why the empath isn’t always super excited at the idea of going out, or why they feel so tired by the end of a social outing.
An unfortunate misconception is that empaths are lazy, or can’t be bothered to make an effort.
The truth is, they sometimes just feel too drained and tired to go back out or meet up for a spontaneous date after a long day at work.
Tips for empaths:
The key here is to find a compromise with your partner.
If they wish you were a bit more outgoing or willing to socialize more, work out which days are best for you, perhaps days where you have less going on with work or friends.
Although this takes away some of the spontaneity, it means you still get to spend time with your partner when you’re feeling emotionally and physically full and ready for it.
11) Empaths can be ‘too’ honest sometimes
Honesty in a relationship is always a good thing, but it doesn’t have to be all day, every day.
Naturally, we tend to keep some thoughts and opinions to ourselves, otherwise, we risk driving our partners crazy and vice versa.
Whether it’s their new haircut or the fact that their mother is coming to stay for a week, sometimes it’s much easier to just smile, agree, and support them in their choices.
This might not always come naturally to an empath.
They mean well by being as honest as they can all the time, but there’ll surely be times where their honest opinion isn’t wanted or well-received.
And even if they try to tell a white lie or sugarcoat something, they’re not great at faking things, so their partner will probably see straight through it.
Tips for empaths:
Whilst you shouldn’t ever feel bad for taking an honest approach to your relationship, it helps to know your limit with your partner.
It can also help to analyze the situation first before giving your honest opinion.
Subjects that are sensitive to them should be approached softly, without being blunt or straight to the point with your honesty.
In some cases, it may even be best to ask your partner if they want your opinion, or if they simply want to vent and have a shoulder to lean on.
So, can empaths have a ‘normal’ relationship?
First of all, define a ‘normal’ relationship.
All relationships are different, they grow in different ways, and couples who survive do so by being understanding, adaptable, and committed to each other.
So to answer the question – yes.
An empath can have a successful, ‘normal’ relationship, whether it’s with another empath or a non-empath.
They will have to work a little harder at it though. And so will their partner.
Understanding and respecting each other’s boundaries will be key to making it work, and some couples might even benefit from couples therapy to help them improve their communication and emotional processing tools.
Once this level of respect and understanding is there, having a relationship with an empath can be one of the most fulfilling experiences in life.
And for the empath, they can finally embrace love in a way where they don’t sacrifice their own health and emotions.