Empathy is a highly-valued and attractive trait in a significant other.
Sometimes, people feel empathy to the very extreme. These people are called empaths.
There are a few surefire ways to tell if your partner is an empath, which comes with its own share of pros and cons in navigating a healthy relationship.
In relationships, there are certain qualities we all look for in a significant other. Our love stories and desires may be different, but for many people, empathy ranks high on the list of desirable traits in a partner.
But what happens when someone feels empathy to the extreme? They could be an empath. According to Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and author of “The Empath’s Survival Guide,” an empath is an “emotional sponge.”
“[They are] somebody who absorbs the stress and also the positive emotions into their own bodies from other people,” Orloff told Business Insider.
To put it simply, empaths are the opposite of narcissists. They’re not just highly-sensitive, they’re on a more extreme end of the emotional spectrum.
It might sound rare or unlikely, but as Hello Giggles pointed out, “it’s pretty likely that you know someone who fits the description” of an empath, which means that it’s worth understanding how to tell as well as the good and the bad of dating an empath.
There are tests and quizzes you can take to determine if you or someone you know fits the description of an empath, but there are also telltale signs, each of which have their own implications.
They feel what you feel but to a whole new level.
Essentially, this is the defining trait of an empath.
“Empaths are highly attuned to other people’s moods, good and bad,” according to HuffPost. “They feel everything, sometimes to an extreme.”
This can even mean physical symptoms, with empaths developing sympathy pains out of unity.
“They sometimes take on their loved ones’ pain in their bodies, so they actually feel it,” Orloff said.
An empath will be there to listen and share your joy or pain in whatever you’re going through, sometimes even more than you do. This can be great and feel like having an ally on your side, but it can also be a bit overwhelming when you need a level-headed, logical response or a simple, impartial listening ear to a problem.
They love spending time with you, but also need time alone.
It might seem like an empath is pushing you away or distancing themselves from you, but in reality, they’re just trying to take a break from absorbing your feelings in addition to their own, which can be exhausting.
Taking on the emotions of others can be draining, so empaths need to “recharge their batteries” and take a step back.
That said, when they’re with you, an empath is happy to spend lots of time together, even preferring alone time over going to “overwhelming” places like the mall or the movies.
This all might make them appear anti-social or moody, but really, it’s their way of checking in with themselves and replenishing.
They’re good listeners to the point of neglecting their own needs.
An empath is happy to hear your story, give you advice, and let you feel what you need to feel.
That said, they’re feeling along with you. They’re willing to give, sometimes too much, without asking for you to give them anything back.
According to Orloff, the key is communication. Make sure that you’re listening and asking the empath in your life if they’re feeling alright or if they need you. They might not be as willing to communicate their needs, but everyone needs someone to listen sometimes.
They have trouble saying “no.”
Boundaries are difficult for empaths, according to Judith Orloff. This can result in a struggle when it comes to using the word “no.”
“What I always tell them is ‘no’ is a complete sentence,” Orloff said. “Learn how to say ‘no,’ but don’t get into a big discussion about it. Just say ‘no, I’m sorry I can’t do this tonight, I’d rather stay home.'”
Sometimes empaths will say yes to something even if they’re not interested in doing whatever it is that you want to do. An empath wants to make you happy, so they’re willing to do the work to keep your emotions in check.
Make sure that you’re communicating and discussing what you both want to do, otherwise, one person might not be fully invested or enjoying activities to the same degree as another. Ideally, you and your partner are both enjoying something and setting healthy boundaries.
They don’t respond well to criticism, so you might have to walk on eggshells.
Empaths are incredibly sensitive. Though criticism isn’t usually fun for anyone, it’s especially taxing for an empath, who is usually just trying their very best and doesn’t respond well to arguments or tough criticism.
Unfortunately, these kinds of conversations are necessary and healthy for relationships, so it’s best to adjust a bit to your significant other’s needs.
Loving an empath means having to maintain open communication, keeping in mind that your words have power and that they should be used wisely. When it comes to critiques or disagreements, make sure that it’s done with intention, kindness, and solely for the purpose of moving forward.
They give it their all but need to know when it’s time to call it quits.
Empaths put a lot into their relationships, sometimes too much. They care so much that they can take it a step too far and leave themselves drained, emotionally raw, and searching for absolute answers, which can be hard to find when it comes to relationships.
“Empaths are often problem solvers, thinkers, and studiers of many things,” according to Themindunleashed.com. “As far as empaths are concerned, where a problem is, so too is the answer. They often will search until they find one – if only for peace of mind.”
Sometimes, for whatever reason, you have to know when it’s not right. Not all relationships are meant to be.