Are You a Relationship Empath?


In my practice and workshops I’m struck by how many sensitive people come to

me wanting a long term soul mate. Personally, I can relate to this. Yet, despite online

dating services, expensive match-makers, friend fix-ups, and blind dates, they still

remain single. Or else they’re in relationships but feel constantly fatigued and

overwhelmed. The reason isn’t simply that “there aren’t enough available people ‘out

there’” or that they’re neurotic. Personally and professionally I’ve discovered something

more is going on.


In my life, I’ve found that a vital missing piece to this puzzle has been

discovering I am a relationship empath. Empaths are highly sensitive, intuitive, and

caring, but they’re also shock absorbers with an extremely permeable nervous system

and hyperactive reflexes. They experience everything, pleasure and pain, sometimes to

an extreme. The amazing part of being so sensitive is that empaths are attuned to

people (at times even telepathically), to nature, and can be exquisitely sensual,

responsive lovers. The downside is that empaths are sponges for the world’s angst.

Without a membrane between themselves and the world, they unknowingly absorb

other people’s stress into their own bodies. Then they become overloaded, anxious or

exhausted. This differs from ordinary empathy, say when you sympathize with your

partner’s harrowing day at work. Relationship empathy goes much further. You merge

with your partner and actually feel his or her joys and fears as if they were your own.

Thus, romantic relationships, particularly live-in ones, can be challenging.


In The Power of Surrender I go into detail describing what a relationship empath

is and also present strategies to cope and not absorb the stress or symptoms of your

mate. If you’re highly sensitive and haven’t identified this dynamic, you may

unknowingly avoid romantic partnerships because deep down you’re afraid of getting

engulfed. A part of you wants a soul mate; another part is frightened. This inner push-

pull stops you from surrendering to a partner. The closer you are to someone the more

intense empathy gets. To feel safe enough to let go in a relationship, it’s crucial for

empaths to learn how to set healthy boundaries and assert their needs. Then intimacy

becomes possible.


To surrender to a soul mate, it’s important to discuss your fears of letting go with

each other. However, if you’re an empath, you may not know what these are or that

you’re even resisting intimacy. Thus you can’t convey your needs or set healthy

boundaries. To determine whether you’re a relationship empath take the following quiz

from my book, The Ecstasy of Surrender.


Quiz: Am I a relationship empath?

Ask yourself:

* Have I been labeled as overly sensitive?

* Am I afraid of getting engulfed or losing my identity in intimate relationships?

* Do I prefer taking my own car places so I can leave when I please?

* Do I get drained by too much togetherness and require time alone to refuel?

* Do I sometimes prefer sleeping alone?

* When my partner and I travel do I prefer adjoining rooms?

* Do I tend to take on by my partner’s stress or physical symptoms?

* Do I feel overwhelmed by noise, smells, crowds, or excessive talking?


If you answer yes to one to three of these questions you’re at least part

relationship empath. Responding yes to four to six questions indicates strong empathic

tendencies with partners. If you answer yes to seven or more questions you are a

certified relationship empath.


Recognizing that you’re a relationship empath is the first step to removing this

obstacle to finding a soul mate. Next, you must redefine the traditional paradigm for

coupling so you can find a comfortable way of being together. This means letting go of

society’s stereotypes about marriage or relationships, forging a new path for yourself. If

you’re an empath or if the ordinary expectations of coupledom don’t work for you,

practice the following tips.


Surrender Old Relationship Rules, Create New Ones from The Ecstasy of Surrender

Tip 1. Evaluate a potential mate’s compatibility

As you’re getting to know someone, share that you’re sensitive, that you value

having alone time. The right person will understand; the wrong person will put you down

for being “overly sensitive.”

Tip 2. Vibrations Speak Louder Than Words

Notice how you relate to a potential mate’s energy. Ask yourself: Does the

person’s words match their energy? Or is something off? If you have any doubts about

his or her authenticity, go slow. To avoid getting involved with someone who won’t be

good for you, keep tracking the person’s energy with your empathic abilities to find out

who they really are.

Tip 3. Allow quiet time at home to decompress

Get in the habit of taking mini-breaks throughout the day. Tell your partner how

important this is to you. Stretch. Breathe. Walk. Meditate. Listen to music. This time

alone will replenish you.

Tip 4. Limit your time socializing with others

Tell your partner what your ideal time limit is to stay at parties or other social

occasions before you burn out. If your comfort level is three hours max– even if you

adore the people– make an agreement with your partner to take your own car if he or

she prefers to stay longer.

Tip 5. Negotiate your square footage needs

Breathing room is a must. Experiment with creative living conditions. Ask

yourself, “What space arrangement is optimal?” Having a private area to retreat to?

Separate bathrooms? Separate houses? Agree not to crowd each other. When traveling

together, you may prefer getting adjoining rooms with your own bathroom (this works

wonders for me). If sharing a room is the only option, hanging a sheet as a room divider

will help.

Tip 6. Get a sleep divorce

Traditionally, partners sleep in the same bed. However, some empaths never get

used to this, no matter how caring a mate. Nothing personal: they just like sleeping in

their own space. Discuss options with your mate. Give yourself permission to sleep

separately. Separate beds. Separate rooms. Sleeping together a few nights a week.

Because non-empaths can feel lonely sleeping alone, make compromises when



In my medical practice, I’ve seen this creative approach to relationships save

marriages and make ongoing intimacies safe for emotional empaths of all ages– even if

they haven’t had a long-term partner before.

About Judith Orloff MD

Judith Orloff Judith Orloff MD is author of the national bestseller The Ecstasy of Surrender: 12 Surprising Ways Letting Go Can Empower Your Life. Dr. Orloff is a psychiatrist, intuitive healer, and New York Times bestselling author who synthesizes the pearls of traditional medicine with cutting edge knowledge of intuition, energy, and spirituality. Dr. Orloff also specializes in treating empaths (highly sensitive people). An Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA, she passionately believes that the future of medicine involves integrating all this wisdom to achieve emotional freedom and total wellness. Dr. Orloff’s work has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, Forbes, the Oprah Magazine and USA Today. To learn more about being an empath, visit