Being an empath in a romantic relationship is like whitewater rafting: we paddle down a zigzagging river, dodging the boulders that can sink us, while being carried by a maelstrom of confusing emotions. We have to overcome the same hurdles as everyone else to find a companion but we also need to detangle our feelings from their feelings.
When someone likes us, are we soaking up their feelings?
Are we mistakenly thinking that we like them too???
Welcome to ConfusionLand!
The Empath Relationship Dilemma: Who Loves Who?
I was in a steady stream of relationships in my teens and twenties. However, looking back on it, I have no idea if I actually loved any of my boyfriends. Because back then, I didn’t know I was an empath.
And this is what I didn’t understand: their attraction triggered a mirror emotion in me.
I have a vivid memory of a conversation I had with my boyfriend in college. I am saying “I’m not sure if I love you”. And he says: “of course you do!” This perfectly sums up my self-doubts and the how easy it was to influence me. I was with this guy for over a year, in case you’re wondering…
Combine that with a pervasive craving to be loved and you end up with a decade of complicated empath relationships. I have dated men who “borrowed” money but never paid back, lied to me, disrespected me, manipulated me in doing what they wanted, and the list goes on.
And why did I stay? Because they loved me. And so I felt that I loved them too.
Someone else’s attraction can trigger a mirror emotion in an empath
Every break up felt like I was cutting up my own heart. However, I felt so much better when it was over! In fact, my personal happiness would often skyrocket when I was between relationships. I went back to the gym, hiking in nature, reading books instead of watching TV, and so many other things that were naturally good for me.
So why, oh why, would I go back to this willingly?
The Bleeding Heart Empath: I Can Help You!
I never fell in love “at first sight”. But I have a friendly and open-hearted disposition, so I often met new male friends. We’d hang out at school, start talking and maybe do some activity together.
Keep in mind that I was studying for my PhD in Psychology at the time. People’s inner-world fascinated me. So I tended to ask question of a more personal nature.
Guys would often to pour their heart out to me, even out of the blue. And so we’d have a “connected moment” where he would confide in me, creating an emotional bond.
These conversations usually involved some kind of personal hardship or emotional struggle. And since I was both an empath and a psych major, I could help untie that knot. They felt better. I felt happy I could help…
And there’s the trigger to a bleeding heart empath relationship. I don’t know how many times someone told me they loved me, when in fact they were just grateful that I had alleviated their emotional pain. This isn’t love for who I am. This is love for what I do.
Someone might feel “relieved” after talking to an empath and think they are “in love”
Although helping one another is part of a healthy relationship, I don’t think it should be its foundation. Otherwise, you can get lost in a pattern where one person feels obligated to help while the other resents being needy.
The Narcissist – Empath Relationship
To receive a tsunami of reactions, drop the word “narcissist” in an empath group. Every empath seems to have a horror story where the narcissist is holding the hatchet. It’s our Kryptonite!
But why? Why do we attract narcissists? And most importantly, why do we stay in that kind of relationship? Logic would dictate that a sensitive empath would run away screaming from self-centered boyfriends. But I didn’t…
It took me a long time to figure out that I had a love/hate relationship with people who focus mostly on their own needs. Wait what? Love? Yes, that too. That’s why it’s complicated. That why it pulled at my heart strings.
It’s easy to see why self-centered people would be attracted to us: empaths have a bleeding heart and a natural ability to sense other people’s emotional needs. An empath is a narcissist’s dream come true, since we can both focus on his needs. Of course they don’t want us to leave!
But it’s not so easy to understand why we reciprocate.
In my case, I was fascinated by people who were able to satisfy their own needs. I didn’t have that. My needs always came #23 after everyone else’s. But I wanted it so much. In fact, I was jealous without realizing it. This feeling added a whole new layer of confusion and passionate anger. Ooooops!
Empaths can feel attracted to people who can fulfill their own needs
I stayed because I wanted what they had. And maybe some part of me felt that I could learn from them? Or that they would also fulfill my needs? But oh boy, it didn’t turn out what way. In the end, I got hacked to pieces and had to put myself back together again.
But it is through these life experience that we learn to understand ourselves and find a way to a health empath relationship. You gotta love the irony.
In my case, the solution was pretty obvious once I realized I was in love with “what they had”, not “who they were”. I would not seek out or attract narcissists if I learned to fulfill my own needs. End of the story. And it worked! I’ve been free of this pattern for over 10 years.
The Journey to a Healthy Empath Relationship
There’s no shortcut to healthy relationships. It’s a life long journey of self-discovery.
But the good news is that you’re not doing it wrong. Whatever weird, unhealthy, confusing pattern you’re dealing with right now, you can understand it and start building a happier life. It all starts right here.
Understanding how to jump our personal hurdles is the biggest obstacle to healthy empath relationships. And sometimes it helps to talk it out with someone who understands your specific situation.
And here’s something you can do right now, if you are in the middle of a difficult relationship.
Practice these two techniques from Elise’s Empath Survival Program.
Technique 1 – Turn Down Their Volume. This is the first technique I recommend for all Empaths! It brings immediate relief from emotional overwhelm.
Technique 4 – Empaths In Relationships. Wether or not your companion is an Empath, this training technique will keep you stay grounded when you’re having a tough conversation.