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Relationship Patterns


Emotionally sensitive people love intensely and fiercely, just as they experience most emotions. They can be wonderful in relationships, the most exciting and loving people you could imagine.

When emotionally sensitive people find someone to love, they are often fearful of losing that person in some way. They fear the one they love changing and not loving them back, or maybe that once the person they love realizes who they really are, they will leave.

Losing someone they love is terrifying, an experience that is so painful that they may wonder if they can survive it.

To protect themselves, the emotionally sensitive may form relationships in ways that may hurt the relationship in the long run.

The Charismatic Pattern

The emotionally sensitive can be the person you always want to invite to gatherings. They can be charming, funny, spontaneous and creative. They can make a routine evening into something special. Sometimes though – they can give too much.

The emotionally sensitive (ES) point of view: “I do everything I can to make him happy.  I dress to please him, I entertain his friends, I learned to play golf, I pay attention to whatever he wants and try to make it happen for him. I dropped my own friends and interests to focus on him. I hide the parts of me and my life that he might not like. What more could I do? Is it so wrong that after a while, I’m tired? He doesn’t put in the same effort for me. How is that fair? This relationship is so one-sided, he seems selfish to me or maybe he doesn’t love me enough.”

Non-Emotionally Sensitive (nonES) point of view: “She couldn’t be more perfect—exactly the person I was looking for. She knows what I want before I do and fits in perfectly with everything I do and all my friends. She is so giving and thoughtful, always calling and checking on me. Well, maybe it’s a little too often. That’s the way it was in the beginning. I’d never met anyone so perfect. But as time passed, she seemed to have a problem with each of my friends. She would check on me all the time and accuse me of not really loving her, not paying enough attention to her. She started complaining that I’m selfish, I don’t do enough for her.”

Knight in Shining Armor Pattern

The emotionally sensitive may wish for someone to rescue them. That’s understandable. They have suffered great pain and continue to suffer. Wanting an end to the suffering is what anyone would want.

The emotionally sensitive point of view might be as follows: “Life is so hard and painful. I want someone to help make it better, help me get through the tough times. Love means I’ve found someone who wants to solve my problems. He’s on my side, that’s how I know he loves me.”

“Whatever I want or need,  he’ll make it happen. That’s the way I felt when I first met him. But he’s falling out of love with me. I think there must be someone else because now he’s just angry when I need his help. He used to drop everything when I cried, when I was upset. Now he just says, ‘again?’ ”

Non-ES view:  “Her life has been so difficult. She’s a unique person, a sensitive, loving person who no one understands and so many have mistreated.  She needs me. I feel ten feet tall with her. I understand her and can protect her like no one else can. The problem is that there’s no end to her problems. I could lose my job if I keep leaving when she calls. She doesn’t seem to care how many times I have to spend extra money to pay fines or pay off credit cards I can’t afford or how often I have to stop what I’m doing to help her. I have to say no sometimes.”

 The “If You Love Me You Won’t Let Me Leave” Pattern

Emotionally Sensitive View: “I’m so afraid of losing him. I keep telling him I’m leaving because I get angry and don’t see a solution to our problems. That scares me. The truth is I’m afraid of his leaving so that I try to protect myself by leaving him first. I get reassurance when he doesn’t want me to go.”

Non-ES View: “When the relationship is going well, she’s so caring and loving, no one could do more for me. At the same time, whenever there’s a problem, she gives up right away. Any problem at all and she’s saying she’s through, packing her bags and leaving. That’s hard on me. I can’t be perfect and it’s getting so I just expect her to leave and it’s wearing me down.”

 The “I Hate You and I Think You’re Perfect” Pattern

The Emotionally Sensitive Person can vary between raging and putting their spouse or loved one on a pedestal. Usually the raging is related to being afraid of losing the one they love. This could be triggered by even small criticisms or changes in routine that mean less time together.

Sometimes they interpret someone not doing what the want or giving them what they want as meaning the person doesn’t love them. Their view might be as follows: “If he loved me, he would know I need this. He wouldn’t hurt me this way. I hate him, all he does is lie to me and hurt me. He doesn’t care about me. He wants me to hurt.”

Non-ES View:  The partners in the relationship who aren’t emotionally sensitive may be confused by the emotionally sensitive seeing them as perfect one day and like devils the next.  They may see this as manipulative behavior, when in fact the emotionally sensitive are attempting to guard against loss.  The non-emotionally sensitive might say, “I can’t do anything right some days and other days she treats me like I can do no wrong.”

Not everyone who is emotionally sensitive has one of  the above patterns. If you are in a relationship with someone who does, understanding the reasons and emotions behind the patterns and knowing how to respond will be helpful. We’ll discuss those topics in a future post.


Note to Readers:I am grateful so many of you have commented on the posts. I’m also grateful for your responses to my survey questions. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the questions on my new survey about being emotionally sensitive. Results will be given in a future post.

Creative Commons License photo credit: oksidor

Relationship Patterns

Karyn Hall, PhD

Karyn Hall, Ph.D. is the owner/director of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy Center in Houston, a DBT-Linehan Board of Certification, Certified Clinician, a RO DBT Approved Supervisor and Trainer and owner of, an online educational program. She is a trainer/consultant as well as a therapist and certified coach, author of The Emotionally Sensitive Person, SAVVY, Mindfulness Exercises for DBT Therapists, and co-author of The Power of Validation. Her podcast, The Emotionally Sensitive Person, is available on iTunes.

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APA Reference
Hall, K. (2012). Relationship Patterns. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 16, 2019, from


Last updated: 8 Jun 2012
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