Smart, Sensitive, Intense And In Love

photo courtesy Wilson Sanchez, Unsplash

Do you occasionally overwhelm your partner with your intensity? Does the depth of emotion that comes so naturally to you, scare your sweetie? Is your enthusiasm over your fascinating study of ant behavior not matched by your spouse? Do you find that the love of your life just can’t keep up?

Or is it the reverse? You’re the one who is overwhelmed, can’t keep up, not enticed by the study of ant behavior and frightened by your darling’s emotional intensity?

Or is it this? You’re both super-smart, highly sensitive and terribly intense. It’s thrilling and exhausting to be living in your jungle. Together.

Here’s what not to do: Do not panic. Do not start binge-watching reruns of Gilligan’s Island.*

Instead, here are some things to think about:

~ What do you need from your relationship? Make a list. Verbal intimacy? Shared values? Humor? Love of Reality TV? How many of those needs are met by your partner? How many of them can be met in other ways? How do you take time to celebrate your connection?

~ Is there a balance in what you give and what you receive? How might you create a better balance? Look at careers, child raising, household chores, emotional support, financial support, friendships, extended family, holiday celebrations, spiritual well-being, and other elements of family life. If you have children, how do you make time to nourish your couple-ness?

~ How important is intellectual equality? Where might you and your partner get your intellectual needs met outside of your relationship? Can you feel nourished and supported by your partner without being intellectually similar? Or is intellectual compatibility necessary for you to feel fed by the relationship?

~ If you often communicate like a fire hose and your partner gets overwhelmed, set up a signal so that you can change to a garden-hose-communicator (GHC) when needed. Decide how often you’re being asked to be a GHC and if you’re OK with that.

~ Have your partner read some of my blog posts. Talk about them. What parts fit? What parts don’t fit? If you wrote your own post for this blog, what would it say?

~ Remember what first brought you together. Share those early stories with each other. If you’ve lost your sense of humor, go find it.

~ Share books on relationships by John Gottman, Sue Johnson and John Welwood. Learn more about what draws particular people to each other. Find strategies in the books that will improve your communication skills and deepen your intimacy.

~ If you or your partner have experienced trauma, your relationship will be that much more complicated. Working through past traumatic experiences with a professional will soothe your soul and allow you to open more deeply to love.

~ If you have some differences that are particularly challenging, look for a good couples counselor, preferably one who understands rainforest minds.

Note: Thanks to Anne Allanketner, poet and couples counselor in Portland, Oregon, USA, for her help with this post.

(*For those of you too young or from outside the USA, this was a really ridiculous North American TV show.)


To my blogEEs: If you’re in a partnership, tell us how you navigate your differences and your similarities. How do you manage your intensities, sensitivities and intellectual curiosity? What are the benefits of rainforest-minded partners and what are the downsides? Thank you for sharing your thoughts. They add so much to my blog!

Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

42 responses to “Smart, Sensitive, Intense And In Love”

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  1. Linkables  – The Questing Child

    […] Intense and in love […]

  2. An intense mum! Avatar
    An intense mum!

    Lovely post Paula. I read your blog regularly, but this is the first time I’ve commented, as this blog has really touched me.

    I’m a very intense personality, with emotional and sensory OEs. It’s been challenging for my spouse (also a rainforest mind, but very different to me) and I, as he has a completely different personality and upbringing. We had a long-distance engagement (after being introduced to one another for marriage- it’s a cultural thing!), so it was a big shock to the system when we did start living together after marriage. My intensity was overwhelming for him and his lack of emotional expression and difficulty with communication was so challenging for me.
    It’s been a rollercoaster journey; I’ve experienced postnatal depression, ongoing depression and anxiety, we’ve had individual and couples counselling over the years and at times we’ve nearly walked away from our marriage. However, our faith in God and the desire to parent our kids together has kept us together for nearly 17 years now.
    We’ve got 2 beautiful kids- the oldest is twice exceptional (gifted, ADHD, sensory processing disorder and generalised anxiety disorder) so is a very challenging child to parent. However, having him has been a gift to our family- as despite the sheer exhaustion we feel parenting him (and at times we have used the term traumatised to describe how we are left after some interactions!)- he has made us learn about ourselves, and really examine what our family values are. Our younger child is the total opposite of his older sibling- but has taught us the value of humour and enthusiasm for living life to the fullest. We have COMPLETELY changed our parenting style (thanks to some wonderful resources in books and on the internet PLUS a fantastic family therapist), we have changed our family dynamics and our goals as a family. We focus on building relationships with one another; both in our marital relationship and with our kids.

    Our relationship thankfully is now much much stronger. A couples counsellor (whilst not v helpful herself- with hindsight we feel she was encouraging us to separate) introduced us the the works of John Gottman and this has turned our marriage around. We spend 1hr a week after the kids are in bed, going through his book and doing the exercises together and our marriage is stronger than it ever has been. We go out for breakfast together once a week to connect with one another. We parent as a team and appreciate the strengths we each bring to the marriage and family dynamics, plus step in for one another when the going gets tough with the kids (now aged 11 and 7y). My husband understands when i get overwhelmed and emotional and allows me to space to process my emotions (even if I’ve snapped at him). I’m doing a meditation course to try and improve my emotional regulation.

    Do i wish we had heard of John Gottman earlier? No, not really, as i truly believe that the struggles we have been through have made us undergo a journey of personal self-development and growth as a couple/family. We would not have been ready to consolidate our relationship in this way, even a year ago, as we still had so much to learn about ourselves and the children. No regrets, despite some of the very dark times we’ve gone through, and much hope for the future.

    PS- sorry about the length of my comment- once i start typing I’m like a firehose- i have no setting to go to garden hose mode!!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      We appreciate your fire hose here! The details you provide will be very helpful to readers. Thanks so much.

  3. Lucinda Leo Avatar
    Lucinda Leo

    Very interesting post and comments, Paula! I’m a highly emotionally OE woman married to a man with high intellectual OE. Learning to speak each other’s language is an ongoing process, but 18 years on we’re getting better at it all the time!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Lucinda. Congratulations on your 18 years!

  4. Gigi DeRoin Avatar
    Gigi DeRoin

    INFJ also! I wasn’t going to share until I read that. . . I have been happily married for 25 years — together for 27 — but with lots of work. I was ready to run away for the first 7 years. But life on life’s terms kept me there.
    Went through several periods of needing counseling, single and couple’s.
    The past 8 or 9 years have been the best. The 7 years before that we both grew a lot. Grew up and grew together.
    Commitment has played a big part in our marriage. I’m glad I had the integrity to stick to my commitment.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      What a great story, Gigi. Growing together. Lots of work. Yes. Thank you for writing.

  5. JQ Avatar

    Paula, I am pleased to report I have started a relationship with an AMAZING man that is not only also gifted, but shares my interests, values, and heart… and… it gets even better… well, depending on your perspective…

    He’s currently working his way through a divorce as a DV victim. In other words, he actually understands my behaviors that are linked to past trauma, and forgives me for them.

    And since we are on the same page with each other, we can talk about anything and everything. Even when someone’s feelings are hurt, we can work through it without fighting with each other.


    It is so totally worth holding out for your rainforest-minded soulmate. Don't settle for less if that is not what you want. They're real, they're out there, it just takes time to find us because like Paula has said in previous articles, we have a tendency to hide away from the world and not engage it too much. It was sheer luck our paths crossed because we both work from home.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m happy for you JQ. Yay!

  6. FredB Avatar

    INTJ here. I had one girlfriend say to me, “I’m doomed, right?”

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Doomed? Wha??

      1. FredB Avatar

        She was in Mensa, upper two percent IQ and all that. I didn’t think I had to throttle back intellectually. She was a bit shocked to find there were times she couldn’t keep up. That was something new for her.

        She found a guy who has nearly a Mensa level IQ. I think they are still together.

  7. Ro Avatar

    Thank you for another thought-provoking post Paula – and Anne.
    My husband and I have been together coming up 15 years, and we’re well suited in that we regularly stay up later than we intended to go to bed after launching into an hour-long chat about… one of many varied topics. We are best friends. Our individual intensities can be difficult to house together though (can trigger each other off) and I sometimes dream of what it might be like to have a staid partner who could perhaps help temper my side of the relationship equation. As I age, fireworks don’t do it for me anymore. I want peace. Currently, I’m working on growing myself up – taking responsibility for all my own issues, and /not/ taking responsibility for my husband’s issues. We’ll see how things go. I’m not sure if my husband and I will remain married until death do us part, but I anticipate we’ll be good friends until then.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Perhaps growing oneself up is the key. To peace. And a thriving relationship.

  8. Genealogy Jen Avatar
    Genealogy Jen

    Yes. I definitely need to find my sense of humor as it often goes missing. I find it refreshing to spend time with new people or old friends to remember, “Hey, I’m funny and charming.” True story. I have to remember to treat my husband like a boyfriend sometimes, and turn on the sparkling charm that won him over in the first place.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m sure you’ve got lots of “sparkling charm, ” Genealogy Jen!

      1. Genealogy Jen Avatar
        Genealogy Jen

        Heck yeah, Paula. It’s one of my gifts. It’s also how I make up for most of my short comings. And being cute helps too.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober


  9. Lisa Swaboda is Atlas Educational Avatar
    Lisa Swaboda is Atlas Educational

    You are spying on me! One of my hubby’s faves is Gilligan’s Island while I longed for more intellectual conversations.It’s his way of unwinding while mine is digging into understanding myself more. I thought we should be doing all of that together, but when I go off and gab with my gifties online and he goes off to watch some telly, it works. I know I can be overwhelming and granting yourself permission to be somewhere else or do something else sometimes actually brings peace in a relationship instead of forced togetherness. Being good to yourself (& our crazy OEs
    ) is just what we need sometimes. Thanks, Paula!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Lisa, I agree. Couples don’t need to do everything together. (oh dear…who knew people actually liked Gilligan’s Island!) Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  10. Annonymous Too Avatar
    Annonymous Too

    “You’re both super-smart, highly sensitive and terribly intense. It’s thrilling and exhausting to be living in your jungle. ”

    Yep. Plus varying degrees of depression for both of us. Exhaustion has been winning lately.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing. Remember, it’s important to find ways to nourish yourselves!

  11. Me Avatar

    YES!! This is why I bury myself in my hobbies. They are a distraction/dissociation from my longing for the deeeeeeeeep intimacy that I crave.

    When I was younger, I just thought that my spouse didn’t love me very much. But now that I know I’m “Special”, I’ve come to accept that she loves me to the depth of her capability. I accept the intimacy she offers, and then find other outlets for my energy – such as reading, writing, music, woodworking, hiking, or other activities.

    This is a very important topic. If we do not understand that we are different in this area, then we will hop from relationship to relationship looking for something that we’ll never find. Because of the way we are built, we are especially vulnerable to affairs that would destroy what little intimacy that we do get from our significant other.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Important to accept the intimacy offered, like you say, and find other outlets. Other ways to dive deep.

  12. Nimue Brown Avatar
    Nimue Brown

    I spent some time in a relationship with a chap who considered himself far cleverer than me and who found me over-emotional and unreasonable. One of the things I learned is that there are different kinds of clever, and that they all need taking seriously and none of us has all of them. Now I’m in a relationship with an obsessive artist who is perfectly capable of talking about work in bed, but that’s fine. I think a big part of what makes it work is that we enjoy each other’s passions and have room for each other’s obsessions, and don’t need to control each other or compete with each other. I also think respect is absolutely key – if people respect each other for who they are, you’ve got a good basis for relationship. If one party can only feel big by squashing the other person down – it’s never going to work. it’s no good being with someone who only likes bits of you, and wants to make other bits disappear.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, respect. So very important. Thanks, Nimue. Always great to hear from you.

  13. Walther Avatar

    I tend to prefer intense, deep relationships.. connecting on physical, emotional and spiritual levels. This can get pretty intense and more often then not it leaves me wondering why I even try in the first place as I seem to end up alone anyway.

    I love to share my life, my mind, my entire being with the one I love. I would love to see the same in my partner. This explanation of my Myers-Briggs type personality describes pretty accurately what I am like: .

    It seems very difficult to find someone who is able to handle this kind of relationship. Unfortunately my personality leave little room for other strategies. I tried to have a relationship which was skewed but that ended in a disaster. It left me feeling extremely lonely while in a relationship.. not understood. I tried most of the tips you give here to no avail.

    However, that definitely doesn’t mean these tips would not work in other peoples situations.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for the link, Walther. The Myers-Briggs is a great resource. I wonder how many rainforest-minded folks are INFJs. I’m so sorry it’s been hard to find a mate. There can be so many complicating factors.

    2. Ro Avatar

      INFJ here too 🙂 Walther, I’m sorry finding love has proven challenging for you thus far. It’s not nice to feel lonely within a relationship. Wishing you all the best for the future – you never know who might be just around the corner.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Me, too. INFJ.

  14. FredB Avatar

    Hey! I like Gilligan’s Island. I can relate to the Professor.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh boy, Fred. I knew there’d be someone out there who liked Gilligan’s Island!! 🙂

  15. themonthebard Avatar

    I remember what used to actually frighten my first wife was my immersion into subjects. I’d pick up a book on Lemuria, for example (a mythical prehistoric race/civilization, a bit like Atlantis), and for a short while, I’d be a “true believer” as I looked at the possibilities and argued the evidence. Then I’d eventually come around to, “Meh. Probably not. And not very important.” She was afraid I was going to run naked into the weeds and stay there, eating nuts and berries and communing with space aliens.

    Then she eventually gained some confidence that I really did understand that I had to get up in the morning and go to work.

    Immersion — maybe it’s obsession? — has actually always paid off handsomely in my career.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It could be helpful for others to hear a bit about how your capacity for immersion/obsession has “paid off” in your career. Probably many folks have found it to be a problem. If you’d like to elaborate, we’re listening! Thanks, as always, for being here.

    2. themonthebard Avatar

      I write software for a living. One of the popular ways to write software these days is cut-and-paste. You find something that’s a bit like what you think you want, so you make a copy, then you make tiny tweaks to it until it seems to work. Then you slap a label on it and sell it. It’s a terrible methodology, and it results in terrible code, buggy, difficult to fix, impossible to understand. I’ve been on numerous projects where this kind of development was used, where we’ve had to simply throw it all away and start over.

      I simply can’t force myself to do cut-and-paste. Instead, I find myself immersed in the project — in the code, in the design, in the objective, in the customer experience. I dig until I understand the code, and more importantly, the problem people are trying to solve. Once that falls together, I find that I can dance easily through the code; fixing or redesigning it are pretty much one and the same.

      That kind of immersion leads to the ability to understand the code metaphorically, intuitively. I’ll often discuss concurrent processing in terms of two old men arguing in a coffee-shop over a chessboard, or a traffic jam on the highway, or some other easily-visualized process. Software is, after all, just a human story written in a particularly stilted and formal language.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Sounds fascinating. A great career for your rainforest mind!

  16. skpicard Avatar

    Great post Paula! One of the books that I really liked was the Five Languages of Love by Gary Chapman…helped me to see all the love floating around me!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, I’ve heard of that one. Thanks for mentioning it. Good to see the love we sometimes miss!

  17. helenjnoble Avatar

    Reblogged this on helenjnoble.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Helen.

  18. maggiebrown2015 Avatar

    So Paula again you seem to be living on my shoulder. How is the view from there? My partner laughed as I read this out to him. Tick tick, and tick. Even the ants! Loved the firehouse. Will attempt to adjust the nozzle to a fine spray now and again. Thanks as always.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s a lovely view, Maggie! Appreciate the comment.

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