Do you prefer a candlelight dinner with soft music playing and your significant other gets turned on by bungee jumping off a bridge? Yikes! What if you desire tight, bear hugs and your love doesn’t like to cuddle or spoon? In fact, some people don’t like to be touched at all except on the rare occasion. What if he wants the ceiling fan on high speed, but you’re cold and covered in goose bumps? Are your sensory systems compatible?
Betcha didn’t think about that one when you guy were first in the Honeymoon phase of your relationship. Sometimes the initial attraction can blind, or perhaps overpower, your sensory preferences. The bad news is that eventually each individual sensory system is going to wake up from the lust fog and want to be dominant again, to run your life, and to make all of your sensory needs a priority.
The good news is, your partner is not doing anything on purpose to bother you. It can help you deal with their need to immediately remove their work clothes and put on pajamas if you understand that their clothes feel scratchy and restricting to them. Or maybe you can take a deep breath and not react if they need to dump a gallon of hot sauce on the beautiful meal you prepared that might be slightly bland to their taste buds. Just a thought!
If you’re a seeker, you may crave bear hugs when you arrive home from work. Maybe you want to blast some rock music and jam while you make dinner. If your partner is an avoider, or has a sensitive sensory system, they want light touch to re-connect, and quiet or no music while they prepare dinner. See how those sensory systems kind of sneak into ALL aspects of our lives!
If you and your partner have different sensory needs, it may also create an intimacy challenge. You can find clues outside of the bedroom to see what I’m talking about. For example, do you have to call your significant others name a few times before he will respond? While you may get annoyed at having to repeat their name loudly, they may not even hear you if they’re focused on a TV show.
Do certain food smells make you gag? When your girlfriend enters a crowded concert, does she cheer and dance, or do you see her withdraw and find her inner zen? These are just may examples of how we may be more perturbed with our partner’s sensory system than we are at our actual partner. What do you think of that?
Look for patterns and signs everywhere and jot them down, or make a list on your phone. Notice if your darling blares the TV, or prefers a low tone of NPR. Take note of all of their senses. Bright lights over mood lighting, tastes and smells, deep massage or a light feather tickling their back. It’s all clues, and together creates an entire sensory system.
Once you take note of the sensory similarities you two have, then you can build upon those. By also knowing how you are NOT sensory compatible, you can perhaps give each other some space to regulate each other’s sensory system without taking it personally. It’s just sensory!
If you’re not on the same sensory page, is all hope lost? Not exactly.
A fantastic book to help you understand your sensory needs and your partners sensory needs, and how to come to a sensory compromise is Living Sensationally, by Winnie Dunn, PhD, OTR, FAOTA. In her book, Winnie identifies four major sensory types:
Which one are you?
By taking a questionnaire in the book, you can figure out which category you fall into and then equip yourself with useful information on what will best for you and your partner. It’s a lot easier to understand your needs and those of others when you know it’s not personal, and it’s not a choice. It’s just a matter of sensory preference.
Can you change your sensory system to match your mate?
According to the experts, there are different things you can do if you have sensory processing disorder, but I’m not sure if not being compatible warrants treatment. Discuss with your medical team if you actually have a sensory dysfunction, or if you and your love are going to have to compromise and/or be more creative in the sensory department.
So, this Valentine’s Day, maybe instead of chocolates and roses, do both you and your main squeeze a favor and read Living Sensationally. Your sensory system will thank you.
Purchase book here!