Couples who practice empathy nurture intimacy. While there are numerous marriage/relationship skills that can help create a healthy union, the one skill that can often help couples is the ability to be empathic with each other.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is: “The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” In a relationship between two people, empathy is the ability to take your spouse’s perspective — and to momentarily share his/her point of view, feelings and reaction about a particular issue or experience. When couples are mutually empathic, they often feel understood and emotionally connected to one another. We should think of empathy as a bridge that opens up channels to deeper emotional intimacy.
When Empathy is Lacking
Couples who lack solid empathic skills place their relationship on shaky ground. It is difficult to respect a spouse who is lacking empathy at the time that his life-partner needs it most. If you are unable to empathize with your spouse’s experiences, you will frequently become confused and frustrated by his/her behavior and reactions to your lack of empathy. Your spouse will continue to feel misunderstood and unsupported by you. Over time a lack of empathy can lead to an increase in tension, anger, resentment and emotional estrangement. The ability to be empathic is an extremely important ingredient to a successful and healthy marriage. While people differ in their inherent empathic abilities, empathy is a skill, a midah that can be improved and worked on with practice. Each person should take it upon himself to work on this midah so that the marriage can continue to grow.
The Benefits of Empathy In A Relationship
- You will not feel confused and frustrated by your spouse’s reactions and behaviors
- A deeper understanding will make you feel closer to your spouse and you will experience a greater appreciation of for one another
- You will feel more compassion toward your spouse and your behavior toward him/her will reflect that
- Your spouse will feel deeply listened to, appreciated and supported. As a result, you will both feel closer to each other and an emotional intimacy will flourish.
- The mutual trust, security and safety that is so vital to your relationship will be strengthened
Being empathic requires effort and hard work. The first step is to hit the pause button on your reactions when you are in the moment. You cannot be empathic if your perspective/reactions leave little room to imagine what your partner is going through.
This is one of the most important steps and many people get stuck here because they wrongly assume:
- That being empathic means having to give up your own perspective/reactions
- That being empathic is likened to agreeing with the other person (even when you do not).
Many people are keenly aware of the lack of empathy they experience from their spouses and usually when this happens, someone in the relationship experiences a high level of resentment and frustration. As a professionally trained Life Coach, I have realized that the successful couples are the ones who have realized that being tuned into each other on the level of empathy, only brings them closer together. They check in with each other on an emotional level, they become good listeners and tune in well to one another’s needs. Ultimately, it creates an environment where they both feel cared for. We all want to feel cared for deeply by the people that matter the most to us.
Some Ways To Show Your Spouse Empathy
An easy way is to be a good listener but you can take it up a notch and see if you can put yourself in their shoes in how they may be feeling. For example, if your spouse says, “I felt really hurt when you didn’t call me back like you said you would.” An empathetic response would be something like, “I’m so sorry – I totally forgot. I can completely understand why you’d be disappointed.”
An example of a response lacking empathy would be, “Why are you always so sensitive? It’s really no big deal.” Ouch, that hurts. Most people are empathetic by nature but there are times that they simply forget. If you find yourself approaching a bumpy with your spouse, remember these few tips words about the power of empathy. It is a wise investment in the future of a long lasting, healthy and loving relationship. Remember that flowers, candles and dinner are nice but consider the power of empathy as well – it will keep the fire of your relationship burning.