Without empathy in a relationship, it is unlikely to survive and thrive. Empathy is the backbone of a healthy relationship. The couples that I work with that display a high level of empathy, are most likely to get a productive result from relationship counselling and also require less time in the process or counselling.
Empathy allows couples to find a way to overcome different perspectives and emotional reactions in life and become a strong, team rather than sitting in their opposing views and causing a distance in the relationship.
Empathy is essentially being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and trying to understand how they might feel. While it is not always possible to have the same emotions as each other, trying to understand how it has affected your partner and at the very least accepting that is has an emotional impact on them, goes a very long way in forming and maintaining a strong connection in a relationship.
Most people have a natural level of empathy that we apply to friends and colleagues, yet we often withhold this same empathy from our partner.
An example of this is a friend loses their job and is emotionally upset about it. As we are sitting outside of this emotional space, it is easier to feel empathy for them. We might tell them that we are sorry that they lost their job and how can we help them. For a partner in the same position, we often go straight to the negative. They tell us they have lost their job and our immediate reaction may be to start worrying about how that will impact the household income and any other concerns that come out of that. Whilst this may be a concern and you can voice it at some stage, it is important to give the empathy first.
By giving empathy, our partner feels that they are cared for and loved. You are on the same team and it hasn’t become a point of conflict in the relationship.
If you often find yourself frustrated by your partner’s reactions, stop and think if you are seeing things purely from your own perspective.
Another example of two people having different reactions and perspectives. A couple walking in the park see a dog get hit by a car. One partner is concerned for the car owner and how it may impact them and the other person starts crying that the poor dog is hurt. Same situation, two different yet completely valid views. This couple can share their feelings with each other, try and see how the other person may view it, offer empathy and accept that they view it differently yet still care about how their partner feels. Or, they can try and convince each other that their reaction was wrong and be annoyed at their partner. Both will likely feel then that there is a disconnect emotionally between them.
So how do you improve your empathy and show it to each other?
When your partner reacts in an emotional way or in a way that seems different than the way you would react, stop and think, I know my partner, how might they be feeling right now? If you aren’t sure, ask them.
Stop, really tune in and actively listen and then offer a statement of empathy.
Some statements that show empathy are:
“I’m really sorry you are feeling angry/sad/hurt etc…”
“I can see that you are upset at the moment”.
“I’m not sure how you are feeling at the moment, can you tell me about it”?
“I can see you are upset at the moment, is there something I can do to help”?
We don’t always need to fix our partners problems, sometimes the biggest thing we can do for them is show that we care about how they feel even if we don’t necessarily understand it.
Practice empathy with your partner and watch your relationship bond into a tight, safe team. Empathy is part of the glue that bonds a strong relationship.