Healthy Couples Communication: The Power of Empathy

I’d like to share a communication strategy that I believe we all should be practicing in our marriages or relationships: It’s called anticipatory empathy. (The concept of anticipatory empathy comes from Relational-Cultural Theory—RCT.) Here is the definition of anticipatory empathy according to RCT:

“Using one’s attunement and understanding of an individual to predict the possible impact of one’s words or actions on another person; a therapist constantly tries to use anticipatory empathy to get a sense of what might ensue following a particular intervention in therapy.”

Practicing anticipatory empathy would force us to hit the pause button on our knee-jerk reactions by taking a self-reflective moment: A brief introspective instant where we bring our spouse/partner into clearer mental focus and imagine how our words and message would possibly impact him/her. Of course, doing so requires ongoing practice and patience. But the communication payoff is huge.

Relationship Help Action Step:

The goal is to become more responsible and thoughtful communicators, making intentional efforts to choose particular words that more gently convene our truth rather than words that would (whether intentionally or unintentionally) emotionally wound and feed defensiveness.

So the next time you are going to have an important discussion, begin to slow down the process and momentarily reflect on which words would best convey your message and which would best honor the love and respect you feel for your spouse/partner.

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