Do you consider yourself an empathic spouse/partner?
One of the truisms I’ve learned in my work as a psychologist and couples counselor is that healthy marriages and relationships are created, not found. And to create a relationship that brings fulfillment to your life takes a certain set of relationship tools or skills.
While there are many different skills that can help you build a stronger union (e.g., effective communication skills), one of the most important relationship skills is the ability to meaningfully understand your spouse’s/partner’s point of view—to empathize or to see the world through his/her eyes.
Empathy acts as a bridge to your spouse’s/partner’s psychological and emotional world, thereby increasing understanding, deepening mutual trust and, ultimately, intimacy (empathic responses can deepen both emotional intimacy and physical intimacy).
Relationship Help: Empathy Isn’t Always Easy
Improving a skill takes practice. The belief that mutual understanding should be automatic in loving relationships (and not require ongoing effort) is dangerous and can, over time, erode the foundation of your marriage/relationship.
It’s important for you (and your partner) to take the time and energy needed to improve your empathic ability in an effort to increase the trust and intimacy that is central to the health of your marriage/relationship.
What’s Needed for Empathy to Thrive in Your Relationship?
You must give you partner permission to have her/his own reactions.
As the differences between you and your partner become apparent over time, so will the frustrations inherent in some of those differences. Very often dissimilarities are viewed as obstacles rather than assets that bring life and energy to a partnership.
Establish a daily intention to challenge yourself any time you think your spouse/partner “should” be feeling a certain way–a way that makes sense to you; a way that’s similar to how you would react. Establishing intentions that acknowledge and appreciate differences can be a powerful means to change.
You may literally need to repeat to yourself: “She is not me. She’s her own person with her own way of seeing the world. She has every right to her reactions.” After repeating this to yourself several times, repeat it another ten times. As is the norm when learning any new skill, consider repetition the rule of thumb in changing attitudes that prohibit empathy.
This process can be helpful because it is often our own emotional reactions and viewpoints that block us from empathizing and appreciating our partner’s reactions (and unique perspectives). Remember, in doing this, you’re not required to abandon your own perspective, but rather, you are temporarily placing your perspective on hold so that you can be a more understanding and empathic spouse/partner.
Until next time,
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D.
(Featured image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)