I was recently asked at a marriage enrichment workshop to describe an important relationship skill couples can work on to strengthen their marriage or relationship.
While there are numerous marriage/relationship skills that can help create a healthy union, the one skill that I often see helping couples is the ability to be empathic with each other.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is the ability to take your spouse’s/partner’s perspective—to momentarily share his/her point of view, feelings and reaction about some particular issue or experience. When couples are mutually empathic, they often feel understood and emotionally connected to one another.
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. If you are unable to empathize with your spouse’s/partner’s experiences, you will frequently become confused and frustrated by his/her behavior and reactions. And your partner will repeatedly feel misunderstood and unsupported by you.
Over time a lack of empathy can lead to an increase in anger, resentment and emotional estrangement.
The ability to be empathic is more important now than ever. While people differ in their inherent empathic abilities, the good news is that empathy is a skill, and like all skills, it can be improved with practice.
Relationship Help: The Benefits of Empathy in your Relationship
1. You will feel less confused and frustrated by your spouse’s/partner’s reactions and behaviors.
2. Through the path of deeper understanding, you will feel closer to your partner.
3. You will experience a greater appreciation of your partner.
4. You will feel more compassion toward your partner, and your behavior toward him/her will reflect that.
5. Your spouse/partner will feel deeply listened to, appreciated and supported.
6. You and your partner will feel closer to each other (emotional intimacy).
7. The mutual trust and safety so vital to your relationship will continually be strengthened.
Remember, being empathic requires effort. The first step is to hit the pause button on your reactions when you’re in the moment (and your reactions may be different from your spouse’s/partner’s)—you cannot be empathic if your perspective/reactions leave little room to imagine what your partner is going through.
This is the most important step and most people get stuck here because they wrongly assume:
- That being empathic means having to give up your own perspective/reactions;
- That being empathic is akin to agreeing with the other person (even when you don’t).
So are you ready to make empathy a regular part of your marriage/relationship?
If so, start with a situation that doesn’t involve strong feelings—this will increase your chances of success in entering the empathic doorway of your partner’s experience and showing that you understand what is going on for him/her.
Here’s to protecting the sanctuary of your relationship,
Dr. Rich Nicastro
(Featured image “holding hands shows heart shape and affection” by Stuart Miles; Freedigitalphotos.net.