Today’s blog post is written by guest expert, Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT
A recent article in ScienceDaily.com is titled, “Women Happier in Relationships Where Men Feel Their Pain.” Those of us in the field of relationship therapy have known that empathy is a cornerstone of a healthy, connected relationship. However, men and women actually want different emotional payoffs from each other. The study by the American Psychological Association demonstrated that, men like to know when their partners are happy while women want the man in their life to know when they are upset.
According to Shiri Cohen, PhD and author of the study, “It could be that for women, seeing that their male partner is upset reflects some degree of the man’s investment and emotional engagement in the relationship, even during difficult times. This is consistent with what is known about the dissatisfaction women often experience when their male partner becomes emotionally withdrawn and disengaged in response to conflict.”
Empathy doesn’t come naturally for everyone and there are many reasons for this including attachment trauma and other challenging family of origin experiences where you weren’t modeled empathy. Men are often not socialized to be empathic to the degree that women are. The bottom line is that if empathy is a struggle it can be practiced, learned and integrated into your relationships. If trauma is part of your story, you may need to begin with empathy for yourself before you can demonstrate it outwardly.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to recognize another person’s beliefs and emotions; to not only put yourself in another person’s shoes but respond to their needs.
So men, we’re looking for behaviors that demonstrate empathy to your partners so they feel your emotional engagement. Let’s look at some of the ways you can do this:
- Follow up and ask her about something that was bothering her.
- Ask her about her day. Listen for the emotional content under the facts and dig deeper with her.
- During an argument listen without interruption and validate her feelings.
- Recognize that she is separate from you and is justified to have separate feelings and desires.
- Refrain from always having to be right.
- Let her see you practicing empathy in other areas of your life.
The presence or lack of empathy shapes all of us from our earliest attachment relationships with our parents or primary givers. It’s an important skill to hone in all of your relationships. Men or women can struggle with empathy. It’s also important to note that the study findings also show that the more men and women try to be empathetic to their partner’s feelings, the happier they are.
Lisa Brookes Kift is a marriage and family therapist, and creator of The Toolbox at LisaKiftTherapy.com, providing tools for marriage, relationship and emotional health. She is a frequent consultant for the media and has been interviewed, quoted or has appeared in numerous publications and online news sources including CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com and Martha Stewart Weddings Magazine. Lisa has an individual and couples therapy practice in Larkspur, Marin County, CA.
Rich Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist specializing in marital/relationship issues and creator of www.StrengthenYourRelationship.com. If you’d like to become a guest expert on his website, please feel free to contact Dr. Nicastro.