Marriage therapists rank empathy among the most important ingredients in a relationship. By being an empathetic person, you will essentially be the glue that holds relationships together. Coupled with compassion, empathy becomes the heart of a relationship; a part that if it’s missing, everything malfunctions and eventually falls apart.
But then, as important as it is, being empathetic in a relationship can be a thin line to walk. Many people feel like being empathetic to their partners make them weak and vulnerable, while others struggle to understand their partner’s feelings and perspective without diluting their own perspectives. And because marriage partners are primarily separate individuals with different backgrounds, it becomes extremely hard for many to make real contact with one another. The good thing is that empathy can be developed in a relationship through these 7 ways:
Learn to be a good listener. To genuinely want to hear and internalize every statement your partner puts across to you. Don’t listen in order to use their statement against them later; listen to get their perspective and to catch all the details. Don’t interrupt when they speak unless they request you to and even when they do, remain respectful all through and don’t try to interfere with their line of thought or argument. You will become a more empathetic person when you understand their perspective.
2. Be Mindful of Your Body Language & Thoughts
Sometimes you will be entangled in your own feelings and perspective to the point of not seeing reason even when it is laid bare to you. Your partner could be terrified by something you did but when he/she tells you about it, you get upset instead of trying to process the intensity of their feelings. That happens because you feel like they aren’t acknowledging your feelings, which isn’t necessarily the case. It is perfectly normal and can be controlled through being mindful of your body signals and thoughts.
For some people, their heart will start to race when they feel like they’ve been unfairly boxed to a corner. There are also those who sweat, their chest gets tight, and some experience shortness of breath. Note your body signal and always pay attention to them. If you don’t get these signals, chances are that you get weird thoughts that keep swirling through your head. Pay attention to those thought patterns as well and take a break from an argument if you notice them. You cannot converse in such a state of mind- you might end up looking sociopathic. Only rejoin the conversation when you’ve calmed down.
3. Give Your Partner a Chance to be Empathetic to You
Empathy is supposed to be a connection; a 2-way street where each partner gives and takes. You, therefore, need to make yourself vulnerable in order to allow your partner to be empathetic to you. Give them the chance to connect with your emotions at a personal level; to reflect your empathy right back to you. That will give you the incentive to be an empathetic person.
Henri Nouwen once said,
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The [person] who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a [person] who cares.”
4. Validate Their Feelings
Don’t compete or argue with their emotions. Don’t even analyze those feelings. Just offer them a shoulder to vent on and then validate their feelings by acknowledging that they aren’t insane or weak to have such emotions. Don’t tell them not to be angry or sad, for example. Refrain from advising them on how not to, or why they shouldn’t be sad or angry. Just understand them and save your advice and feedback for later.
5. Don’t Judge
Life is a learning process for all of us. Your partner will make mistakes and so will you. In that case, it helps to understand that no one has the marking scheme for a perfect life; that a mistake in your world isn’t necessarily a mistake in your partner’s world. You should always assume that every decision your partner made, as much as you aren’t comfortable with it, it was made after careful consideration. If you feel like it wasn’t the best possible decision, go ahead and share your view with them without being condescending, with the understanding that relationships aren’t meant to be a competition of who is right or wrong.
6. Be Thoughtful
First, acknowledge the role your partner plays in making your life easier. You can make them feel appreciated for that by gifting them with a personalized photo pendant necklace or any other thoughtful gift. Follow that up by absorbing some of their chores and daily responsibilities in order to understand their world in a better way.
“It is well to believe that there needs but a little more thought, a little more courage, more love, more devotion to life, a little more eagerness, one day to fling open wide the portals of joy and of truth.”
7. Never Take Them for Granted
Don’t let your job, friends, kids, extended family, or anything come between you and your partner. Let your partner be the primary focus in your life; your main priority. Focus on those qualities and strengths that you admire in your partner as opposed to the reasons that justify taking them for granted.
Final words: Be self-compassionate
Be self-compassionate and practice self-compassion at all times. Be kind to yourself, take care of your body, and tune into your feelings and emotions all the time. That will help you become a more empathetic person to your partner and to everyone around you.