Empathy in relationships helps us meet each other’s needs and recover from periods of conflict.
Empathy in Relationships Can Mean Focusing on How Your Partner Feels Instead of What You Did to Each Other
Sometimes people come into counseling because they want the counselor to tell them who is right in the relationship. Maybe some counselors do this, but I doubt it. In a relationship, both people are right. They are right in their feelings. The difficult part occurs when they try and express their feelings, and that’s when things can really derail.
I worked with a couple recently. They are really nice people, but when they were in the therapy room with me all they wanted to do was convince me how terrible and unfair their partner was to them.
Too Little Empathy in Relationships Can Lead to Blame Games
I grew exhausted listening to their misery and discomfort. I worked very hard to get them to see something different. I tried to explain how relationships work: instead of piling up on one or the other, people have to learn how to understand each other. Empathy in relationships is how that manifests.
Both of them felt terrible; that’s what stood out to me. So I tried to get each person to see how terrible their mate was feeling. This was pretty hard work, because they both wanted to stay in their anger or disappointment toward the other.
Finally, toward the end of the session, I think I was able to help them understand that they have a right to their feelings. Then I would turn to the other person and ask them if they felt anything seeing their partner distressed. What I am looking for is empathy. If you love the person who is feeling terrible, don’t you want to help them heal and feel better?
Empathy in Relationships Can Reduce Misunderstanding
Empathy is critical to the success of relationships. So, considering our partner’s feelings is one of the most important jobs we have as a mate. We are all the backstop for our partners. We are there to help them. Because if it isn’t going to be us, then why are we with them in the first place?
Couples have to learn to understand that even though they have feelings, the partner has a reaction to the behaviors that accompany the feelings. For instance, one of the partners got sad and was always weepy. This had a great impact on the other. The other thought they couldn’t do anything right because the partner was always unhappy.
The one who felt they couldn’t do anything right felt like a terrible partner and just shut down. This behavior had an impact on the other too. The other felt this partner didn’t even care.
Understanding and Empathy in Relationships Help You Mend, Reconnect, and Last
So when they learned about the impact of the behaviors on the other then they actually were able to shed some of their defensiveness and really feel what was happening to the person they love.
And when I saw them talk about it softly with each other and I knew they were sharing something very special, their love.
We think love has to be all hearts and flowers. I know, and I bet this couple is learning, love is understanding our partners even when they are sad or closed off. Now that’s really love, and that’s the kind of love that lasts.
Need Help Bringing Empathy to Your Relationship?
Read a Book About Relationships
Help yourself and your partner develop empathy in your relationship and feel more connected, by reading Linda’s book Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship. It just might help you better see to one another’s needs and to voice you appreciation for one another. Give it a read.
Get Couples Counseling
Come in for couples counseling. Couples counseling can help you and your loved one get the most out of your relationship. It'll equip you with coping strategies and tools for communication that can help you argue less and love more.