Some people are natural empaths. They feel what others are feeling without even trying, even people they’ve just met. Most of us have to work at empathy a little more intentionally, even with someone as close to us as our spouse. Research has shown that reminding people what empathy is can actually help them be more empathetic. So as a review for those of us who are not natural empaths, empathy is understanding or feeling what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference – or in other words, putting yourself in their shoes.
Seeing things from your partner’s frame of reference increases your connection and does wonders for the way you communicate. Here are three scenarios that show how empathy can have a profoundly positive effect on your relationship:
Have you ever noticed how it’s really easy to feel anger and indignation toward someone when you’re not interacting with them in person? For example, say you’ve been emailing back and forth with a Customer Service rep about a mixup with your order. It’s been going on for over a week, and your problem is still not solved! Frankly, you’re not even sure the person understands the issue – how can they be so incompetent at their job?! You’re about to send a scathing reply when your phone rings. It’s the representative you’ve been dealing with, and you’re caught off guard by how friendly they sound. Turns out this whole time you’ve both been misunderstanding each other. You get your issue resolved, he jokes about you becoming best friends, and your anger has melted away as you hang up. In actually talking to the person, you realized he is just that – a person, trying to to do his best.
Applied to your relationship, empathy is like that phone call. Putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and truly seeing things from their perspective helps you remember that they are just a person, doing the best they can. It’s easy to get caught up in how ticked off or frustrated we are at something they did or didn’t do – that’s normal, we’re only human, too. They’ll mess up, and so will we. So before you hit send on that stinging reply, take a second to remind yourself of the human behind the behavior – your funny, smart, and loving spouse.
Picture the scene: It’s Friday after a looong week. You didn’t plan anything for dinner, but your spouse assured you they’d be home early to wrangle the kids so you can throw some leftovers together. Well, it’s now 6pm, the baby just had a blowout, your toddler is getting crankier by the minute, and the leftovers you’d planned on eating are giving off a questionable odor. Where is your spouse? They’re not answering their phone, even after your fifth call and fifteenth text. At this point it would be easy to start getting yourself really worked up, stewing over how they let you down and making assumptions about why. Just then, they burst in the door, looking disheveled and laden with carryout bags. “I’m so sorry!” they say. “I was in a hurry to get out of the office so I could get across town for your favorite takeout, but I forgot my phone, and there was an accident on the freeway, and…”
Leaning into empathy means that instead of immediately dismissing what they’re saying as excuses, you reallytheir distress over letting you down. They were simply trying to do something thoughtful for you, and things beyond their control prevented it from turning out as they’d planned. Instead of assuming that they’re being intentionally inconsiderate, empathy allows you to see a more realistic interpretation: that your spouse cares about you deeply and 99.9% of the time would not be intentionally thoughtless or want to make things more difficult for you. Assuming positive intent means you can approach and react to them with more kindness and understanding in times of conflict.
Let’s say you have a big project going on at at work, and the deadline is fast approaching. Your small team of colleagues could really use some extra hands on deck to make sure you deliver. If your manager understands your role and can empathize with you, they’re more likely to jump in to help if they can. Maybe they’ve been in your position, and they really understand how stressful it can be. Even though they’re your boss, you probably feel a sense of team camaraderie with them, a sense of “we.”
We know that remembering you’re on the your own thoughts and feelings about it but there’s comfort in knowing your partner is in it you, not against you.is key to maintaining a healthy perspective when you’re not seeing eye to eye, but when you’re fighting with your spouse, it’s easy to feel like it’s you versus them. Showing empathy to your partner is like working shoulder to shoulder with them towards a solution. You can both still have
Experts have found that empathy in a marriage can be transformative. What are some ways you show empathy to your spouse? What effects has it had on your relationship?