Can you relate?
You come home from a long day at work and your spouse starts telling you a story about a problem they are having with a friend, family member or coworker. You listen to the story, hoping your spouse speeds it up and at the end you give a solution. You feel like you helped the situation and your spouse says they are frustrated and felt that you didn’t listen because they didn’t want a solution, they wanted you to listen. You are left confused as you did listen, you are left wondering, “where did I go wrong?”
What can you do to change this scenario?
One of my favorite tools to share with couples is the power of empathy. Mastering the skill of listening with empathy will drive connection in your relationship. The art of being in tune to your partner and showing more empathy is extremely powerful!
What is empathy and where does it fit into your relationship?
Alfred Adler said, “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.”
Empathy is the ability to understand the other person by listening and sitting in their perspective. It is “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”, to feel with your spouse. Empathy fits into a romantic relationship because listening with an empathetic ear will give your spouse a feeling of, “Wow, he/she gets it. My spouse understands me.” That feeling will bring you closer thus driving connection in your marriage.
I share with my couples a short video from Brene Brown. In this animated video she describes the differences between empathy and sympathy and helps the listener see how showing empathy can change the way their conversations sound. We want to validate our spouse’s feelings, not minimize feelings by painting a silver-lining around it as that can sound invalidating to our spouse.
Why is it important that we know how to have an empathetic conversation?
As Cheryl Richardson said, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard”. Helping your spouse heal sounds great and it is a powerful quote, but where do you start? Start with an empathetic conversation.
How to start an empathetic conversation…
- Avoid distractions, put down the phone or the iPad, turn off the tv
- Give your spouse the safe space they need to talk about what is on their mind
- Show interest in what your spouse is feeling
- Make sure your body language is showing that you are actively listening and genuinely interested
- Put aside your viewpoint, sit in your spouse’s reality
- Remember the conversation is about the other person, this is not about you. Your role is to be supportive
- Listen without judgment and with compassion
- Validate your spouse’s perspective
- Don’t try to fix your spouse’s feelings, just listen
- Listen, truly listen. There is a big difference between listening and waiting for your turn to speak
- Do not give advice and definitely do not criticize
- Paraphrase what you heard and ask open ended questions to show your interest and concern
As I share with my couples, showing empathy does not mean that we agree. It just means that after hearing our spouse’s perspective we can understand how he/she feel that way. It shows, “I am here for you.”
One of my favorite poems to share with couples is…
Written by Thich Nhat Hanh
When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet, if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.
Empathy might take some practice but it will be worth it, as the result will hopefully be a stronger marital bond. Learning to listen with an empathetic ear will give the message, “I am here for you. I got your back”. As Brene Brown said in the video, “Rarely a response makes something better. What makes something better is connection.” Relationships will thrive if you both value empathy. If you would like some assistance with communication, conflict, bringing more empathy into the marriage or any other issues that affects your marriage or relationship, give me a call. I can help by transforming the way the two of you communicate with each other.
Your Relationship Expert,