The first step in communication with a spouse or partner is empathy. You feel how they feel and you ensure that you can understand where they’re coming from. Your spouse isn’t always going to feel the way that you feel, and you won’t always understand them, either. Usually, though, this is due to a lack of communication and empathy. It’s not just about putting yourself into their shoes and doing the head tilt with an ‘aww’ – it’s about taking action and learning how you can be more empathetic with the person you care for.
You want to be able to relate to your person right? So relating to them means having an understanding of their emotions – including the negative ones. Without knowing the context of their feelings, you are going to misunderstand – it’s an easy thing to do. It’s like watching a TV show with the sound off. Empathy will help increase your emotional intelligence and that will help all your relationships. When you have a good sense of the vulnerabilities and worries of another, you can better generate kindness and compassion. You may have different needs, wants and personality from the person you love, but that doesn’t mean that you are incompatible. You can get on the same page emotionally!
Different Types of Empathy
There are different ways that you can think about empathy. Others in your life are just as real as you are, with the same capacity for emotions and the same experiences you have. Having empathy means being able to accept their truth and instead of invalidating it, listening and understanding. Let’s look at the three types of empathy that you can use in your relationship.
This is the concept of listening and understanding without wanting to fix them. You can hear their problem and tell them you know it must be tough, asking them questions about how they feel in this situation. You can let them talk and you can understand their viewpoint and what they would need to feel better.
In this case, you’re not just listening and understanding what they feel or are going through. You’re taking on their pain and you can feel their pain and sadness. You see their tears and this makes you want to cry with them – this is emotional empathy. It’s a pretty powerful side of empathy and it’s what makes you relate to them on an emotional level.
This is a combination of cognitive and emotional empathy. You can see and acknowledge their tough time, and you feel terrible for them before offering to help if they want it.
3 Actions to Increase Your Empathy
To be able to take action with your spouse, you need to consider how you respond to their stress. If they come home from work and they feel stressed and agitated, you can start with cognitive empathy by listening to how their day went. You don’t judge, you understand and you reflect their feelings back to them by validating those feelings. You allow yourself to take on some of that stress and feel it yourself. You then take the steps to take action; hold them, thank them for working so hard and ask whether they need you to help them problem solve or if they just needed to vent to you. These are the three pillars of being a more empathetic person with the person who loves you the most.
The emotional experiences of your spouse are true for them as they would be for you and you can’t argue feelings. It’s important that you figure out how you would understand their viewpoint and don’t then tell a story to relate their feelings to a situation you once had. You have to be able to listen without judging or trying to fix the issue. Unless you are asked for a fix, you need to hold it in! It is quite likely that your quick fix will annoy them because you haven’t demonstrated any understanding of their situation. In fact a quick fix seems like a dismissal to them.
1. Listen without judgment
To be able to cultivate empathy, you can start by listening, developing language that shows that you understand them and their point of view. You can acknowledge their feelings, but largely, just stay quiet and let them talk it out with you. Listening without judgment, without problem solving, can keep someone trusting you and opening up to you! Practice naming their feelings to yourself so that you can learn how to empathize with them. Your spouse is allowed to vent and talk without feeling that they have to justify their rage or sadness; just allow them space and safety to talk.
2. Validate Their Feelings
It’s easy enough to listen to someone, but it can be harder to validate their feelings if you have an opposing viewpoint. However, we cannot reiterate enough that their feelings are not about you. Tell them that you can see why they feel the way that they do, and stop guessing. If they say they feel angry, just acknowledge that their feelings are valid and they are right to feel any way that is appropriate in that moment.
You might not always agree with how someone feels when they’re telling you, but that doesn’t make it less real for them and that’s the thing to remember the most. Validation comes from letting them know that their feelings are okay and they are safe to express those feelings to you without feeling like they are being stupid. If your spouse is safe to talk with you, they’ll continue to trust that you are someone who will tell them that their feelings are okay to feel!
3. Share and Take Action
Lastly, share their emotional response. Hold them, offer words of comfort and affection and then take action together. Offer your suggestions if you have any and don’t be afraid to ask them how you can work through their feelings together. That’s empathy for you. You’ll see a positive response and don’t be surprised if you get some empathy from your partner when you’re having a bad day!
Getting Relationship Counseling in Lakewood & Longmont Colorado
If you are having relationship problems you probably have more than a few questions. This is normal and we would be happy to help you find the answers you seek. We would love to help you directly address the issues impacting your relationship. Couples counseling can help get you unstuck. It all begins with a free and confidential consultation. We invite you to call us at 720-551-4553 for a free 20-minute phone consultation with a marriage specialist. You can schedule your appointment via phone, or the contact page on our website. We offer both in-person and online anxiety counseling. We’re open to whichever option you feel more comfortable with. We look forward to hearing from you!