Have you been accused of being inconsiderate? Or maybe that you never understand your partner’s point of view? Have you been disrespectful without even realizing it? When you can’t relate to how your partner feels, figuring out how to be more empathetic in a relationship can make a world of difference.
As a result, you’ll truly get to know your partner. Ever come across those couples who complete each other’s sentences and intrinsically know what their partner is saying just by sharing a look? Being empathetic toward each other is what got them there.
But, what does it mean to develop empathy and how can it help? Consultant psychologist Jaseena Backer (MS Psychology), who is a gender and relationship management expert, tells us all we need to know about empathy in relationships, and how a little kindness goes a long way.
What Is Empathy In Relationships?
Before we delve right into how to be more empathetic in a relationship, let’s make sure we’re on the same page about what it means. Since it’s not a high school test you didn’t study for, you can’t just wing it.
“Empathy in relationships is understanding the feelings of the other person. In my opinion, it is the single most important factor in a relationship,” says Jaseena. Empathy in relationships can literally amount to seeing things from your partner’s point of view and understanding the feelings they have about things.”
Put simply, you don’t just walk a mile in your partner’s shoes; you feel the shoe bites on your Achilles, you feel their tired legs, and you feel their thirst. And when you feel what they feel, you can relate to them better.
It doesn’t really have to be all that serious, either. When you know your spouse can’t stand the smell of fish, not ordering a sushi platter for dinner is a simple manifestation of how to be empathetic.
“It begets respect, and if a partner does not develop empathy, the dynamic doesn’t progress, since respect is the foundation of any relationship. It’s important for both partners to build empathy since you’re not supposed to be alone in a relationship.”
“To be more empathetic means understanding the other person. It means having clear boundaries in your relationship and respecting them. It means understanding the needs of your spouse. And it doesn’t stop there; it needs to be manifested through actions,” adds Jaseena.
If you’re the kind who awkwardly freezes up when a person is opening up or crying in front of you, don’t fret, there’s still hope. Fortunately, how to be more empathetic in a relationship isn’t rocket science.
How To Develop Empathy In Your Relationships?
“I can never wrap my head around her anxiety,” said Darell, talking about his girlfriend Jess’s anxiety and how he’s often left clueless about what he should do when a difficult conversation results in an anxiety attack.
“Every time we fight or we have a conversation about something serious, she leaves the room and starts panting, saying she has a million things going through her head. All I have going through my head is utter confusion about what I should do next,” says Darell.
On the surface of it, attempting to see the world through your partner’s eyes may look impossible. But when you get to the nitty-gritty of it, you realize the answer to “how to be empathetic” is as simple as asking your partner the same question, so you can both figure out what it is that you two need.
This brings us to the first step in your journey to developing empathy: asking your very own Jess about what you must do.
1. Become more empathetic by communicating more
“Understand when a person says something from their own perspective, without adding your own perspective to it,” says Jaseena. “
“Improving communication in your relationship is the first step toward building empathy. Sometimes your partner may say it through words, sometimes the answer lies in their body language, and sometimes they say it in silence,” she adds.
When push comes to shove, building empathy is all about knowing what your partner wants and needs, and then acting on it. To make sure you don’t just leave it to guesswork, asking the appropriate questions and talking about it can make a world of difference.
Questions like “What makes you happy?” or even “How do you express your displeasure?” and “Is there something I do that irritates you?”, can all help you get one step closer to building empathy.
The more you know, the more you can put it to practice. Jaseena reminds us of the other important aspect of communication: listening. “When your partner is communicating, listen intently to what they say. It all boils down to listening, understanding and acting accordingly.”
Related Reading: How To Use Words Of Affirmation As A Love Language?
2. Empathy in relationships is all about showing compassion
“As a way of showing compassion, make sure you use emotional vocabulary while talking about your partner and your feelings,” says Jaseena. “When your partner is struggling to communicate their emotions, try to help them out with any emotional vocabulary that you may think applies to the situation,” she adds.
By showing that you’re taking the time to process your partner’s feelings and expressing them through emotional vocabulary, you’ll also be showing affection in your dynamic. Think about it, when you know your feelings are shared with the person you most care about, you’re bound to feel a lot safer, aren’t you?
3. How to be more empathetic in a relationship: don’t be judgmental
Picture this: after gathering the courage to, you’ve just told your partner that you get anxious when they talk to an ex. If your partner laughs at you and belittles you for your anxiety, you’re not going to feel too chuffed about it.
When your concerns, perceptions and feelings are immediately met with judgment and scrutiny, you’re probably not going to be too keen on sharing anything else. Hence, to build empathy, you mustn’t judge your partner’s emotions harshly.
“Stay away from being too opinionated. Don’t be overly critical, don’t insult your partner publicly, and always respect their likes and dislikes. Most importantly, don’t gaslight your partner,” says Jaseena.
“Why are you overthinking this? You’re just acting crazy…”, can end up being a severely damaging form of gaslighting in your relationship. Instead of trying to “fix” your partner’s feelings, acknowledge and understand them.
To be more empathetic means understanding a person’s perspective without adding your own into the mix. Since your judgments are a part of your perspective, you must do away with them.
4. Developing empathy through actions
Congratulations, through effective communication, you now know just what your partner feels and why they feel that way. But… what are you doing about it? Is that all there is to figuring out how to be empathetic?
Unless you put your money where your mouth is, it’s not going to make much of a difference. And no, we don’t mean throwing money at your problem, we mean you need to walk the walk.
“You can also be empathetic in your actions by taking on some of the responsibilities of your partner. If you know they’re struggling with some kind of responsibility, offer a helping hand,” says Jaseena.
Has the question, “How to be more empathetic in a relationship?” got you stuck in a rut? The answer can literally be as simple as picking up a task they hate doing. Put your gloves on; we’re washing these dishes till they’re squeaky clean.
5. Be supportive
Support comes in many different forms. Perhaps your partner wants you to take care of something for them, or maybe they just want to feel heard. While you’re trying to be more supportive in your marriage or relationship, it’s also important to try and figure out the kind of support they need.
Here’s something that’ll help: when your partner needs support, ask them if you’re just listening or helping them solve something. When you clear out any miscommunication, you make sure your noble cause won’t end up irritating your spouse.
In the process, you’ll become more empathetic by being supportive. When your partner knows that they always have a confidant and can seek refuge in you, they won’t be worried about you not understanding their emotions.
Related Reading: 12 Ways To Fix A Strained Relationship
6. Find a balance between respect and self-respect
It’s possible that in your quest to figure out how to be empathetic, you may end up neglecting your own needs. Since this whole endeavor started with the intention of both of you being equals, it should stay that way.
“To empathize with the other person does not mean that you put the interests of the other person completely ahead of yours,” says Jaseena. ” You need to be self-compassionate to understand the other person. Only after that, will the other person feel like they can approach you. That in itself is a way of empathizing with your partner,” she adds.
Ever seen couples therapy in the movies? The whole point behind, “When you say this, I feel this”, is to let the partner know about one’s feelings so they can be more mindful of the decisions they make. In effect, it breeds empathy.
How to be more empathetic in a relationship can come naturally to some, while others may need to talk about it a bit more. And when you can feel what your partner feels, you probably won’t do much to hurt them.
If you’re currently looking to be more empathetic in your relationship, Bonobology has a multitude of experienced counselors who’d be willing to guide you through the entire process. No, it won’t be like in the movies, we promise.
Signs of lack of empathy usually look like signs of lack of respect in a relationship. If your feelings are scoffed at and dismissed, or if you experience destructive criticism on your insecurities, or when your partner is simply not able to understand your point of view, it all points to a lack of empathy.
Lacking empathy could be due to unresolved issues that cause bitterness over time, or inherently selfish traits in your personality. Perhaps you’re emotionally distant or unable to establish clear communication with your partner. Either way, couples therapy and improving communication will definitely help.
Regardless of the gender of the person who lacks empathy in the relationship, the bottom line is that without it, your dynamic is highly susceptible to disaster. Empathy begets respect, respect begets trust. In the absence of any of these fundamentals, any relationship is in jeopardy.