Have you been accused of being inconsiderate? Or maybe 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. And if you’re wondering, the couple that has a lack of empathy in relationships is usually the one that’s airing out all the dirty laundry by fighting in public and making all the other guests at the party feel awkward. You don’t want to be them, do you?
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 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 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. Most importantly, 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 looking for empathy in relationships examples to help understand the phenomenon a bit better, consider that time your spouse was irritable because their Monday morning didn’t exactly go as planned. Having the ability to sense their emotion, and imagine what they must be thinking or feeling is you being empathetic toward them.
When practiced in the correct manner, empathy will lead you to doing something for your partner. For example, if their morning breakfast came out burned and inedible, understanding that your partner must be feeling bad will encourage you to get them a breakfast bagel, wouldn’t it?
That’s called compassionate action, and it helps you establish a deeper sense of emotional intimacy with your partner. 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.
Why Is Empathy Important In Romantic Relationships?
We’ll get to answering questions like how to be more empathetic in a relationship or how to be empathetic to your partner, in the next section, but before we do that, it’s vital to answer the question, “Why is empathy important in a relationship?” Unless we do, you may end up disregarding this essential emotion that literally keeps a relationship afloat. Without exaggerating, we can safely claim that empathy, when practiced in the right manner, can be the difference between a toxic or a healthy relationship. Here’s why:
1. Empathy can help work out fights efficiently
If you know why your partner is saying the things they’re saying, if you know why they’re so hurt by that thing you said, if you know why they’re reacting in the manner that they are, you’ll be able to respond to it better. For example, if their abandonment issues are making them react unfavorably, you’ll know better than to make them feel bad about the reaction they’re having.
2. You can cater to each other’s needs better
The reason why understanding how to be empathetic in a relationship is so important is that it helps you know what your partner needs and cater to it. When coupled with love, care, and a desire to alleviate your partner’s suffering, empathy can help you identify what your partner needs and act on it with compassionate actions
3. Empathy in romantic relationships can enhance emotional intimacy
Empathy in relationships examples, like making your partner breakfast when you know they’re too stressed about their upcoming meeting, can help you both establish emotional intimacy. By wanting to alleviate your partner’s suffering and being able to understand what’s bothering them, you’ll only be showing each other how much you care with your compassionate and empathetic acts.
4. Empathy in romantic relationships teaches you patience
When you understand why your partner just said the mean things they did or why their anxiety is getting the better of them at the slightest trigger, you’ll also know better than to berate them for it. When you’re able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, you’ll understand that what they need is for you to be patient, not for you to get upset at their reactions/actions.
5. Wondering why is empathy important in a relationship? It can make your relationship stronger
When you’re able to imagine how your partner is feeling, alongside your own emotions and when you successfully act on the empathy that you’re feeling, your relationship is bound to reap the benefits. For example, the simple act of giving your partner a nice massage because you know how tired they are can help communicate how much you care.
In other ways, when you become more accepting and loving of your partner because of the empathy you have for them, you get one step closer toward a happier relationship. Through empathy, you’ll be encouraged to adopt ways of showing affection that are just going to make all the other couples jealous of your bond.
Sounds pretty neat so far, right? The only thing left now is to figure out how to be more empathetic in a relationship, or how to make someone more empathetic (if your partner lacks in that department). Let’s take a look at all you need to know.
How To Be More Empathetic In A Relationship — 6 Ways
“I can never wrap my head around her anxiety,” says Darell, talking about his girlfriend Jess 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,” he adds.
On the surface, 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. Here’s how to be empathetic in a relationship:
1. Become more empathetic by communicating more
“When a person says something, understand it from their perspective, without adding your own 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 through silence.”
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,” she says.
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.”
By showing that you’re taking the time to process your partner’s feelings and expressing them, 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 more emotional safety in your dynamic, aren’t you?
So, if you were wondering how to be empathetic to your partner, all you need to do is show compassion. The next time your partners’ anxiety issues start bothering them, ask them how you can help or what they need you to do. Compassionate action can be the difference between being ignorant and letting your partner know that you care about them.
3. How to be more empathetic in a relationship? Don’t be judgmental
Picture this: after gathering all your courage, 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 won’t 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. A lack of empathy in relationships usually leads to one partner either always belligerently judging the other or discrediting every decision they make.
“Why are you overthinking this? You’re just acting crazy…”, is a severely damaging form of gaslighting in a relationship. Instead of trying to “fix” your partner’s feelings, acknowledge, understand, and accept 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 mustn’t allow them to take over the empathy you need to develop.
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 of how to be more empathetic in a relationship got you stuck in a rut? The answer can 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.
P.S, if your partner never takes the initiative for compassionate action and you’re wondering how to make someone more empathetic, go ahead and tell them that you’d like them to think of you a bit more. As mentioned above, the only way to have room for empathy is by communicating your feelings, not by assuming that your partner will read your mind.
5. Empathy in romantic relationships is all about support
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 they want you to just listen or help 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. How to be more sympathetic in a relationship can be as simple as that.
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. 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,” says Jaseena.
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.
- As one of the most important fundamentals of a relationship, empathy allows you to develop emotional intimacy with your partner and facilitate a healthier bond
- To encourage it, both partners need to communicate with each other and support empathy with love, compassion, respect, and support
- By acting on your empathy, you’ll be encouraged to help your partner through what they’re feeling, solidifying the support and mutual respect
How to be more empathetic in a relationship, or understanding how to be more sympathetic 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, if you experience destructive criticism of 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.
If you’re wondering how to be empathetic over text, it’s the same way you display empathy in person. A text saying, “I understand how you feel and where you’re coming from, I know what it must be putting you through,” can be enough to showcase empathy via texts. In other instances, thinking from their point of view and telling your partner, “I understand your perspective on this situation,” is how you can practice empathy in romantic relationships via texts.
Empathy in relationship examples are all around us, especially in healthy relationships. For example, if your partner has had a terrible day at work, putting yourself in their shoes can make you understand how tired they are, and you’ll perhaps not expect them to go to that dinner date with you. If you weren’t empathetic and expected the dinner date regardless, it’d most probably lead to a fight that could be avoided by just a little bit of consideration.