The Importance of Empathy in a Marriage
By: Anne Peterson
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.- Proverbs 25:20
When I came across this verse in Proverbs about a person who sings songs to a heavy heart, it made me stop. At first glance, singing a song to someone who is down might sound like we’re trying to cheer them up, right? Maybe the singer just wants to lift their spirits, to show empathy.
It’s just the opposite. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Singing songs to a heavy heart isn’t acknowledging where that person is, it’s trying to move them to where we’d like them to be.
Brené Brown is a speaker I admire. She talks about empathy and illustrates it beautifully using a cartoon I’ll never forget. In it, I learned the biggest difference between sympathy and empathy.
Sympathy will see someone’s state, but will not enter in, nor will it seek to connect.
Empathy, on the other hand connects with the person by getting in touch with a time that he/she once felt like the one who is hurting.
Sympathy might use words that convey that even though things are bad, they could be worse. Words like, “At least…”
Empathy shows wisdom because when we are empathetic, we realize we don’t have the answers. But we can still listen, and still be there with the one who is down.
Granted, it’s much easier to be with someone who is not hurting, but God tells us in Galatians 6:2, that we are to bear one another’s burdens. And that by doing so, we are fulfilling the law of Christ.
God also says in Hebrews 4:15, we have a high priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses. Empathy.
Yesterday, I sat with my husband as he shared something difficult. Something that was troubling him. God helped me to have patience and to just listen to him, instead of minimizing what he felt. At that moment we were connected. I didn’t feel like singing, but just listening. And I realized what a privilege it is to try and share someone’s burden.
Society is focused on feeling good. Replacing hard moments with easier ones, by getting distracted, or thinking of something more pleasurable. How refreshing it would be if when someone shared something difficult, we would be those who listened, really listened.
In Psalm 34:18, God tells us he is close to the brokenhearted. He saves those who are crushed in spirit.
When are empathetic, we are telling the other person they have value. They are worth our time and attention and we accept them right where they are. We don’t have to have the answers. Instead we can do what it says in James 1:19. We can be quick to listen, slow to speak. And we can know if God wants us to say something, he will give us the words. After all, he knows the hearts of men.
If we follow God’s Word, the world may be drawn to the Lord. And if we show empathy, we will be giving someone warmth, like a jacket on a cold day.
Lord, help us to show empathy, in our relationships. Help us to listen and to respond to others around us. Lord, your Son was empathetic. Even though he knew he would raise his friend, Lazarus, from the dead, he wept with Mary and Martha. Help us to be like Jesus. We pray this in his precious and Holy name. Amen.
Anne Peterson and her husband, Michael have been married for 43 years. Anne is a poet, speaker, published author of 16 books, including her latest book, Always There:Finding God's Comfort Through Loss. Anne has also written and published another memoir, Broken: A story of abuse, survival, and hope. Sign up for anne’s newsletter at www.annepeterson.com and receive a free eBook by clicking the tab. Or connect with her on Facebook.
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