The Power of Empathy in a Troubled Marriage
- Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
- 2019 12 Mar
You want empathy and connection. You are certainly not alone. We all want empathy and connection and have been made for it. We crave being understood, having someone really know us and tune into us.
We were created for connection. Certainly God had connection in mind when he created male and female—each to complement the other. Each were designed to bring something to the other, creating a sense of completeness. Empathy is a vital component of connection—accurate empathy is not only critical to connection, but also brings healing to the relationship.
The Apostle Paul says this: “Be completely humble; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4: 2-3).
I’d like to suggest this bond of peace is greatly facilitated by empathy—feeling what your mate feels, caring about what they care about and being able to express that connection in a meaningful way. This ‘bond of peace’ brings us closer together, building a sense of unity and togetherness.
While we all clamor for empathy and understanding, I want to ask some critical questions:
Do you GIVE empathy and understanding? Yes, you want and expect it, but do you also give it? You want to be understood, but do you give understanding? Have you created a sense of safety for your mate to approach you?
If you are like most couples working with me at The Marriage Recovery Center, you sit back and become agitated over not receiving empathy. You fuss and fume over not getting what you so desperately want. You grow to resent your mate because of their lack of warmth, compassion and empathy for you.
What might be the result of such resentment? What happens in a relationship rife with resentment and anger? Marriage is, after all, a dance. It is a dynamic partnership, each influencing the reactions and responses of the other. Each impacts the other. Each either rewards and reinforces certain behaviors, or actually participates in creating a hostile, fearful environment; in fact, every action either rewards and reinforces positive behaviors, or creates an atmosphere where mates recoil and hide.
Assuming you’d like to create an environment where your mate learns empathy, and are willing to take some risks to get it, let’s review what you might do to bring that about:
First, be intentional about showing empathy. Modeling empathy is one of the best ways of creating it in a relationship. You can do this by showing care and concern for your mate. Express gratitude for any thoughtful actions. Be an active listener, showing an interest in your mate’s life. Do your part to create a bond of peace;
Second, be intentional about asking for empathy. Ask your mate to sit and talk about your day. Share feelings openly and encourage your mate to ‘sit with your feelings’ without rescuing you. Listen actively to their feelings, showing concern and care for them. Listen deeply for their innermost thoughts and feelings;
Third, rid your relationship of empathy destroyers. Eliminate empathy destroyers such as criticism, neglect and sarcasm. If you are upset with your mate, bring those issues to the fore in a constructive way. Stop all forms of passive-aggression and hostility, eliminating any speech that hurts the other;
Fourth, cultivate connection and empathy. Create opportunities to enjoy each other. Be intentional about spending quality time together. Schedule times for you to participate in activities that bring a sense of connection. If stuck, remember what you used to like to do and begin doing those activities again;
Finally, pray for a warm, empathic heart toward your mate. Be curious about your mate. Show an active interest in what interests them. Show that you truly care. Compartmentalize conflict to the proper time and place, reserving good times for connection. Pray to have a warm, receptive heart and show that to your mate. Showing empathy is one of the best ways of cultivating it in your mate.
Is your marriage in need of empathy? Do you long for a warm, intimate connection to your spouse? Practice the above steps and notice the change. If you would like further help to restore brokenness in your marriage, we are here to help. Please send responses to me at email@example.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse.
Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/dolgachov