Recently, I was interviewed by “Good Things Utah” as to what is the secret to a happier, healthier marriage. And really, who doesn’t want this kind of marriage? One in which both partners feel connected, valued, and loved. From my 20+ years of experience as a clinical counselor, I’ve found that fostering the skill of empathy can really make all the difference for couples.
What is empathy exactly? Feeling bad for someone who’s struggling? Relating to someone else because you’ve gone through something similar? I like the research of Theresa Wiseman, who helps us understand empathy by breaking it down into these 4 parts:
See Things From The Other Person’s Perspective
In a conflict or a difficult situation where you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye, begin practicing empathy by shifting your perspective and trying to view things differently. For example, maybe you’re frustrated that your husband just sits around after work rather than help around the house. Shifting your perspective may mean that you acknowledge that he’s tired and needs a break.
The next step to empathy is to not assign value or judgment to the other person’s opinion or experience. Instead, just accept it for what it is. This is not easy to do! Also, refrain from trying to solve the problem. So using the previous example, instead of thinking, “that’s dumb, he gets plenty of sleep at night and shouldn’t be this worn out,” simply acknowledge that he is tired at the end of the day.
Explore the Emotions
Begin to get curious about what your spouse is thinking or feeling. Ask questions to clarify and help you understand what’s happening. You may inquire, “what’s that like for you?” or say, “tell me how you feel about that.” Not only will this help you learn what is at the root of the situation, but it will also begin to convey to your spouse that you care and are interested.
Share Your Understanding
The final piece here is to really express that you can relate and empathize with the other person. Saying something like, “I can see how that’d be really difficult for you. I appreciate the hard work you do for our family, and I can definitely validate the need to come home and relax.” Finding common ground even amidst disagreement helps you two stay connected emotionally and also helps pave the way to find solutions to problems.
Click here to watch the full interview.