By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
Empathy is defined as the identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives. It’s a critical component to success in all types of relationships, but it’s particularly valuable in marriage, a place where peace and harmony are paramount to success.
Practicing empathy can effectively neutralize conflict and restore peace to your marriage. Here are 5 ways being empathic toward your spouse can benefit you both and nurture lifelong love.
1. EMPATHY OPENS YOUR EYES TO ANOTHER POINT OF VIEW.
When you empathize with a person, you put yourself in their shoes. You’re able to view things from their perspective. Empathy gets you out of your own head and gives you a chance to consider situations from a variety of angles. This is especially helpful when you’re working through conflict with your husband or wife.
When you’re in defense mode during a fight, you’re invested in protecting and promoting your own opinion on the issue at hand. It can be difficult to hear your spouse out when you’re passionate about making your point. But when you put empathy into practice, it can help you step out of that defensive stance and into a more open mindset.
2. EMPATHY HELPS YOU UNDERSTAND HOW YOUR SPOUSE FEELS.
Emotions run high when you’re working through conflict together, and it’s difficult to handle your own feelings, much less identify with your spouse’s. Practicing empathy will help you understand your spouse’s feelings, whether or not you agree with them.
Having a greater understanding of both of your emotions gives you a big-picture view of what you’re both dealing with. If you can get inside your spouse’s feelings, like fear or anxiety, you’ll be able to suss out ways to calm those emotions–or even make space for positive feelings to take their place. Empathy creates emotional safety, which will help both of you come to a resolution with as little pain as possible.
3. EMPATHY REVEALS YOUR SPOUSE’S MOTIVATIONS.
When you’re in the heat of battle (or just a simple misunderstanding), it’s all too easy to make assumptions about your spouse’s motives. Often, we decide–without actually asking our spouse–why they’re taking a certain position on a contested topic. Without empathy, it’s easy to fill in the blanks for our spouse. And unfortunately, we tend to assume that their motives are not in our best interests.
While you might not understand why your spouse disagrees with you, or why he or she made a decision you’re not happy about, that doesn’t mean they’re trying to hurt you. And when you step outside your own assumptions and leverage empathy instead, you’ll be able to see that more clearly.
4. EMPATHY KEEPS CONFLICT FROM ESCALATING INTO IRREVERSIBLE DAMAGE.
When you don’t have empathy for one another, a simple fight can descend into an all-out war. If you don’t check your reactions to one another, you could easily start hurling insults, calling names, and assassinating each other’s character. And these kinds of damaging reactions don’t do anything except run your marriage into the ground.
Being intentionally empathic will help you bite your tongue when you’re aching to scream at your spouse; it will keep your anger in check and help you think about what you say before you say it. If you’re in touch with your spouse’s emotions, you’re not going to want to say or do things to cause them more pain. Using empathy to guide your actions and reactions will never fail either of you.
5. EMPATHY CAN HELP REDUCE THE FREQUENCY OF YOUR FIGHTS.
Empathy is its own special brand of preventive medicine. While conflict in marriage is inevitable, showing empathy toward one another could actually help you to avoid unnecessary arguments in the future. And when you do butt heads, you’ll be less likely to let your conflicts escalate into a full-out fight.
If you would like help with empathy and conflict with your spouse, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.