by Robert McGuire, Jr., LCMHC, CSAT-C, EMDR-Trained therapist, located in Charlotte, NC.
Empathy is not sympathy
Empathy is getting into the shoes or seeing through the eyes or literally slipping into the experience of another person. Empathy is feeling what I am feeling, knowing what I am knowing, understanding what I am understanding, experiencing what I am experiencing. Empathy is not simply sensing another person’s feelings, but according to Daniel Goleman and Paul Eckman empathy is cognitive (knowing another’s thoughts or views), emotions (knowing one’s feelings about something) and compassionate (having genuine care for another). Given this brief description of empathy, do you think it may be important for the healthiness of any relationship, especially in a couple ship with your spouse or partner? I answer this question with an obvious and resounding: Yes! It is obvious that empathy has a place in any healthy relationship. What is not obvious is being able to consistently offer empathy to another person, especially our spouse or partner.
Other than not actually understanding what empathy is, one of the primary challenges partners seem to experience is how to show empathy to someone you are continually “at war” with. In jest, one can argue “I’m great at empathy. I get angry and yell just like they do.” Clearly, missing the mark here.
However, it displays a common occurrence or pattern with the couple ship that hinders the ability for one or both partners to be willing to hear what the other is saying and respond accordingly. If one partner is being yelled at, blamed, accused, or reminded of past faults, it is hard for the recipient of these attacks to be empathetic. The recipient is often either hurt or enraged by the attacks and thus becomes defensive.
Despite this consistent pattern, there is hope.
It is counter intuitive to just about every sense of self-preservation and requires true humility but leaning into the frustrated partner and empathizing is a better, if not best approach. By leaning in, one is not saying I fully agree with what is being said or how it is being said. It is showing your disgruntled partner that you care what they say and what they are feeling. This shift can alter the entire experience on an extreme level.
Rather than cycling into a mutual argument and rage causing more hurt and pain, by being patient, calm and closing your mouth and opening your ears and validating and affirming your partner’s perspective, you can disarm the assault and allow opportunity for both of you to calm down and calmly speak. Doing this consistently limits additional hurt and pain (attachment injury) and allows for healing and increased communication, understanding, connection and intimacy.
I encourage all reading this post to reflect on your own interactions with your spouse or partner and be willing to humble yourself, taking pride and arrogance out of the interaction. These are destruction and prevent empathy from developing. Then challenge yourself with patience leading the way to not fix but listen and receive and respond.
If you connect to this in your own relationship please reach out and together you can learn the skills to become a better listener, more empathetic and overall, a better partner. I look forward to hearing from you.
Robert Mcguire, Jr., LCMHC, EMDR-Therapist, is a licensed therapist in Charlotte, NC. Robert is available to see individuals or couples in the state of North Carolina, online or in-person. To learn more about Robert and how he can help work with you to reach your goals, click here at https://charlottecounselors.com/robert-mcguire-lcmhc-csat-c-emdr-therapist/. You can also email him at Robert@charlottecounselors.com or call him at 704-578-3323.