The word empathy creates confusion with some as it is often linked with or used in conjunction with sympathy. These two are very different as they are experienced by someone going through a tough time or when trying to explain to their spouse what is bothering them. Brene Brown provides a nice definition in her post (Brown, 2013). She describes empathy as “feeling with someone,” and that it is a choice whereby I have to connect what you are feeling with something in me that can feel that same feeling. Brene notes that empathy fuels connection where sympathy can drive apart connections.
In the marital space, it is very difficult to build empathy for many reasons. We may not fully understand emotions in general or we may not be able to connect what our spouse is feeling with a similar experience. We may want to offer solutions to their problems, which drives insecure connections and can result in the other person feeling lonely and not valued. We may not want to connect on an emotional level because we are uncomfortable being in that space. Regardless of the reasons, we must be intentional about understanding what my spouse is feeling and really work toward sharing that same emotional feeling.
The positive results from working at building your empathy skills is that it will increase marital satisfaction, increase your positive feelings for your spouse, and provide a secure attached relationship where emotional bonds are formed. Your spouse will feel like they are important to you and will move forward much quicker with your support. Again, this is a choice and it requires vulnerability on both partners. However, the benefits far outweigh the awkwardness you may feel about trying to understand your partner.
Finally, this level of connection will help you learn so much about your spouse. I have discussed this point in previous blogs that the more you learn about your spouse, the easier it is to communicate and navigate the many curve balls you will have thrown at you during the course of your relationship. The more you know, the better equipped you are to know what to do in many situations and under a variety of circumstances. The main point of communication is to learn about various triggers and their emotional impact on the well-being of your spouse.
Brown, B. (2013, December, 10). Brené Brown on empathy. TheRSAorg, director. YouTube, YouTube, 10 Dec. 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw. Accessed 14 Oct. 2022.
Charles Bower, LPC Associate
My passion is relationships of all kinds. I have been working with people dealing with relationship issues, both professionally and personally, for several years and still see the potential in every relationship to not only survive, but to thrive. I also have experience with biblical and Christian counseling, which is also a passion of mine. However, I do not impose my beliefs on any client and have successfully navigated working with clients of varying world views and spiritual beliefs.