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Posts tagged ‘empathy in marriage’

Marriage: Don’t Fix — Feel

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

3 A’s of Empathy in Marriage

Sometimes, my wife, Susan, doesn’t need or want me to do things for her or fix things for her. Sometimes she’d rather I just feel things with her. That’s what empathy is all about. Empathy deepens a marriage through a shared understanding, perspective, or experience. I realized the importance of empathy from, of all places, an NFL coach.

As I shared in my book All Pro Dad, Coach Jim Caldwell, at the time with the Indianapolis Colts, once shared with me what he considers to be two critical components of leadership. The first one, expertise, didn’t surprise me. But the second one did: empathy.

Applying it to parenting, he said to me, “You must have empathy in both parenting and coaching. Whether it’s one of my players or one of my children, as a leader, I have to be able to put myself in their shoes. Being a coach has made me a better parent and being a parent made me a better coach. Having kids taught me how to empathize with others.”

Through the years, as I’ve thought about Coach Caldwell’s words, I’ve become absolutely convinced that he’s right…and that it applies to marriage as well. Empathy involves both the head and the heart. If you recognize the need to better empathize with your spouse, consider these three A’s to feel empathy:

  • Awareness — Be aware of what your spouse is feeling and what’s behind that feeling.
  • Agenda — Set aside your own agenda and focus on the needs of your spouse.
  • Action — Take action on meeting the needs of your spouse.

Let’s unpack each one of those a bit more.

Awareness. Being more aware of your spouse’s feelings starts with being observant around them. You can’t read their mind or heart, so you have to observe and ask and listen.

  • Read your spouse’s nonverbal cues, like their facial expressions.
  • Avoid making assumptions that whatever emotional struggles your spouse has are all about you. It could be they’re upset about something at work or the kids. When you assume the worst, you sometimes bring out the worst in your spouse.

Agenda. This is about being selfless instead of selfish. It’s about putting your spouse’s needs before your own.

  • Deprioritize your plans. If your spouse is struggling and you have plans, making their needs a higher priority speaks volumes to them. You can’t be selfish and empathetic at the same time.
  • Resist the urge to fix things. Sometimes your spouse needs to hear you say, “I love you and I care about you” more than a game plan for how to make their life better.
  • Set aside your agenda even if it’s inconvenient. I remember having my Saturday all planned out and thought it would go just as planned. So, when Susan wanted to share how she was feeling with me, I got frustrated and let her know that she infringed on my plans. I learned very quickly that my reaction was not only selfish but also didn’t do much to build intimacy in our relationship.
  • Hold your schedule loosely. Being late to church, a kid’s practice, or a dinner reservation may be a small price to pay to really connect with your spouse. If you choose your schedule over your spouse, you might bulldoze your spouse’s heart in the process.

Action. Find something you can do for your spouse that shows that they are your priority and that you understand them.

  • As the saying goes, Actions speak louder than words. There are certain things we can do that tend to be especially effective at filling the chambers of a wife’s or husband’s heart.
  • Actions speak louder than words, but attitudes speak louder than actions. Whatever you do for your spouse, do it with a cheerful attitude.
  • Do things with pure motives. If I see Susan heading into a jam-packed week and I say, “Hey, let me go the store or do laundry for you,” but I did it to get something in return, that’s not loving well.


SOURCE:  /Verily Magazine

Marriage is hard.

The difficulty primarily stems from the frustrating fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus and, according to my five-year-old who is currently learning about the solar system, “Those planets are really, really different.”

It’s not news to any couples who have made a commitment to share a life that it can be painful at times. If love is like a flame (as the artists and poets have told us), it has to be deliberately tended to like the Olympic torch, not left to burn out like a 10-cent votive from IKEA. In my seven years of marriage, I’ve discovered that this kind of attentiveness is expressed most clearly through empathy. Taking the time and energy to put myself in my husband’s place—and check out the view from Mars—is the only way to avoid near planetary collision.

Dr. John Gottman—famed researcher, therapist, and founder of the Gottman Institute—cites empathy as “the key to attunement” with your spouse. Gottman describes empathy as “as mirroring a partner’s feelings in a way that lets them know that their feelings are understood and shared.”

You can’t love without knowing, and the path toward knowing involves both seeking and finding through a gauntlet of blood, sweat, and tears. There’s no X-ray machine for this kind of insight, but there is a way to see and be seen, and that is to really look and really share.

Here are three ways my husband and I have learned to build empathy:

01. Take a personal inventory.

Taking a personality test—not of the Disney Prince kind, but a real framework to understand yourself—is a great starting point. One important thing to figure out is if your significant other is introverted or extroverted. Recognizing that my husband is an introvert, and then understanding that introverts are drained by socializing and must have some recovery time, changed my marriage for the better.

Another terrific tool is knowledge of the Five Love Languages. We’ve all heard it before: “Do unto others as you would have then do unto you.” That is great as a general guideline, but it turns out that can get a little dicey if you’re someone who needs quality time above all but your beloved primarily wants to give jewelry. Or if you enjoy heaping words of affirmation but they fall on the deaf ears of someone who just really wants a back rub. If you’re aware of his love language, you’re already well on your way to increased empathy.

02. Ask and tell.

Things get tough even in the best relationships. Stressful situations can especially wreak havoc if you and your partner don’t intentionally check in with one another to see how each is faring. The best way to find out what is working and what is not is to simply talk about it. Explain what you like—and what you don’t. You can say, “I really appreciate your little love notes but not so much when I find one in the refrigerator next to a completely empty milk jug.” Now you’re getting somewhere.

03. Workshop date nights

If you find that the two of you are talking past one another, it’s time for a date night. This kind of date night is for talking about what you’re feeling—big picture and nitty-gritty—and listening to your beloved do the same. Practice telling back what you just heard to be sure that you really understand it. Misinterpretations are the worst but are easily avoided with the help of honesty and clarity. Avoid being petty or nasty. Don’t let your anger or annoyance get the best of you. Instead be open about how you feel and let it refine your relationship so your man clearly sees what has been entrusted to him.

All of this takes a lot of effort, but regularly exercising empathy will build up your endurance to get you through the worst of times. And that’s exactly how lifelong commitment works.

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