I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, empathy is the single most important parenting technique I have learned. It has saved me in so many situations from getting upset. It has also helped me connect with my children on a much greater level.
I would venture to say it has also been one of the most important things in positively impacting my marriage.
Let’s start from the top and first explain what empathy is. Empathy is defined in the dictionary as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We may often say it’s “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I want to break it down even further and create two new words. I am coining these:
#1 – surface empathy – This is relating to someone and showing them that you understand what they are saying. Maybe it could also be said that you are able to see something from their perspective.
#2 – deep empathy – To me, this is really feeling the emotion or feelings that someone else has in order to relate to them.
I’ll give you an example of each.
Surface empathy – I think this often happens in situations with our children. When my daughter was 5 years old and couldn’t find her shoes before school, I understood it was a big deal for her. Did i really feel the emotion? No, but i understood hers.
Deep Empathy – I recently heard that a friend’s parent passed away. Now this was like a hit in my gut. I actually had really strong emotion as i have been through that situation and recalled how painful it is. I was showing deep empathy.
Both of these are really important to be able to do. They can really impact the relationships you have around you.
So how does empathy help your marriage? Here are a few ways:
1) You realize it’s not always about you. Suppose your spouse gets really mad at you and the level of emotion really wasn’t warranted. In my past, I would have probably yelled back and gotten pretty upset.
With empathy in my toolbox, I try to understand if there was something else that happened before our interaction. Something else is bothering her. Maybe she got in an argument with someone else earlier? Maybe she was frustrated with the kids? I have a tendency to now not take things so personally, especially when i know it wasn’t really something that was my fault. You realize it’s not always about you.
2) As a result of #1, you argue less – You simply have a different understanding of why many arguments take place. When you use words such as “I can totally understand why you feel that way” or “I can see why that would bother you” can really diffuse a lot of situations that would normally turn into an argument.
3) Your spouse doesn’t want a solution, they just want you to listen. When you are empathetic, you are listening, you are not providing advice or solving any problems. You can even repeat back what they are saying so they know you are listening.
4) You don’t have to agree to provide empathy – We may intellectually disagree with their perspective, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t try to be empathetic emotionally. You are putting yourself in their shoes.
5) It provides connection – You will be amazed at the connection it can form. when someone feels that you are understanding them, they are more inclined to be open, share, and feel connected.
Guys, if there is one thing you learn by listening to these podcasts, it’s to be empathetic. I have also seen that being empathetic has helped my business. When I am talking to prospective clients and I really am empathetic toward their situations, they seem more inclined to want to do business with me.
So go out there an empathize!!