If someone were to ask me, “What’s the most important parenting advice you’ve ever received?” I would tell them, “show empathy.
That’s it. Show empathy.
What is empathy?
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person.
It’s the cliché, “Put yourself in someone else’s shoes.”
Stop for a moment and think about your interactions with people who had really good listening skills. Think about those interactions with a friend who was great at understanding other people.
Those people were good at expressing empathy.
Now, let’s be clear. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is the ability to express remorse for the experience someone else is going through. It doesn’t require understanding and it doesn’t require very much of an emotional response.
Empathy, on the other hand, requires a person to understand and share the emotions of someone else.
There are two kinds of empathy: Surface empathy and deep empathy.
Surface empathy is understanding someone’s emotion without letting it affect you emotionally. Sometimes, this is the healthy thing to do – especially if you’re dealing with a really needy person. But a lot of times, we do this because we are afraid to feel certain emotions. A great example of this is when my daughter couldn’t find her shoes. She had meltdown. I, however, did not feel like it was a big deal. I consoled her, but only showed surface empathy. This is NOT real empathy.
Deep empathy is understanding someone’s emotion and being willing to let it affect the way you feel. You do this in an effort to relate to them. I recently heard that a friend’s dad passed away. I immediately started crying because I was reminded of how I felt when my own father died. Because I let myself feel for my friend, I was able to relate to on a deeper level.
In this article, we’re talking about deep empathy. The real kind of empathy. The kind that has transformed my marriage and my parenting.
There are other places where I’ve talked about the importance of empathy in parenting. That means today, I want to talk about your relationship. Specifically, your relationship with your wife or significant other.
You realize it’s not all about you
Suppose your spouse gets really mad at you and the emotion she’s letting out doesn’t seem to fit the situation. That’s never happened, right?
If you’re like me, you might take it personally and respond with, “How could you talk to me like that?!”
What I’ve learned, however, is that I should make a greater effort to understand if something else happened earlier in the day. I ask myself, “Did the children bother her today? Did something bad happen at work? Did she talk to my mother?”
You will save yourself and your partner a lot of trouble if you can stop and put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
In other words, it’s not all about you. And life is so much more fun when you understand that.
You argue a lot less
When you are empathetic, you understand why arguments are happening and can nip them in the bud before they even begin. Phrases like, “I can see why might feel that way,” or, “I can understand where you’re coming from,” quickly defuse a situation in which there’s heightened emotion.
You validate your partner
An empathetic man doesn’t try to fix. He seeks to understand other people.
Women don’t want you to solve their problems. They want you to listen and hear what they have to say. I’ve had to train myself to say, “That sucks. I’m sorry you’re going through that right now.”
This may sound like surface-level empathy, but it’s not. Validation requires extremely good listening, a key component of deep empathy. And if you fake it, she’ll notice.
Here’s an extra tip from one dude to another: Unless they ask you for your opinion, there’s no reason to offer your advice.
Just utilize good listening skills.
Podcast Ep. 155 Empathy Can Change Your Life For the Better
You don’t have to agree
This one is short but essential. When you become good at expressing empathy, you can put up with the fact that you and your significant other don’t agree.
The phrases, “I can see where you’re coming from” and “Agree to disagree” become acceptable responses to an argument.
But trust me, this is the most challenging part of being empathetic. Men are terrible at dropping their pride and letting a disagreement go. So, you’re going to have to be intentional about this one.
It provides connection
If you can get this right, you’ll be amazed at the connection your partner feels with you.
Empathy provides a bridge between you and other people. And in the context of your marriage or your love relationship, it can be a bridge into a deeper, more loving, genuine marriage – the kind of relationship everyone wants.
And guys, listen to me. This connection improves EVERY area of your love relationship. Know what I mean?
Let’s recap. If there is ONE thing you can learn from me, it’s this: be empathetic. Every single relationship in your life will get better if you can figure it out.
We’d love to hear from you. Is this a struggle for you? Have you had any success stories you’d like to share with our community? Let us know!