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Practicing Empathy with your Partner in an Argument

Most simply stated, empathy is the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes – and also the willingness to respond to the person’s needs. It’s one of the most important components of a happy, healthy relationship. Lack of empathy is a common problem with couples and can stem from never learning how to be empathetic from their primary caregivers or other important people in their lives. The good news is – it can be taught.

Here are 5 tips to start practicing empathic communication when discussing a difficult subject:

  1. Listen without interruption as your partner describes his/her feelings about the subject.  Maintain eye contact and pay close attention.
  2. Pause and imagine how your partner might be feeling.
  3. Reflect back what the partner has said in regards to their feelings like, “What I’m hearing you say is that you’re upset because…”
  4. Validate their feelings such as, “I understand how you would be upset…” You don’t have to get why – just allow them to have their feelings.
  5. Offer support by saying something like, “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way, let’s figure this out together.”  If an apology for your behavior is appropriate, do so.  A hug or loving physical touch might also be another connecting and supportive action.

If you’re having a disagreement with your partner, sometimes it’s hard to get to a place of empathy for each other.  But if you slow things down and get out of your anger or hurt long enough to imagine what the other is feeling – you’re on your way to empathetic communication, one of the elements of a loving, emotionally safe and securely attached relationship.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.