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:
- Listen without interruption as your partner describes his/her feelings about the subject. Maintain eye contact and pay close attention.
- Pause and imagine how your partner might be feeling.
- 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…”
- 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.
- 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.1