How to Deepen Empathy in Your Marriage: Three Key Skills
Over the years you may have shifted focus away from your partner and
Itís easy to fall into the trap of taking each other for granted or just
putting up with each other. One husband described this bluntly: ďWhen I
get home my dog is the only one who seems excited to see me!Ē Make this
year a break-through year in your relationship by trying three powerful
empathy skills to deepen your love for each other.
1) Make your partner feel welcome in your heart.
Focus on those qualities and strengths that you honor and respect in
your partner. This simple focus will restore your partnerís value in
your heart. Joe, a successful physician, and Sylvia, a marketing
executive- complained about their unfulfilling marriage and stressful
lives. The more they talked, the clearer it became that they were living
Their first challenge was to switch the focus away from themselves and
onto each other. They acknowledged that they were taking each other for
granted and that their jobs got the best of them. They ended up giving
each other leftovers. They decided to switch their priorities and focus
on each otherís feelings and needs and to practice daily the art of
welcoming each other into their hearts. Today they are far more
emotionally connected and happier.
Try this: Each day greet your partner with a genuine smile and some
expression of affection.
2) Become interested in how your spouse is feeling
Remember when you were dating? You had an insatiable interest in each
otherís feelings and what would make each other happy. Over the years
you may have shifted focus away from your partner and more towards
yourself. Perhaps now youíve come to expect that he or she should always
be there to support you or youíve gotten too task-oriented, hoping he or
she will not interfere with your plans.
When you disregard your partnerís feelings as unimportant, however, you
are actually disregarding your partner. Understanding your partnerís
feelings opens the door into his or her intimate emotional life and
finding out what makes your partner happy is crucial. You donít have to
be that insightful or sensitive to notice what makes your partner angry,
sad or worried-but what may be more elusive is what makes your partner
Mary and Robert had been married for seven years. She complained that
Robert liked to run the household as if it were his office. He was
caring and responsible but always placed tasks before people. He was
convinced that he was a good husband because he worked very hard to
provide for his family and had never cheated on his wife or done
anything immoral or illegal. He couldnít understand why Mary was unhappy
with him. After all, he thought, wasnít he hardworking, loyal, honest
and responsible? Mary eventually confronted him: ĒYes, Robert, you have
all those qualities, but you donít give me what I want.Ē Throughout
their marriage he played the role of the good husband, according to him.
Finally he realized that he was a good husband only if Mary felt loved
by him. Mary wanted a husband that focused first on loving her and the
kids and then on completing tasks. He also discovered that Mary felt
loved by him when he understood and valued her feelings.
Try this once a week: Ask your partner what you could do during that
week to bring him or her joy.
3) Validate your partnerís feelings.
Validating your partnerís feelings means valuing what he or she is
feeling and showing it through supportive feedback. You donít need to
analyze or judge the validity of those feelings but simply appreciate
that he or she has shared them.
Mark and Tiffany had difficulty validating each otherís feelings. Their
attempt to communicate with each other usually followed a predictable
pattern of failure. When Tiffany shared anger, worry or sadness, Mark
tried to help her by offering advice on how to solve or prevent the
situation that caused those negative feelings. Tiffany wanted to feel
Whenever Mark gave her unsolicited advice, she became upset with him.
Mark, in turn, felt upset that she didnít appreciate his genuine desire
to help with her problem and began to withdraw emotionally. Tiffany felt
his detachment and began to resent and criticize his emotional
insensitivity and shared her feelings again only with reluctance.
Fortunately they broke this negative cycle by learning to validate each
otherís feelings. Mark began to validate Tiffany by saying, ďI can see
how upsetting that was for you. Is there anything that I can do to help
you now?Ē Now their sharing leads to greater emotional intimacy.
Try this: When your partner shares feelings with you, value what he or
she shared, without offering solutions or unsolicited advice.
Fr. Andrew Manickam OFM Cap