Sympathy and empathy are not the same thing. Sympathy is more like feeling bad for someone. You feel sorry for them. Empathy is understanding the feelings of someone, whether or not you would feel the same way, and whether or not you ‘agree’ with the person’s feelings or reasons for them. Empathy is like compassion — understanding and caring. You are ‘with them’ in their feeling — whether with your heart or your head. You stand ‘in their shoes’ for a few moments.
You would think that of all the people in the world you could easily empathize with, understand, and ‘be with’, it would be with your spouse or partner, the person you most love. Yet, empathizing with your spouse can often challenge us to stretch our empathy muscles more than anyone.
I read this GREAT blog post about The 5 Empathy Fails in Marriage (And How to Avoid Them) by psychologist, Dr. Kelly Flanagan. I love this article and plan to recommend it to my marriage and relationship clients. It is so true and is what I hear so often in counseling couples. So read it! It can help you make your relationship closer and grow you as a person!
How have YOU been successful coming back to a place of empathy, of trying to truly understand your spouse’s experience, especially when he or she is hurt, worried, frustrated, disappointed about something in his or her life — or about something YOU have done or said?