Practicing empathy is a proven way to get closer and stay together.
Some people are under the false impression that empathy is something you either have or don’t. These people don't understand that empathy can be learned. Yes, some of us are naturally more empathic than others, but there is plenty of room to develop empathy when there is motivation to do so. There are many good reasons to commit to the practice, one of the most important being that cultivating empathy is the antidote to being judgmental.
If you are truly motivated to have deep closeness with your partner, you have to understand them. A conscious effort can be made to deepen that understanding, and one of the best ways to go about it is to ask penetrating questions. You can become closer through a sincere desire to understand their perspective, which may be quite different from your own. Replacing impatience, irritation, and judgment with curiosity works like a charm. Stretch into their world; look at issues through their eyes. Factor in their history and how it has influenced their views to appreciate their style of being in the world.
Linda and Charlie Bloom are considered experts in the field of relationships. They have been married since 1972. They have both been trained as seminar leaders, therapists and relationships counselors and have been working with individuals, couples, and groups since 1975. They have been featured presenters at numerous conferences, universities, and institutions of learning throughout the country and overseas as well. They have appeared on over two hundred radio and TV programs.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Here are 14 practices for cultivating empathy:
- Practice committed, non-reactive listening by tuning in to the deeper levels of their message.
- Move away from right-and-wrong thinking.
- When you notice judgments, remind yourself of the saying "different strokes for different folks.”
- Become more tolerant and accepting of the values and styles of others.
- Make room for the full range of intense feelings in yourself and others—fear, hurt, confusion, anger, sadness, grief, shame, guilt, joy, and happiness.
- Resist giving advice—even if it’s solicited.
- Bring forth warmth, affection, and your open heart.
- Be willing to share your own personal struggles to normalize whatever struggle your partner is going through.
- Bring a sense of curiosity by asking more questions, in an attempt to understand the deeper meanings of their experience.
- Remember that there is no such thing as win-lose in a relationship. There is only lose-lose and win-win. Both of you can win through understanding.
- Show respect for the human predicament. We all make mistakes while we are learning.
- Understand the distinction between unskillful behavior and an individual's character, and be sure only to speak about the behaviors.
- Look for your partner's strengths and remind them of those strengths.
- Be grounded in the truth that we are all growing, and that we all have an innate drive toward healing and mastery.
When we cultivate empathy, the part of us that tends to be judgmental diminishes and other people immediately sense the shift in our attitude. An accepting and compassionate attitude has a strong impact on our relationship. Our partner feels this acceptance and understanding, which helps them accept their own experience, and themselves in general. In the process, the level of fear goes down and the bond in the relationship becomes more secure.