How does it feel when you want your spouse to understand you? To understand the reason behind the way you think or feel. They may not agree with you. Their opinion may be different from yours. But you want them to at least understand your perspective. You want them to understand why you see things the way you do. What you want is for them to have empathy.
In Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott’s book, “I love you more,” they said, “Research has shown that 90 percent of our struggles in marriage would be resolved if we did nothing more than see that problem from our partner’s perspective. Empathy is the heart of love.”
They went on to say that, “When we empathize with our partner, we will never look at him or her the same way again. That’s the magic of empathy. It brings more understanding. And understanding brings patience. And patience brings grace……..grace primes the pump for the unnatural act of forgiveness.”
What is Empathy?
Empathy is a combination of two things. You feel for someone with your heart and you have knowledge of what their experience looked like with your head. It is the joining together of sympathy and analysis. Empathy is the gift you give to your spouse that lets them know you are putting yourself in their shoes. As the old saying goes “don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes,” that’s empathy.
It is not enough to just have sympathy for your spouse. That is simply feeling bad for them, which is often a form of pity. Your spouse does not want your pity.
It is not enough to just know what your spouse thinks or feels and offer your opinion on the matter. Your spouse will not care how much you know until they know how much you care. You have to understand the why behind what they feel or think.
Empathy Knows the Difference
When you married your spouse you married the whole package. A different gender, a different personality, and a different history. Their gender difference alone is enough to make them feel and think completely different from you. But also, their history and all of their experiences helped form who they are. There is a reason they act certain ways. There is a reason they see life the way they do.
What if you could go back and walk through life with them from the moment they were born? If you went through their experiences, if you were raised in the same environment, if you were apart of the same family dynamics, what would that be like? How would that have shaped you?
The truth is you can’t go back and walk in your spouse’s shoes to know what their life was like. But you can learn to improve your empathy for them.
Tips to improve empathy.
- Take some time for just the two of you and explore your spouses history. Ask questions on how they felt during certain experiences. Ask them how that experience makes them feel now. Find out what formed their view on life.
- Make a list of the things you believe the two of you differ on. Write down why you think your spouse thinks or feels the way they do on each item of your list. Then take some time to discuss it. When you express your opinion of how they think or feel, make sure you are not accusing them or being critical of them. Ask them if these things you have written down are true or not. Then when the answers come, do not feel threatened by their reasons and do not get defensive. Remember, you’re not looking for an argument, you’re looking for understanding.
- During times of disagreement, set aside the issue and ask your spouse to explain why they see the problem the way they do. Don’t object, don’t ridicule, and don’t feel as if you have to change your opinion. Just take this opportunity to understand them better.
- Let your spouse know what you’re doing. Invite them into a mutual experience of discovering each other in a new way. Share the experience. Let them know you want to understand them better and you want them to understand you better.
Finally, a word for husbands.
Empathy requires tapping into the emotional side of things and it can be a little intimidating for us. But that is where we have to recognize the Lord knew this wouldn’t come naturally for us. So He gave us specific instructions to be intentional and live with our wives in an understanding way.
1 Peter 3:7
“You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”