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Cultivating Empathy in Your Relationship

We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know." - Carl Rogers”

In the midst of disagreements or misunderstandings, listening with empathy can be the key to bridging the gap between you and your partner. Understanding their perspective and responding with compassion can transform conflicts into opportunities for deeper connection and understanding.


The Power of Empathy

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It goes beyond just listening to someone; it involves truly understanding their emotions and experiences. When you practice empathy in your relationship, you create a safe and supportive space where your partner feels heard and understood.




What is Empathy?

Empathy is comprised of three different parts: cognitive, affective, and conative. When all three are active, we have an empathetic response or experience. When one or more are not active, then the empathetic response may not be given or stunted in some way.


  1. Cognitive Empathy: This involves understanding your partner's perspective by imagining yourself in their shoes. It requires you to set aside your own viewpoint and truly see the situation from their perspective.

  2. Affective Empathy: Affective empathy is the ability to resonate with your partner's emotions. It means you can feel what they are feeling and respond with compassion and understanding.

  3. Conative Empathy: Conative empathy is the motivation to help your partner and take action to support them. It involves actively seeking ways to meet their emotional needs and alleviate their distress.


Barriers to Empathy

What’s interesting about empathy is that someone may have empathy, but struggle to express it. In these cases, they are most likely described as being unempathetic or robotic. There are many things that might keep someone from expressing empathy. Let’s look at three examples:

  • Perspective Taking: Sometimes, our own biases and preconceived judgments can hinder our ability to empathize with our partner. It's important to recognize and overcome these barriers to truly understand their perspective.

  • Emotional Awareness: Being aware of your own emotions is crucial for empathizing with others. If you're overwhelmed by your own emotions, it can be difficult to connect with your partner's feelings.

  • Shame: Shame can be a major barrier to empathy. When we feel ashamed, we are more likely to become defensive and focus on protecting ourselves rather than understanding our partner's perspective.


Practical Tips for Cultivating Empathy



Even with barriers to empathy, the good news is that empathy is a trait that can be improved! Depending on how one struggles with empathy will impact what needs to be improve.

  1. Active Listening: Give your partner your full attention and reflect back what you hear to ensure you understand their perspective accurately.

  2. Validate Emotions: Acknowledge and validate your partner's emotions without judgment. Let them know that their feelings are valid and important.

  3. Using Empathic Words: Express understanding of your partner's emotional experience. Use phrases like "I can imagine that must be really difficult for you" or "I understand why you would feel that way."

  4. Offering Physical Comfort: Sometimes, a simple gesture like a hug can convey empathy and support. Be mindful of your partner's comfort with physical touch.

  5. Collaborative Problem-Solving: Approach problem-solving as a team, emphasizing that you both are working together to address concerns. Ensure your partner feels heard and involved in the process.


Assessing Empathy Levels

Empathy is not an all or nothing trait. Most people have some empathy even if you don’t see the empathy in action. For example, you might have noticed that you may have more cognitive empathy than affective empathy, impacting your ability to resonate with others emotions. Or maybe you have both cognitive and affective empathy, but you struggle to express it when you experience it, thus impacting your conative empathy. Because empathy is multifaceted and not an all or nothing trait, assessing your empathy can be helpful to know which area(s) needs improvement.


If you’d like a formal empathy assessment, you can reach out to me at stevie@arisedallas.com and we can set up an empathy assessment. After an interview and a battery of assessments, we will sit down and go through your results in a detailed way that will allow you to understand yourself more deeply and take steps to make any changes you’d like to make for yourself and in your relationship.


Conclusion

Empathy is a powerful tool in building a strong and healthy relationship. By practicing empathy, you can create a deeper connection with your partner and navigate conflicts more effectively. Remember, empathy is not just about listening; it's about truly understanding and sharing the emotions of your partner. Start cultivating empathy in your relationship today, and watch as your connection grows stronger.

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