You’ve probably heard of empathy. If you haven’t you almost certainly will if you’re scanning the Internet researching counselling or are looking for a counsellor.
It’s a topic that is written about quite a lot, especially in the counselling world. The ability to listen empathically is a crucial tool in every counsellor’s tool-kit.
If you are receiving individual counselling you are probably already aware of how nice empathy feels. But it’s a little known fact empathy can also be an ideal way to strengthen your relationship.
So what is empathy, and how can you make a start using it to build and maintain a healthy loving relationship?
What is Empathy?
When you are being empathic, you are really walking in some-one else’s shoes – seeing the world from their point of view. You know that anger you feel when watching CCTV footage of some-one being beaten up on the news channel? You know that feeling of sadness for some-ones family when you hear one of them has died? These are normal empathic responses.
Empathy develops in early childhood, at around the ages of six or seven – at the same time that children are learning about right and wrong. Empathy is a wonderful skill because it it allows humans to identify with the entire range of emotions experienced by others.
It is important in our relationships because it opens up the channels for good communication.
This means that you and your loved one get the benefit of feeling close and connected.
It is important to remember that empathy is not about offering solutions, it isn’t an opportunity to talk about yourself (“Oh that happened to me last summer”) neither is it about talking some-one out of their feelings (you shouldn’t feel like that, or I disagree that’s what happened).
Empathy is giving some-one time and space to express and explore their feelings.
How can you start using empathy in your relationship?
There will be opportunities to start using empathy in just about every conversation you have, but you may need to think a bit when starting to use it in your relationship. Here are two examples to start you off:
- Perhaps your loved one is having difficulties with a manager or colleagues at work
- Perhaps you are having difficulties with other family members
Many couples block empathy, because seeing or hearing that your loved one is upset,angry or hurting is uncomfortable or painful even. You want to take the pain away or you feel a failure if you can’t come up with a pat solution.
You will be giving your relationship a real boost if you persevere: without empathy your loved ones won’t feel understood, respected, cared for, or ultimately loved.
- Don’t think of trying to change the topic, because it feels uncomfortable to you
- Don’t get critical because your loved one does not want your advice
Try to listen very attentively to the emotions in what is being said, pay attention to the tone of voice, body language and facial expressions.
Make sure you are giving your full attention by switching off the TV and other possible distractions.
Show you really care by monitoring your own body language; don’t fidget, sit down together and look at your loved one directly.
Learn more about your loved one by getting curious about their feelings (“I wonder if that left you feeling…?)
It sounds so simple and yet, in my experience, plenty of couples really struggle to manage this.
Very often all your relationship really needs is a good listening to!
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