Just because we care deeply about another person’s pain doesn’t mean that we are necessarily good at showing them empathy. The most common conversation I have with couples is about how to show empathy. Even the loveliest people can struggle to empathise, which can damage their relationships. Without empathy, we don’t feel supported or understood and the connection between partners is reduced.
So how does empathy sound? Maybe it’s a good idea to compare non-empathic reactions to empathic reactions…..
Eg: I’m so stressed. I’ve got too much to do. I can’t cope.
You’re always stressed
Am I making you stressed?
Sit down and relax
What can I do to help?
You do have a lot on your plate
You must be shattered
I can see how much you do and how overwhelmed you are
Eg: I’m so nervous about having surgery tomorrow
You’ll be fine
You’re in the best hands
It’s a simple procedure
I know you are
I know you hate general anesthetics
I can see how nervous you are
Eg: I haven’t slept for a week!
That’s a bit of an exaggeration
Either have I
You need to go to bed earlier
How hideous. Why not?
You must be exhausted.
I can see you’re at breaking point
In other words, empathy sounds like you truly care. It doesn’t sound like you’re trying to solve the problem and you’re not dismissing the issue. All you’re doing is letting the other person know that you hear them and you understand what they’re saying (even if you have countless ideas on what they should be doing or not doing).