Imagine something happens like your partner loses their job (not a very nice thought, but bear with me), how are they feeling? You know how they're feeling: devastated, worthless, useless, flung on the scrapheap. They feel scared, sure they're never going to get another job.
Or do they? We often assume we know what others are feeling, especially in our intimate relationships. But how do we know? Perhaps your partner actually feels liberated from a job that was bringing them down? Maybe they see this as an opportunity to change their life, go back to college, to retrain. Perhaps they see it as the best thing that’s ever happened to them?
We hear the phrase so often ‘I know exactly how you feel,’ but it’s not a very helpful thing to say, because in actual fact, we can’t know how someone else is feeling. We can imagine how they’re feeling, but we may be completely wrong.
‘Empathy’ means walking in another person’s shoes, trying to understand how they think and feel by imagining being them, entering their world.
You see the world and the situation from their perspective, not yours.
How can empathy help your relationship? Well, it’s important to try to understand each other, in fact, research at the Harvard Medical School has shown that to keep a partner happy, all we have to do is to try to understand them. Just the effort of trying is enough to show someone that their partner cares about them.
A lack of empathy in relationships can lead to unhappiness and even break-up. Does the phrase 'my partner doesn't understand me' ring any bells?
So, how do you increase your empathy? Is it something inbuilt, or can you learn it? My view is that you can learn it, but like anything you learn, it takes practice. Here are some things to try: