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 this final post on the series Getting That Stubborn Stain Out. We will deal with the letter E from COFHE. We have used this acronym to deal with commitment, ownership, forgiveness, hope, and now E for Empathy.
As you may remember I took this acronym COFHE from the teachings of Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott. In their 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?
Our Own Example
In our own marriage we have seen tremendous breakthroughs when we had empathy for each other. Even now we still grow closer every time we begin to understand what it is like to be in each other’s shoes.
Just recently I had a very humbling experience that gave me more empathy for my wife. Ten months ago we shut down our business. It was a bust and it was very devastating to both of us. We had worked that business for three years and even though we thought we were making progress, in the end we were digging our self in over our heads.
Our business was an automotive shop. I did most of the work, but Janet also worked right along beside me. When I say beside me I mean she helped do the physical work right there with me, almost every day and into late hours of the evening. She doesn’t like administrative work, so she jumped in there and did what she could to help me repair cars. She washed parts, worked underneath the cars putting transmissions back in the vehicles, she helped me rebuild transmissions, and she even did the rebuilding of the transmission for my truck. Not bad for someone who didn’t want me to come near her with my work cloths on, back when our marriage was bad.
But here was the problem with our business. I did most of the physical work, I was the expert on whom the business was depending on, I was the administrator that kept up with bills and paper work, it was my so-called dream to have this business, so I thought I carried more of a load than she did.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated her working beside me. In fact we both miss that part. But I thought I knew what stress was at a greater level than she did. I felt like I was doing more on the mental and emotional side of things. I did not resent her for it, but I just didn’t think she understood the level of stress I was under. I didn’t think the burden was as heavy on her as it was on me. Until now.
A couple of months ago I was reading “Mem are like waffles, women are like spaghetti,” by Bill and Pam Farrel. And there was something they said about women and how they carry stress that really struck me.
They said, because of women’s chemical make-up, they tend to have greater vulnerability to anxiety and depression. “In short, women have more to deal with when it comes to stress. Not only do they seek solutions for the situations that need improving, they also have a flood of emotions to process.”
That struck me hard, I began to feel great conviction for my arrogance and I felt great empathy for the burden she had carried in our business and through out our marriage. And yes, I told her that night what I had discovered. I told her I was very sorry and she confirmed that what I had read was true.
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 recognise 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
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with [a]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.
You have just finished How to Solve 90 Percent of All Marriage Struggles. We would love to hear your comments. Tell us your story of how empathy has helped your marriage.
Until next time, keep building an awesome marriage!!!