One Simple Ingredient… Big Changes In Your Marriage
I’ve been a marriage counselor in Denver for over a decade now. As such, I'm often asked, “What’s the key to a good relationship?” Like everything, there are always multiple pieces of the puzzle that need to fall into place including communication, having fun, intimacy, shared dreams, shared responsibilities, and so much more. However, all of the above are things that can be taught in marriage counseling. A good couples counselor can help you learn how to communicate, schedule time together, or create agreement about household duties. You can learn how to get on the same page, sharing a vision for your life, and how to parent together. And the truth is, all those things are relatively easy to achieve if one key ingredient exists: Empathy.
Empathy is the secret sauce, the key ingredient to a genuinely happy marriage. When couples have empathy for each other, they understand why all the other stuff is important and they feel motivated to do the things that will help their relationship feel better for both of them.
The best marriage counselor in the world can't help you if you don't have empathy for each other. If you don't understand (or care) how your partner feels, or what they need from you, it is going to be difficult to repair your relationship.
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So what is empathy? How does empathy save your marriage?
Empathy means that you can understand your partner's feelings. You can get outside of yourself for long enough to understand their emotional truth (as opposed to just your own) and view the situation from their perspective. If you have empathy you can easily understand where conflict is coming from: Why it’s so important to them that you put the seat down, that you show up on time, that you don’t nag, you don't scream, or that you contribute around the house. Empathy allows you to behave in a way that shows your partner you get them… and that you care.
The good news is that you can both learn how to use empathy to improve your relationship. Even if understanding “feelings” doesn't come easily to you, through emotional intelligence coaching, psychoeducation, and personal growth work you can learn how to understand feelings — both your partners, and your own.
When you can truly understand your partner’s experience of your relationship a big shift happens. You get your power back. When you have empathy, the problems in your relationship stop being about what your partner is doing or not doing to you, and turns into an honest look at yourself. When you can say, “What is it like to live with ME?” and view that from your partner’s perspective all of a sudden you get huge opportunity for personal growth and a vastly improved relationship.
Developing compassion and empathy for your partner’s feelings can help you take a fresh look at what you are bringing to the table in your marriage. When empathy for your partner gives you insight into what they need, opportunities for improving your relationship unfold. By focusing on how your partner feels, and being responsive to their feelings, you will improve your relationship.
And, of course, at the end of the day you are the only person you can ever really change anyway. The beautiful paradox is that by your practicing empathy, you partner will begin to feel cared for and valued, and will likely be more empathic and responsive to you.
What do you think of this idea? Something you're willing to try? Let me know ONE way you could show more empathy for your husband / wife / partner in the comments section!
– Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby