What’s the E-Word? Email? Ecstasy? Engagement?
Today I won’t be writing about any of those, but about the other E-Word: Empathy.
This blog post was inspired by a video posted on an email listserv that I belong to for Emotionally Focused Therapists, and I thought I would share it with you and discuss the importance of empathy in your relationship.
Empathy is important because it helps us understand someone else’s experience.
Here’s the thing:
People struggling in relationships usually want the same thing.
They are in my office every day: going around in the same circles, feeling unimportant to the other, and picking fights over the small things. At the end of the day, what I most often see in the couples with whom I work are two struggling people desperately trying to connect, but getting in their own way.
They both want to feel important, understood, valued, seen, and appreciated by their partners.
But they feel insignificant, misunderstood, not valued, invisible and taken for granted.
I often use the analogy that when someone is bleeding and covering up their wounds, they can’t pay attention to the wounded around them. This is what happens when 2 people are hurting in a relationship. It’s hard to see past their own pain to see that their partner is bleeding as well.
Can you identify with either of the following people?
Person A, let’s call her Heather. She feels like her partner just doesn’t care sometimes. He shuts down, pulls away, and she feels unimportant and not appreciated. She’s frustrated all too often and can become critical. Underneath her hostility are feelings of loneliness and fear that she just doesn’t matter to her partner.
Person B, let’s call him Ed. He feels like he can never get anything right by his partner. He feels like he is constantly being criticized and the only thing he can do to avoid a fight is to pull away or shut down. Underneath what seems like his apathy is a sense of hopelessness that he is never going to please his partner.
If you are distressed in your relationship, you might identify with either of those depictions to some extent.
Heather and Ed are opposite sides of the same coin.
They are in a relationship together, and each cares more than the other can realize.
Heather sees Ed as apathetic and all of his actions confirm that to her. If Heather wasn’t in so much pain herself, or was able to step outside of her own pain (which is very difficult to do), she might be able to see that Ed cares so much, but just feels like no matter what he does, it won’t please her. But underneath her anger, Heather feels invisible, lonely and scared that she doesn’t matter to Ed.