How To Be More Empathic In Your Relationship

Learning how to develop empathy is a powerful way to enrich every aspect of your life.

Last updated on Jun 14, 2023

empathetic couple standing together with the man kissing the woman's head Victoria Roman on Unsplash

What is the purpose of empathy in our lives? 'Empathy' is often a word you use with respect to other people and your expectations of them.

We make comments like “they don’t have empathy” or “they need empathy.” Sometimes it seems as though we don’t have a deep understanding of what being empathetic even means to ourselves, let alone what it means to others.

But what if empathy is linked to your emotional intelligence and helps you become the most successful version of yourself?


What is empathy?

In a study published in 2021 focusing on perceptions of empathy in everyday life, the researchers stated, "Empathy allows us to connect with other people by taking their perspective, sharing their emotions, and feeling compassion for them."

Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for another. Rather, it’s the ability to feel compassion for others in relation to their own experiences. It’s finding a way to recognize "me" in "you."

RELATED: The Science Behind Being An Empath


Empathy can come off sounding "soft" or unnecessary, especially in business. In reality, empathy is the basis of emotional intelligence (EQ). Your ability to understand yourself, your emotional landscape, and put yourself into another person’s shoes gives you an EQ advantage.

If you have ever wanted to improve a relationship, the willingness to step out of your own perspective and step into the experience of another person is fundamental. You're required to take off your self-centered goggles and look from another perspective.

In most relationships, you start off happy full of positive expectations. Then, due to the daily hazards of interacting with other people, those positive feelings can erode and you begin to develop habits of interactions, conversations models, more expectations, and counter-arguments.

You build walls against the annoyances, the hurt, and disappointments and begin to see yourself as different than others; you can lose the ability to care. Your ability to care allows you access to the other person’s emotional landscape. The loss can cause no end of issues.


You might see others’ motives more harshly or negatively than you would have if you had kept your openness toward them. While people are hardwired to care, there are social and cultural impacts that can negatively affect your ability to empathize.

This decline has ramifications on all your relationships. It impacts work atmospheres, and it affects the bottom line. Relational wreckage takes time and resources to fix. One positive takeaway is: What can be unlearned, can also be relearned in a better way.

Conscious awareness, intention, and practice is what you will need. Relationships are a key to success, and empathy is the key to relationships.

So, what’s a person to do to be more empathetic?


RELATED: People With These 5 Personality Types Understand The True Meaning Of Empathy

How to Be More Empathetic in a Relationship

1. Practice mindfulness and being in touch with your emotions.

In a nutshell, it’s time to wake up. This means seeing yourself with clarity. We all feel things, and "awareness" means you understand your own emotions.

If you know you're happy, annoyed, distracted, angry, or hurt, you can take steps to take care of yourself.

Shifting from an egocentric outlook focused solely on "my own emotions" to embracing the concept of "insights" will enable you to recognize how others are experiencing their own feelings as well. Your understanding of your emotions helps you to read and understand other people's feelings.


Think about it: businesses often handle customers in ways no individual would ever enjoy being treated. It isn’t rocket science; it’s common sense. If I were treated the way I'm treating others … how would I react?

2. Show interest in the people around you.

Have you ever had a boss, co-worker, or even a friend, who was terminally set on “output?" It can shut you down if all someone does is talk at you.

Empathy is expressed by actually showing interest in what someone else is saying, not just about what you're saying. Take time to ask questions, work on developing an understanding of who they are, remember peoples’ names, and remember their families’ names.

When you value someone, you will be more likely to take an interest in their perspective on something, and valuing the people around you is important to maintaining your support system, as relationships don't generally work out when they're one-sided.


Showing interest in people matters. I recently read a book called The Charisma Myth by Olivia Fox Cabane, and she talked about this very thing. Charismatic people show interest in others. They are looking at you, listening to you, and responding to you.

You don’t remember what people do — you remember how you feel.

how to be more empathetic

RELATED: How To Be Empathetic & Powerful At The Very Same Time


3. Listen and withhold judgment.

Steven Covey referred to it as the "dialogue of the deaf," a situation where everyone is speaking, yet nobody truly listens. If you walk through the world and don’t care about the experience of others, then reread the above paragraph.

Empathy is grounded in listening. You need to be willing to suspend your own voice, perspective, or opinion long enough to really listen to the other person. Hearing someone is not even close to the same thing as agreement.

So, you're not necessarily agreeing with everything they say when you listen to understand. You're just working on really understanding what they mean and where they're coming from.

Listening is as essential a tool as being able to read or write. Many of the most significant issues in communication stem from misunderstanding and a shortage of listening.


4. Be aware of your body language.

This means your nonverbal physical language. This really fits with listening because you project your feelings by all sorts of nonverbal cues. you can say, "Have a nice day", and mean very different things based on tone alone. Your posture can communicate annoyance or interest, among numerous other feelings.

When you're paying attention and have a goal of curiosity or interest, you communicate that clearly by how you hold yourself, the types of questions you ask, and the reactions and responses to what's being said. All of this, wrapped up in a bow, is presence. Be cognizant of it and intentional about it.

5. Keep an open heart and open mind.

People have different perspectives. we come to life situations from different cultures, experiences, and belief systems. If I care about XYZ and I want a team or an organization to be successful, I want to hear all the perspectives.

Some call this brainstorming, but successful leaders learn to use these differences to make informed changes. It’s essential to ask the quiet folks to speak up.


It’s effortless to get all the extroverts to share, in fact, they will at times overshare, but getting lots of people to share takes paying attention. Openness means you want to hear many perspectives, ideas, insights, and opinions.

This enriches your relationships and helps you stretch yourself past the limits created when you don't entertain enough ideas.

Basic psychology says you like people who like you.


Say that a few times, because it’s crucial.

You feel open and available when you're around people who treat you as important. Not in the “You're so amazingly important” sort of way, but rather treat you as though you matter. To do this, it helps to see people as human beings.

And, yes, humans have foibles, they aren’t perfect, and still, they deserve to be seen.

Empathy is the pathway to increasing your emotional intelligence and having compassion for the people around you.

Empathy is easy to overlook, but you do so at your own peril. Besides, don’t we all need to show up and be a little bit kinder and more empathetic of the human experience that we are all sharing? I vote yes.


RELATED: People With These 5 Personality Traits Have No Idea What Empathy Means

Lyssa deHart, LICSW, MCC, BCC is a Clinical Social Worker, life coach, and the author of StoryJacking: Change Your Inner Dialogue, Transform Your Life. She's spent the past 20+ years as a therapist and coach looking at the stories we tell ourselves and getting curious about the limiting narratives that keep people stuck.