Wrestling With A Pandemic-Strained Relationship? Being Empathetic Can Help
How many times has your partner told you they just need you to understand, not solve things, just understand where they are coming from? Just listen. Just let them express themselves. You hear them, you try being empathetic, but at the same time feel you feel stuck, like they are asking you to simply be a brick wall, and not say anything. After all, isn’t listening the opposite of having a conversation?
This is the crux of how to be an empathetic listener, and the people we love need it. Relationships have strained under the weight of COVID-19 pandemic stress, with couples experiencing increased boredom, disconnection, and anxiety as we all head into the pandemic’s second year.
So often what I hear people say is how much they just want to be heard, and feel understood. They want people to be empathic, and not judge them. Especially their partners and close relationships.
True we have to listen to convey understanding, but helping someone feel understood takes more than just listening… it takes empathy. This means putting ourselves in their shoes, feeling how we would feel in the same circumstance, and letting them know we appreciate their experience as best we can. In other words, we understand how they could feel the way they’re feeling, and we get it.
This is the gift of being empathetic, and while simple, it is sometimes harder to get right than we may think it should be.
Empathy might be simple, but it is seldom easy or without thought. And if you’re working to be more empathetic, it can even feel counterintuitive if you aren’t paying attention in conversations. Being empathetic is hardest when you are distracted, fatigued, or just tired of trying.
As the pandemic drags on, and relationship strains persist, I find myself thinking (and talking) more about the power of empathy, and how critical it is to nurturing our precious connections, especially those feeling bruised by the stresses of life.
So, if you too need a refresher on how to be more empathetic in your relationship, here are five key strategies to keep in mind next time your partner tells you they’re upset.
- You do not need to fix anything; being empathetic is enough.
Resist trying to solve anything or change your partner’s mind, or experience. How they feel is how they feel, and even if you are partially responsible, you do not need to fix or solve anything. In fact, trying to do so risks your partner not feeling heard, but instead lectured to, manipulated, or judged. Instead aim to listen, clarify, and understand how she is feeling.
- A mindset of curiosity and interest will help you be empathetic
Ask your partner how he is feeling and what is happening that has upset him. Even if his emotions relate to something you’ve done, the point is to understand how he is feeling not to be defensive, justify yourself, or avoid a painful conversation. If he hears your sincere and loving interest, he will be more likely to calm down and less likely to stay angry at you.
- Empathy means practicing patience if your partner gets stuck in an emotional spiral, or the past.
Patiently listen if she seems stuck in pain points from the past, or as you can see her spinning herself into a pain loop. Resist the urge to remind her you’ve gone over this before, or that the past is in the past. Instead, respond with compassion, remind her you understand how hurtful the situation was, and how sorry you are she is feeling stuck remembering it again.
If the pain is about something you did, again reiterate your understanding of how painful situation was for her, how you wish that had never happened, and how sorry you are she is still wrestling with its aftermath and still feeling so hurt by it. You can also ask if there is anything she needs from you she hasn’t yet heard, and/or how you could further help her heal. Alternatively, you can remind her your commitment to rebuilding trust and ask how you could facilitate her forgiving you.
- A key to being more empathetic is demonstrating love and respect more often than you might naturally.
Leverage the power of positivity, and look for as many opportunities as possible to tell your partner he is loved, he is respected, and he is wanted. If your partner is struggling feeling invisible and misunderstood, these are all sentiments he likely never heard enough of in his life, and may well haunt him when he gets upset. Even if this isn’t a deficit in your partner, few tire of hearing they are wanted, loved, and matter.
- Ask your partner for help.
If you run into a brick wall, remind her you WANT to understand and help however you can, and you’re still learning how to do that. You WANT for her to feel at peace and loved, and are willing to do whatever you can to help her achieve that.
Empathy is a powerful communication tool, and the gold standard strategy for reconnecting and expressing compassion.
Even if you stumble through imperfection, misstep into more pain and hurt, or flat-out get it wrong, it’s in the trying to be empathetic that matters here. Working to understand your partner is the point. It not only demonstrates your love for them, but puts that love in action to help repair the connection you both need.
Looking for more help with balancing anxiety and relationships? Check out my book Hack Your Anxiety and the digital tools I’ve developed to expand the book’s concepts here, or sign up for my free mini e-course here.
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels