Why Your Relationship Needs More Empathy

by | Sep 7, 2018 | Communication, Relationship Tips, Stronger Relationships

Why Your Relationship Needs More Empathy

W hen it comes to our relationship, nothing is more essential than empathy. It is what allows our relationship to survive long-term.

The fact is, without empathy, relationships struggle to survive.

They struggle because, without empathy, we lose the ability to understand our partner.

We also lose the ability to share the feelings of our partner.

And, let’s be honest, not sharing feelings or understanding our partner is not the place you want to find yourself in your relationship.

Sharing the feelings of another is essential because, like it or not, we’re all faced with feelings that we want others to share in with us.

None of us exist on an island, we need others.

We need friends.

We need partners.

More often than not, it is from out of our own pain that our empathy is born.

Oprah Winfrey said, “the struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.”

The beauty of what Oprah is saying is that our empathy is found within our struggle.

And, because we all struggle, we can all learn from our individualized experience and cultivate empathy.

So, how do we cultivate more empathy in our relationship?

How do we show deep empathy towards the most important person in our life with the goal of lowering their defensiveness?

Effort Is Our Best Friend

I think we can all agree that effort is the fuel that powers the engine of our relationship.

The minute we stop making an effort towards our spouse or partner, our relationship begins to die.

It’s like my Instagram account.

When I post daily, upload stories, like and comment on other’s feeds, my follower count grows.

When I stop doing all those things, then, low and behold, my follower count declines.

Slowly, at first.

But then, after about a week or so, the pace of decline picks up. Too much, for my liking.

I’m then prompted by the decline in followers to make an effort again.

But wouldn’t it be nice if I didn’t need negative reinforcement to take the right action?

Wouldn’t it be nice to see that, when I display empathy in my relationship, it is going to be a lot easier to help my partner work through any challenges that arise?

You bet it would.

Having the kind of empathy we had for our partner during the honeymoon phase of our relationship was essential to building our relationship in the first place.

If it was essential to building our relationship, wouldn’t it be essential to maintaining it?

Of course it is.

That’s because being vulnerable in your relationship and finding ways for each partner to have empathy for the other is what strengthens our emotional bond.

That’s why I say we need to go back to our successful past, rediscover our empathy, and double-down on our efforts to cultivate more of it.


Here are 7 ways to nurture your empathy:

The next time you find yourself locking horns with your partner, or scratching your head about what to say when they are struggling with a personal challenge, here’s what you can do to bring about more empathy in your relationship: 


  1. Increase your self-awareness.  By being more open to your emotions, thoughts and feelings, you will automatically be attuned to those of your partner.
  2. Observe your partner’s body language. What clues is your partner’s body language telling you? It doesn’t take a body language expert to identify emotional pain or struggle on a person’s face. Studies have shown that only 7% of any message is conveyed through words. That means a whopping 93% of what is said is done through nonverbal elements like facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.. When we see tears, frowns, wrinkles on the forehead, tone of voice changes, you can use those as reasons to become curious. Ask your partner about what they are going through.
  3. Become a better listener. To be empathetic, it helps if you are a good listener. That means you need to delay your thoughts about what you want to say next, and listen. My father was terrible at this, and it was incredibly frustrating. The fact is, a lot of us need improvement in our listening skills. But if you really want to develop a better empathy muscle, you have to learn to give your partner a chance to express themselves without interrupting.
  4. Hold off on judging your partner. A lot of people ask me what I think of a couple and how they are doing when I see them fighting or arguing outside the office. They think I’m judging couples based on how they treat each other as I attend parties, hold playdates with friends, or get together at backyard barbecues. The truth is, I don’t. I don’t judge other couples because who am I to judge? Just because I’m a couples therapist doesn’t mean I’ve got the skinny on what a perfect marriage looks like. So, if I don’t judge, why should you? Rather than jump to conclusions about our partner (or other couples in my case), it is more important to ask questions. Our inquisitiveness is our best tool in learning about another’s problems. And it’s not our job to fix our partner’s problem, it’s our job to help them do that for themself. We do that by holding off judgment and being inquisitive.
  5. Be reflective. Active listening is important. We don’t want to retreat and hide because our partner is expressing their pain or sharing their problem. So, don’t retreat. Stay connected in the conversation and let your partner know you hear them. That is usually done with a head nod, or an “uh hum”.
  6. Put down your views and values. I know you probably want to jump in with your values, principles and beliefs when your partner comes to you with a complaint, problem, or issue. But, rather than putting up your wall, stay with your partner for a moment. Listen to their needs and let them know you consider their issue important. Your turn will come. Be patient.

In closing

My wife and I have experienced a tremendous number of highs and lows. And we’re probably no different than you and your partner.

That said, the key thing that has helped us get through the tough moments like our Friday Night Fights is effort.

Effort has been the secret ingredient to making our relationship work.

Effort is responsible for our empathy and I know it’ll be responsible for yours.

I hope I’ve convinced you why your relationship needs more empathy. The only thing left to do is make the effort to create it.

I know 100% that you will.

Good luck.


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About the Author

Jonathan Van Viegen is a full-time online couple therapist and relationship mentor helping adults and couples improve one of the most important relationships in their life – the one with their partner.

Jonathan’s approach has helped 100’s of clients struggling to maintain a lasting, loving relationship while navigating the challenges of parenting. Jonathan’s goal with this blog is to offer you a behind the scenes look at his life to show that it is possible to create the kind of relationship you desire – using simple skills that anyone can learn.


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