To have a healthy, strong relationship, it's important for you and your partner to feel deeply connected with each other. While it may be easier to maintain this during the honeymoon phase, being vulnerable in your relationship and finding ways to be more empathetic to your partner can help with strengthening that emotional bond.
Being empathetic means you're aware of someone's emotions from their perspective; you feel what they feel. Although it's important to be empathetic in every personal connection you have, it's vital to maintaining a long-lasting romantic relationship with your partner. No matter how long you've been with your SO, feeling understood and heard is a great way to feel like you and your partner are a team. But to completely understand what it means to be empathetic, it's good to know the difference from just being sympathetic. "Empathy drives connection where sympathy can disempower. Empathy is 'I'm so glad you told me that.' You respect your partner's adulthood without judgement," says licensed marriage and family therapist Barbara Cunningham in a phone interview with Bustle.
Whether you use cognitive, emotional, or compassionate empathy, your relationship can grow and become stronger. Need some help in this department? Here are nine ways you can become more empathic with your partner.
1. Put Yourself In Their Shoes
Showing empathy in a relationship can tighten you and your partner's bond. That's why one of the best ways to be more empathetic is by simply imagining yourself in their position. "People who lack empathy tend to also lack an understanding of how they themselves feel in varying situations. Therefore, a good starting point is to remind people to consider how they feel as they endure life’s mixed bag of good, bad and neutral experiences. This exercise will put down neural pathways (which will be strengthened over time) that allow for a person to understand experience – first his/her own, then that of someone else." says New York-based therapist and relationship expert and adjunct professor of psychology at Columbia University Laurel Steinberg, PHD, in an interview with Bustle over email.
2. Communicate About Their Emotions
"Happy couples often show their empathy by communicating verbally that they are taking the time to imagine what their partners are experiencing," says Steinberg. In addition to listening, expressing to your parter that you understand what they're going through can show them that you're being more empathetic to their emotions instead of just dismissing them.
3. Be Active By Asking Questions
Being more attuned with your partner's emotions can allow you to notice when they're down before they even mention anything. When you start to ask questions about their emotional state, it can show that you're invested in their happiness and in the relationship. "They can preemptively ask their partners questions about how things are going, without waiting to be told," says Steinberg.
4. Learn To Withhold Judgement
A true partnership entails growing and learning together. That means helping each other out when they need it most, without judging the other person and making them feel small. "They can withhold judgment of their partner’s choices and assume that those choices were made after careful consideration, regardless of whether or not they ultimately led to success. Believing that their partners are considerate and savvy individuals sets the stage for all good things," says Steinberg.
5. Take Some Of Your Partner's Responsibilities
For long-term relationships, a great way to be more empathetic in a relationship is by simply absorbing some of your partner's chores and daily responsibilities. It can help you understand what they go through on the daily and can help you stop judging. "A fun way to show empathy in a long-term relationship is to take on some of your partner’s responsibilities for a period of time, to really get a good feel for what it’s like to be him/her," says Steinberg.
6. Consider Your Partner's Wants & Needs
"Having empathy, or the ability to look past your own perspective, to that of a partner, helps to optimize decision-making because it allows for meaningful consideration of a partner’s needs and wants prior to acting," says Steinberg. Whether you buy milk before they ask or you offer them a massage when they're feeling down, being ahead of the curve when it comes to your partner can allow them to feel closer to you, which in return, can make you happier.
7. Learn How To Be More Empathetic On Your Own Time
Whether you're in school or not, it's always a good idea to learn new things, especially if it's going to benefit your relationship. "Some couples struggle with being empathetic toward one another because having empathy is a high-order relationship skill that not everyone has been taught, or has taken the time to learn and master," says Steinberg.
8. Be Present When Your Partner Needs You
"Gaining an understanding of the significant value of demonstrating empathy towards a partner can encourage couples to prioritize this relationship skill. Even though one partner is going through a hard time, which might skew his/her objectivity, they should try to become completely attuned to their partners’ feelings in light of the circumstances. This will become a continual two way street, particularly because one partner's hard times often has a significant effect on the other," says Steinberg. While it's never easy to see your partner struggle, which can sometimes cause strife in a relationship, it's important to be there for them even during the toughest times. Imagine yourself in their position instead of telling them to get over it.
9. Strive For Compassion
The thing about being empathic all the time is that it can become mentally exhausting — your partner's emotions might become your emotions, too. In the same realm, try to show more compassion in your relationship to help alleviate that. According to MindBodyGreen, when you show compassion, you're feeling warmth and concern for your partner without overwhelming yourself with taking his/her emotions. This is a great way to still show empathy without losing your own individual sense of how you feel in any given situation.
While there are plenty of ways to be there for your partner, having empathy for his/her emotions and thoughts can really drive a connection between the both of you.