A healthy relationship requires many qualities in order to blossom and grow. Virtues like respect and trust are critical in providing a solid foundation in a relationship, but empathy is essential in forming that deeper connection between you and your significant other.
One study shows that the perception of feeling understood, or being shown empathy, is a key component of satisfaction in romantic partnerships. Researchers propose that having someone understanding our feelings allows us to better acknowledge these emotions and enables us to ultimately live more satisfying lives (Cramer & Jowett, 2010).
Empathy, according to Psychology Today, is “the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective.” This can also be thought of as ‘perspective taking’, or envisioning how someone else is feeling in a given situation.
A three component model of empathy was first introduced by researchers Norma Feshbach and Shari Kuchenbecker. Accomplishing complete empathy requires all parts of the following model:
1. The ability to distinguish and label the feelings of others.
We must be able to read and recognize how our partner feels in a given situation. Consider the way your partner might emotionally handle a given situation and how they might be affected because of it. In other words, being able to pinpoint the feeling that the other person is experiencing.
2. The ability to take on others’ perspectives.
Beyond just identifying another’s feelings, we must also be able to see the situation through their eyes. Use what you know about them. Understand why they are feeling this way- everyone sees a situation differently. Everyone has a different perspective, and long-term relationships allow us to see how our partner may respond to different situations.
3. Emotional capacity and responsiveness.
Essentially, we must be able to emotionally connect with our partners and react quickly and positively. To actually feel what they are feeling, and share their pain or happiness. This goes beyond the first two points and is the most critical. We must emotionally connect and share the same feelings experienced by your significant other. Fulfilling this point involves actually experiencing the emotion with them, and feeling exactly what they are feeling.
It is easy to get caught up in our own mindset, or become distracted by day to day life, and thus fail to see things in any other way. It’s also common to become frustrated when we do not understand our partner’s feelings and perspective. If you don’t catch yourself, this frustration can distance yourself from that emotional connection and severely damage your relationship. Furthermore, if we fall victim to a selfish mindset we will fail to empathize with our partners.
With just the right dose of empathy, the emotional connection between you and your significant other can greatly improve your relationship and bond.
Cramer, D., & Jowett, S. (2010). Perceived empathy, accurate empathy and relationship satisfaction in heterosexual couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 327–349. doi:10.1177/0265407509348384