~ Empathy in Relationships

8th January 2020

How do we deepen our relationships? Often we feel we are showing empathy to our partners when it might be we are expressing sympathy or compassion. There are subtle meaning differences in the words, sympathy, empathy and compassion and the differences are significant so…

Let’s distinguish empathy from sympathy and compassion:

Sympathy: It is simple to distinguish sympathy from empathy. Sympathy is easy. Empathy takes work. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Empathy is relating to someone’s circumstances.

Empathy – is an emotional response to a person’s situation or wellbeing. We might put ourselves in a similar situation though we do not own it. In other words we feel for the person though we are not part of their situation.

Compassion is often thought of as the same as empathy, though compassion goes a step further, in that it is usually an action. We may feel compassion for the plight of refugees or abused animals for example and we might donate or do practical action to help these causes.

Some examples of lack of empathy in a relationship might be:

A partner who spends a great deal of time at work for the betterment of the family and the family sulking about the lack of attention they receive and not being supportive.

A partner who is really not in good health and keeps going and through familiarity is not being acknowledged for the effort expended and sometimes actually grumbling when the person is too tired to socialize.

In other words not seeing the actual person, usually not because we are being selfish, simply because we get caught up with lots of day-to-day matters and we have lost our understanding and therefore are not empathic.

How much does your “ significant other” do for you? Do you notice? Do you acknowledge?

For relationships to flourish we need to “see” the other. We need to acknowledge our partner’s efforts with encouraging words showing our appreciation and concern. A line from a Savage Garden song comes to mind , “hat we give is what you get returned”

Alex Roberts