“We just don’t seem to connect. We’re nice to each other. We talk about the day, the kids, our work. We do projects around the house, go out with friends and attend church. But when it comes to really getting each other—I don’t think we connect.”
Have you ever felt like this in your marriage? Where life is good, and yet you are yearning for deeper understanding with your spouse? It’s not uncommon for us to have conversations like this with one or both spouses in a marriage. One of the keys to connection is wrapped up in the simple and profound learning of empathy and putting it into practice.
Empathy doesn’t just feel badly or sorry for what your spouse is experiencing. Empathy goes deeper and tries to identify with them; it says, “You’re not alone. We’re in this together.” (see video below)The Apostle Paul wrote of this saying, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15) Empathy is bringing the ability to feel with your spouse into your marriage.
Here are four keys to know about how to connect with your spouse through empathy:
1. Empathy binds your hearts
We can easily get consumed with ourselves and having our needs meet. Turning our focus onto our spouse and putting ourselves in their shoes we can ask: What has their day been like? What stresses do they carry? What emotions are they displaying?
In your attempts to connect at a deeper level, refrain from trying to fix or minimize what your spouse expresses. Instead, use reflective comments like:
“So what you’re saying is (repeat in your words what you heard). Is that right?”
“Are you feeling _______ about it then?”
2. Empathy is a moving target
Your attempt to connect might miss its target on the first, second, or even the third time. Be patient with yourself and with your spouse if they seem frustrated that you aren’t “getting it.” If this is a new practice for you, it may take time to grow in your empathic skills, but you can do it!
3. Empathy increases self-awareness
Entering into your spouse’s feelings will grow your ability to see how your daily interactions in other things affect your spouse. This self-awareness will increase your sensitivity, communication, and even non-verbal responses.
4. Empathy catalyzes thoughtfulness
As you connect with your spouse’s feelings, you have the opportunity to validate your spouse—their feelings are their feelings. Acknowledge them. Thank them for sharing what they are feeling or thinking.
This is about support, not judging their heart, or casting your vote on if your spouse is right or wrong. You can connect with empathy without expressing your opinion.
So as you see each other at the end of each day this week, try putting the four keys into practice. As you do, you will begin to connect at a deeper level as you build your marriage.