My daughter left to work at a summer camp just four days after her high school graduation. A couple of weeks later, my wife says to me, “I really miss her.” My knee-jerk relational reaction was to fix things for her by giving her thoughts on how great the summer would be for our daughter. But instead, I was able to catch myself, remembering my wife’s words to me: “I don’t want you to fix it; I want you to feel it.”
While fixing her emotions is not the answer, empathy in marriage is not passive. Empathy is active. Empathy requires an intentional move to step out of your shoes and into hers. Here are 3 steps of empathy in marriage to help you connect with your wife.
1. I see you.
Your wife needs you to see her figuratively and literally. Research shows when you make eye contact with your wife, it tends to create more empathy in you, for her. You can also mirror her emotions. Mirroring (not mocking) her emotions, means matching the look on her face with yours. When you mirror her emotions, it unlocks her mirroring neurons. Mirror neurons are the physiological foundation for empathy. When you mirror her emotions, your eye contact brings the logical part of her brain back online, ultimately helping her feel less distressed.
2. I get you.
Often, when your wife knows you see her, nothing more is required. But, depending on how your wife is wired, she may need you to verbally acknowledge that you understand the topic and the emotion. For instance: “I can see you are frustrated at work because of the lack of teamwork. That’s understandable.” “I can see you feel my mother overstepped with the kids and that makes you feel devalued as a mom.” “You are discouraged with how our son is doing in school despite the time you spent helping him with homework.”
Your wife needs to know that you know. You don’t just hear her. You don’t just see her. You understand her. Once your wife knows you understand and have validated what she is experiencing, empathy has done its job. But depending on your wife and the situation, you may want to consider one final step.Empathy in marriage is the start of hope and the protector of close connections.
3. I got you.
This is when you leverage what you get about your wife to let her know “I got you.” This is the part where you ensure your wife knows you have her back. This may mean you do nothing more than letting her know you see her and you get her. But sometimes, it means you should do something. Maybe she needs you to pick up the slack around the house, tell the kids to knock it off, or say you’re sorry. When possible, if it is your behavior that is causing your wife’s emotional distress, change that behavior, even if you don’t understand it—especially if you don’t understand it. For example, if she is frustrated about your being late, stop being late. The point is, “I got you” is communicating what you are willing to do to help her feel understood.
Empathy in marriage is the start of hope and the protector of close connections.
Sound off: What do you say or do to make your wife feel understood?
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What is something you need me to understand better?”