Empathy, or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, has become a bit of a buzzword in the mental health space these days. Experts tout its many advantages in the workplace and life in general, but what about its benefits in romantic relationships specifically? This is an area where the latest research is providing new insights….
How Empathy Can Benefit Your Relationship
If there are benefits to practicing empathy with your partner, what are they, and how might you learn how to empathize better? University of Rochester researchers set out to study this question in a January 2023 study. They wanted to see what happened when partners adopted one another’s perspective—were there positive relationship effects from empathy?
The researchers found that when couples practiced “perspective-taking,” that increased their mutual commitment and desire for one another. At the same time, empathy reduced the temptation to cheat, by decreasing sexual and romantic interest in alternative partners.
In other words, empathy increased mutual desire, commitment, and faithfulness in monogamous, romantic relationships.
How Empathy Deepens Connection
Relationship experts have also talked extensively about how empathy deepens connection in various relationships, including romantic partnerships. When one partner seeks to understand the other, by taking the time to listen to them and understand them, the other person is more likely to feel supported and to return that empathy. That deeper connection can positively impact other aspects of their relationship.
How to Cultivate More Empathy and Become More Empathetic
Is it possible to become more empathetic? Yes, although it may be easier for some people than others. Psychologists often offer these tips for how to practice and increase empathy towards a partner:
- Be vulnerable. Be open in sharing your thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
- Do your best to listen well. Give eye contact when your partner is talking to you and focus on what they are saying. Avoid interrupting while they are talking and notice non-verbal cues that may be clues to what they are feeling. Paraphrase back what you heard to clarify if you heard correctly. Ask questions to clarify any unclear points and show genuine interest in what your partner has to say. Resist the urge to give advice or share your opinions unless asked. Thank your partner for sharing their thoughts.
- Give feedback and express gratitude. Validate your partner’s experience. Let them know you appreciate their sharing it and thank them for opening up to you.
As is the case with most self-improvement goals today, there are also apps that teach empathy. Psychology Today compiled this helpful list in 2017, for example.
These worksheets from Positvepsychology.com provide some useful opportunities for practicing empathy in different ways. For instance, in “Trading Places,” you can walk through a series of steps that allow you to arrive at a place of greater empathy and wisdom in a difficult relationship.
These are just some of the many tips and tools available on the Internet for developing greater empathy. With more practice, it really is possible to experience the benefits of empathy in your relationship.