The story goes like this: A husband comes home from work.
“Is dinner not done?”
“No honey, the kids have been fighting all day, and I’ve been trying to clean and get stuff done.”
“It doesn’t look like you’ve done very much. There’s laundry all over the place.”
“Well, it’s not like I get a lunch break or peace and quiet all day like you do.”
Do I even need to continue? We all know how this story goes, don’t we?
This is a classic, non-empathetic conversation that won’t go anywhere good. Right out of the gate, there’s a big lack of understanding. This couple is fighting as if there’s a right or wrong here. In reality, about 70% of arguments are over inconsequential things, things where there isn’t actually a right or a wrong. These situations can actually become sweet spots for empathy.
When we empathize with our spouse, we are imagining what it would be like in their shoes and seeing things from their perspective. If the two of you were standing in a room, one facing a corner and the other looking out into the rest of the house, and we asked you what you each saw, one would say “the wall” and the other would say “the kitchen, furniture, the door, etc.” Two completely different answers, so which one of you would be wrong?
Neither. The answer is neither.
Why? Because you have two entirely different views. Same room, just different views. And guess what? Both of them are okay!
When we bring empathy into our relationships, it softens hearts and brings comfort to one another. It says, “I see you. I imagine what this must be like for you. How can I help?”
Now, let’s go back to the original scenario. The husband comes home from work wondering why dinner isn’t done, and his wife responds with exhaustion and frustration over the chores and the kids. Instead of getting upset, he leans in and says, “I’m sorry it’s been a rough day. Honey, is there anything I can do to help?”
It’s like a Christmas miracle, right? Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Now his wife’s heart has been moved from a place of stress to a place of having a helpful resource and comforter. Imagine what it would be like for her husband if she, in turn, said, “Thanks, babe. I know you’ve probably worked hard and had a long day, too, but I would appreciate it if you could play with the kids while I finish dinner.” Instantly, he’s affirmed in his offer to help, and, as a bonus, he’s appreciated and seen for his efforts and the work he did that day.
Unlike the original conversation that was going nowhere good, this conversation has the potential to lead to many good places, including the bedroom! Why? Because there’s nothing sexier than a man refusing to dismiss his wife and tending to her emotional needs and stressors, and there’s not much sexier to a husband than feeling appreciated, respected, and affirmed. (Well, maybe there is, but this is still important.)
Two people who willingly enter into each other’s pain and frustration, attempting to understand it, so they can best support the one they love, will always lead to a win-win in a marriage.
Empathy always leans in, listens, and seeks to understand. Make this change in your marriage, and you will be well on your way to a very fulfilling, safe, and comforting relationship.
Empathy always helps you Enjoy the Journey!
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Expedition Marriage