Empathy is difficult to define, and can be even more challenging to express to your wife. Empathizing involves recognizing your wife’s feelings and the cause of those feelings, and being able to participate in her emotional experience without becoming part of it. In a study published in “Clinical Neuropsychiatry” in 2012, researchers found that brain activity associated with empathy was tied to marital satisfaction, with benefits for each partner and their marriage. Even though you may have different experiences and needs, you can develop more effective ways to empathize with your wife.
Give your wife your full attention. It can be upsetting to attend to another's distress, especially a loved one's. You may find yourself directing your attention elsewhere to avoid being drawn in. But psychologists found that couples who perceive empathy in one another have lower rates of conflict and depression, according to a study published in 2010 in the “Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.”
Attempt to understand your wife's point of view. Of course, you will never be able to completely match her emotions. Even if you could, you wouldn't be able to accurately display them. Although you haven't necessarily had the same experiences, you are familiar with your wife and can try to predict, understand and respond to her emotional state.
Be authentic and honest in your response, but try not to project, or place your own emotions onto her experience. To empathize, you can attempt to feel what your wife is feeling, but if you find yourself assuming that what you are feeling is what your wife is feeling, you may be projecting.
Attempt to identify and name your wife’s feelings to show your understanding of what she is experiencing. If you are still unsure, try getting more information by asking questions, and encourage her to keep talking.
Pay attention to your "gut" response. Do you find your ability to empathize increasing as your wife’s distress increases, or that your empathy decreases as she becomes more distressed? If you become less empathetic, you may be overwhelmed by high levels of distress, or you may consider your wife’s display of emotion to be out of proportion to the situation.
- International Journal of Caring Sciences: Empathy and Emotional Intelligence: What is it Really About?
- Clinical Neuropsychiatry: Neural Correlates of Marital Satisfaction and Well-Being: Reward, Empathy, and Affect
- Empathy in Mental Illness: A Perception-action Model for Empathy; Stephanie D. Preston
- Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: Perceived Empathy, Accurate Empathy, and Relationship Satisfaction in Heterosexual Couples
- Listen carefully to try to understand both what your wife is feeling and what she wants before communicating your own views.
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