A successful, supportive intimate relationship can be one of the most rewarding relationships a person will ever have. But achieving this type of union can be challenging. For some couples, communication can seem one sided, and effective dialogue is rare. However, licensed psychotherapist Julie Hanks, LCSW, reveals that couples can start down the path of healthy communication by developing empathy. In a recent article, Hanks explains how empathy can help partners avoid frustration and improve relationships.
Hanks has worked with couples, individuals, and families for more than two decades. She specializes in relationship issues and believes that empathy may be the key that can unlock relationship happiness. Hanks says that findings from various studies suggest that relationship satisfaction comes from being able to accurately identify each other’s emotions. She says, “Findings suggest that effort, not just accuracy, positively impacts relationships.” Try to find out what lies beneath emotional pleas. For instance, when one partner is critical or negative toward the other for working too much, perhaps they just want to spend more time together. Rather than getting defensive and viewing the feelings as threatening, Hanks suggests that partners look beneath the words to discover the root of the discontent.
She also recommends that each partner learn how to think before reacting. Negativity and conflict can raise defenses and cause people to react impulsively, saying things that are destructive or hurtful. Instead, Hanks believes that individuals should pause and take time to digest the information fully before they respond. Mirroring is another effective tool. When a partners verbalize that they have heard their loved one’s statement and the underlying needs, it diffuses the tension and creates a feeling of validation and empathy. It may take hard work to develop these skills because they are contradictory to automatic and ingrained behaviors. But practice makes perfect. Hanks says, “Even if you read the emotional message inaccurately, your effort to understand your partner’s emotions will pay off!”
Hanks, J. (2012). Empathy: The secret sauce to a happy marriage. Retrieved from http://ca.shine.yahoo.com/blogs/love-sex/empathy-secret-sauce-happy-marriage-044200327.html
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