We’ve all been there. You’re having an argument with your partner, and they explain why they’re upset. You listen — you really listen — but they might as well be speaking ancient Latin for all you’re able to understand.
Why would that matter?
How could this hurt your feelings?
I don’t even remember doing that!
And when you’re in a fight, your first reaction might be defensive. None of these things make sense — it can’t be your fault. They’re just being too sensitive!
Stop. Take a breath. And take a pause.
We all have different love languages, core values, and ways we can be hurt. Something could be hugely meaningful to one person that barely registers for someone else. But just because it doesn’t make sense to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t real, or valid, or truly having a profound impact — negatively or positively — on your partner.
Learning to make sense of that impact? That’s empathy. And the more you can grow empathy for your partner, the better you’ll be able to connect with them. The less painful those conflicts will be.
But how exactly can you grow empathy?
1. Practice listening — outside of arguments, too. Find a time that is neutral; no one is upset, no argument is had, and use that time to ask them about the things you don’t quite understand. Be curious. Ask follow up questions. Really listen, and really try to learn; consider your partner a topic of important study. And make sure you do so lovingly; they don’t want to feel like a strange outsider to you. They want to feel like you’re eager to know them more, so make sure you’re speaking with kindness, tenderness, humility, and openness. And keep listening.
2. Look for similarities. What parts of these issues can you relate to? Is there anything about these concerns that rings true for you? Focus on those and consider what’s similar between your partner and yourself. Then see how those similarities connect to the elements you don’t quite understand. Can you find a thread of connection there?
3. Remember what matters. Even if you can’t relate to why your partner might have hurt feelings, you know what it’s like to have your feelings hurt, don’t you? That’s truly what matters. Your partner is hurt. That is a feeling you can empathize with; you don’t have to understand the cause. Focus on the feeling, and find out how you can help. That’s really what true empathy means: connecting to the emotion, validating the experience, and finding a way to make it right.