O - Observe
V - Validate
E - Empathize
Today we're up to E for Empathize.
"I know how you feel!"
Five words, well, meant, can cause a lot of damage, because all too often we merely assume we know how another feels...and in a marriage that assumption can carry the weight of a shared life.
It makes the assumption more certain, but it can be just as wrong.
Consider this - does any man know what childbirth feels like?
No. There is nothing in the male experience that can compare, and many a husband, saying "I know how you feel" has only escaped death because his wife didn't want to raise a baby in prison.
Of course, it well might have been ruled justifiable homicide.
That's an extreme example, but there are many others that we run into on a daily basis. A woman might be badly hurt by a cutting remark from a friend...and her husband may just no get what the fuss is about.
A man's impotence in the marriage bed can play havoc with his self esteem, but his wife may see it as nothing to be concerned about...she loves him just as much as ever, but a part of his self-love has gone away.
What to do? How can we be the support our spouses need without assuming we know exactly how they feel?
And the hard thing is, we do know a part of how they feel, if we've been together long enough. But only a part.
The solution is pretty simple. Replace "I know how you feel" with "I'm sorry you're hurting...would you like to talk about it?' (The last part, guys...not to your wife in labour, because she does not want to talk about it at that moment.)
It's not a replacement of empathy with sympathy; rather, it's a respect of the boundary that's there, beyond which you're only guessing at another's feelings.
The empathetic part is in the delivery, in knowing something's wrong, in being willing to listen, and to learn.
"I know how you feel" cancels out learning.
"Would you like to talk about it?" invites learning, and a closer bond, into the void left by pain.
Assuming feelings is authoritative.
Offering an empathetic heart is humble.
Which would you choose? And WWJD?
What do you do to show empathy and solidarity when your husband or wife is hurting?
If you have a moment, please visit me at my other blog, "Starting The Day With Grace". I haven't been as regular posting there in the last week because of some family crises, but will have a fresh entry today.
This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information. It's run by Beth Steffaniak, who has a heart for marriage and a soul for God!