Why we're here...

Love and marriage are the greatest adventures in life, and they point they way to our relationship with the Almighty.

We're honored to be a member of the Christian Marriage Bloggers Association...click on their logo to visit them.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

LOVE-U: E for Empathize

Three weeks ago we started a new series - LOVE-U For A Better Marriage.

L- Linger
O - Observe
V - Validate
E - Empathize
U- Unbend

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!


  1. So true, Andrew. It's so hard to do when we see someone hurting. We don't like the hurt that we feel because of their sorrow. So we think that by identifying with them they will feel comforted, but instead all they feel is minimized, diagnosed and alienated--because know one knows exactly how we feel. And learning to be empathic towards others, in particular our mates, is such a worthy pursuit. When I've learned to sit and listen to my husband's feelings rather than "fixing" him or "hurrying him" past his pain, we connect in this really deep way that's soul-to-soul. Thanks for your wise words, my friend! I'll be sharing!

    1. Thanks,. Beth!

      Not being a 'fixer' was an adaptation that came hard for me; I literally wanted to jump up and get things done, while Barbara needed me to sit with her and hold her hand.

      Too many tears until I learned. Far too many.

  2. Excellent advice, Andrew! Now I'm feeling badly because I may have used "I know how you feel" in response to your comment over on my blog....but, we're talking about empathy in a marriage here, right?! Thank you for giving an alternative to "I know how you feel." I'll be using "Would you like to talk about it" instead from now on!

    1. Aw, don't feel bad...in reading "I know how you feel", looking at it in the context of what you write and how you express your heart, I took it as grace.

  3. Thanks for this, Andrew. I need to remember, "Would you like to talk about it?" Great and practical help for marriages or any relationship, for that matter!

    1. Thanks, Julie. It was something I actually learned to use in teaching long before I realized my marriage needed it even more.

  4. Excellent! May we all learn to empathise without making assumptions.