Today I was working with a couple who originally came in with some pretty significant communication problems.
I taught them the skills that they needed to communicate more effectively... But the most difficult skill to teach across-the-board has been empathy.
It is a simple concept but very difficult in execution... I did an exercise this evening with this couple where I asked the wife to reflect what the husband had said and then empathize with the source of his feelings.
To begin with she did an amazing job reflecting back what he said making sure that she understood his meaning.
But when it came to the empathy piece instead of expressing an understanding of how he was feeling she began to express how he was wrong to feel the way he felt.
That's where I stopped the process and began to demonstrate what empathy is supposed to look like.
Empathy is simply this ...understanding through the lens and the shoes of the person you are talking to as to why they feel the way they feel.
I deal with a lot of high conflict couples given the nature of my work... About 50% of my clientele is infidelity which results in significant difficulties when it comes to empathy.
Consider this... Imagine the dramas comedies and action shows that you see in the theaters... The writers tell you a story... A story that helps you connect with the bad guy... You don't agree with what the bad guy is doing but you see how he got there.
Not everyone is the bad guy... But everyone has a story and until you understand their story you cannot understand why they did what they did or why they hurt you so deeply.
Does empathy make anything better? No it doesn't... But what it does do is connect you to the humanity of the person that you love so that you can get a glimpse into the source of their pain and what drove them to the behavior that damaged you.