Book Review 2 | CoupleTalk

Review the Book – Section 2

Defining Empathy

People often have a general idea about what empathy is. Common descriptions include “walking in someone’s shoes” or “viewing the world through another’s eyes.” Here we offer our own definition, one that describes what goes on inside a person who is experiencing empathy for another:

Empathy is putting yourself in another person’s shoes – or heart – and identifying with the other person so much that you momentarily take on his or her thoughts, feel- ings, concerns, and desires.

Empathy isn’t just cognitively acknowledging someone else has different opin- ions. Going back to that “spender/saver” issue for our friends, empathy is not simply saying, “I see that you have a different idea about how to manage financ- es. You want to do it a different way.” No! Empathy goes beyond thoughts or opin- ions. It goes deeper, into another person’s heart, where feelings live. Where our worries or concerns occur, often without being expressed. And where our heart’s desires can be found. The best empathy connects with all of these.

Empathy is a skill, which is good news!

Much research is underway on empathy and how it can be developed. Children are being taught empathy in school; we’ve seen children’s workbooks which teach them that other kids may have different feelings and experiences from their own. Programs that teach empathy have been found to help reduce bullying.

Perhaps you’re realizing that you could use some help in the area of empathy. Maybe sometimes you forget that your partner has a legitimate point of view, and a different set of needs and feelings than you. Maybe your partner has had to remind you that they just don’t see everything the way you do, and they’d appreciate it if you remembered that.

The good news is that you can grow in the area of empathy. Because of the research in this arena and the results we see when we teach empathy to couples, we view empathy as a “skill.” A skill is something that you can “do,” and something at which you can improve. Just as learning any skill, you don’t start at an “expert” level. It takes practice to improve. The same with empathy. We’ve seen countless individuals and couples do the work of learning this skill of empathy, and we’ve seen them reap the benefits in their marriages and other relationships.

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