Relationship Fitness

S11 Conflict E6: Empathy

In “Relationship Workout for Men” Season 11 Episode 6 titled “Empathy,” Vince invites listeners to consider the powerful role of empathy in transforming conflicts within relationships. He paints a vivid picture of a typical conflict scenario and suggests empathy as a strategy, focusing on understanding and sharing your partner’s feelings and perspective. Vince delves into why empathy is essential for men in building stronger connections, enhancing communication, and fostering mutual respect. Through this episode, he emphasizes that empathy is not just a feeling but an actionable choice that can dramatically improve the quality and depth of a relationship.

 Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 11, Episode 6: Empathy

Let’s say it’s a Saturday afternoon and you’re minding your own business, kicking back with a beer and a baseball game. It was a long week at the office and all you want to do is relax, brewsky in-hand, couch-potato style. 

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, your partner comes at you with loaded guns. She’s raging as her list of things you did or didn’t do that reads like the charges for a serial killer on trial. Her tone nasty, her words even nastier, her expressions full of contempt, she spits poisonous venom directly into your face.

What do you do? Do you attack back, mano a mano? Do you put up your protective shields as you plead innocence? Do you ignore her, dismissing her as a crazy bitch? Do you leave the house in a huff as you escape to your local bar so you can watch the game in peace? Do you just agree with her accusations to avoid any further conflict?

Or do you think you could respond to her with empathy? In other words, do you think you could put yourself in her shoes? Can you find the strength within yourself to try to understand her situation, feelings and perhaps even her motives? 

After all, unless she’s just a full-time Debbie Downer, there must be something going on leading her to suffer as she is right now. It’s your role as her partner to try to understand what’s going on for her so you two can eventually get to a place of resolution (and so you can get back to watching your baseball game before the seventh inning stretch!).

Empathy is a cornerstone of any healthy and sustainable relationship, especially in the context of an intimate partnership. While often associated with emotional intelligence, empathy goes beyond just understanding your partner’s feelings; it involves actively imagining yourself in her shoes and responding with compassion and understanding. Showing genuine empathy is particularly crucial for us men in maintaining the health of our intimate relationships for a variety of reasons. Here are seven to consider:

1. Fosters Emotional Connection: We men are often socialized to prioritize logic over emotion, which can sometimes lead to a disconnect in intimate relationships. Empathy bridges this gap by allowing us men to connect with our partners on a deeper emotional level. By genuinely understanding and sharing in the emotions of our partners, we can create a stronger bond, which is fundamental for a lasting relationship.

2. Improves Communication: Effective communication is vital in any relationship. Empathy enables us men to listen actively and understand our partner’s perspective, even if it differs from our own. This understanding can help defuse conflicts and prevent misunderstandings, leading to a more drama-free relationship.

3. Cultivates Mutual Respect: Empathy encourages mutual respect. When a man shows that he values his partner’s feelings and viewpoints, it not only validates her experiences but also fosters a climate of mutual respect. This respect is essential for a balanced and healthy relationship where both partners feel valued and heard.

4. Enhances Intimacy: Emotional intimacy is as important as physical intimacy in a relationship. Empathy allows men to be emotionally available and vulnerable, which in turn, can deepen the intimacy between partners. Understanding and responding to the emotional needs of your partner can lead to a more satisfying and intimate relationship.

5. Promotes Supportive Behavior: Empathy compels one to be supportive. In understanding your partner’s struggles or challenges, you’re more inclined to provide the support and encouragement she needs. This support is a key aspect for a nurturing and caring relationship.

6. Encourages Personal Growth: Empathy isn’t just beneficial for the relationship; it also contributes to personal growth. By practicing empathy, us men can develop a greater understanding of ourselves and others, enhancing our emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. This growth can lead to more fulfilling relationships in all areas of life.

7. Reduces Gender Stereotypes: Empathy challenges traditional gender roles that often dictate that men should be stoic and unemotional. By embracing empathy, us men can break down these stereotypes, creating a more equal and understanding dynamic in our intimate relationships.

Now to be clear, empathy is not just about being nice or agreeable; it’s about truly understanding and connecting with your partner in a meaningful way. By prioritizing empathy, us men can not only improve our relationships but also challenge outdated norms, paving the way for healthier, more balanced partnerships.

It may also be helpful to realize that being empathetic is a behavior. And as a behavior, you have a choice to intentionally be empathetic or not to your partner.

In other words, empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of others, and it manifests in behaviors that demonstrate this understanding and shared emotion. It is more than just a passive emotional state; it’s an active engagement with the emotional experiences of others, often leading to compassionate actions.

Put another way, empathy as a behavior is displayed in various ways, here are eight to consider:

1. Active Listening: Truly hearing and understanding what another person is saying, without immediately jumping to advice or judgment.

2. Verbal Affirmations: Using language to show that you understand and appreciate another’s feelings. Phrases like “I see how that could be really upsetting” or “It makes sense you feel that way” demonstrate empathy.

3. Non-Verbal Communication: Body language, such as nodding, eye contact, and appropriate facial expressions, can convey empathy non-verbally.

4. Providing Support: Offering help, whether it’s emotional or practical support, in response to understanding your partner’s needs or feelings.

5. Reflecting Emotions: Being able to reflect or express the emotions that your partner is feeling, showing that you are in tune with her emotional state.

6. Respecting Boundaries: Understanding and respecting another’s emotional boundaries is also a form of empathetic behavior.

7. Understanding your Go-To Anger Plays: It can be helpful to understand how you behave when you get angry. If you tend to make weak Anger Plays, then this can get in the way of your showing empathy to your partner.

8. Replace Negative Judgmental Thinking with Compassionate Ones: If you’re thinking negative thoughts about your partner, it can be very hard to show empathy. By replacing judgmental thoughts with compassionate ones, you give yourself the space to step into being more empathetic to your partner’s experience.

To summarize, empathy is a multifaceted behavior that involves both understanding others’ emotional states and responding in a way that demonstrates this understanding. It is a skill that can be developed and refined over time, contributing significantly to the health and depth of personal relationships and interactions.

If you wonder if weak conflict plays and lack of empathy may be fueling drama in your relationship, consider spending about an hour to complete the Relationship Workout Program available at relationshipworkout.com. For any self-discovered weaknesses, you’ll receive several suggestions on how to improve.

So, with that, we complete season 11 where we discussed the foundational question: Do disagreements escalate into toxic drama?

In the next season, Season 12: Anxiety, we explore the foundational relationship question: Does anxiety fuel drama in your relationship?

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