Empathy Tools

Shelley recently did a blogpost writing about humility and empathy (you’ll see a link to it at the bottom). Then she asked me to do a quick video with her about it. But she didn’t tell me what the questions were going to be. They were hard! You can scroll to the bottom of the post to see it if you’d like.

The conversation that typically transpires in my office regarding empathy includes the question, “how do I do it?”  Meaning, how does a guy actually practice empathy. Empathy is so much a character trait developed through sanctification, you can’t just manufacture it. But, you can prepare and cultivate your heart for it. Remember that the idea of empathy is to see another person’s experience through their lens. It’s not asking the question, “how would I feel in that particular situation?” it is instead asking, “how do they feel in that particular situation?”. That person’s life experiences are all coming to bear on the moment. If you have trouble dialing in to empathy, here is a super simple tool to help. Take a look, then I’ll explain it.empathy chart.001


It goes like this:

  1. Identify something that brings up past pain. It could be something happening in the moment, or something from the distant past.
  2. Think about what it must feel like for your wife to experience this. For example-
    1. Buying a crappy birthday present. Especially if its a pattern, how does it feel to receive that from you? Perhaps there have been hints. Or even overt statements about what to buy/do. When you show up with something that was winging it at best, and completely out of left field at worst, what emotions might get stirred. Write them down.
  3. Consider what you feel, for her, when you acknowledge that you’ve brought about these emotions in the person you love the most on the planet.
    1. It’s easy to go into shame mode here, writing things like guilty, ashamed, angry at myself, disappointed in myself, etc. That’s how you feel for you. You want to key in on what you feel for her.
  4. Share it. You can literally speak from left to right across the chart: here’s what has happened and what I’ve done, what I can imagine you feel, and what I feel for you.

For me to cultivate empathy, I had to go through these type of exercises on my own, outside of the heated exchanges. So that meant sitting at my desk in the middle of the day, or while at lunch, or driving in my car looking at a feelings chart and matching words to emotions. I needed to try and practice seeing life through her lens. Sometimes I was only coming up with the right words to match what I thought she thought I should feel. With me? But that’s ok, because I had to start somewhere.

That facilitated me being more able to do empathy when the heated moments happened.

Is this the ultimate fix? Negative. But it is one more way you can tap into your heart, and thus hopefully connect with your wife’s heart.

Here are the links I mentioned earlier –

Shelley’s post on Empathy & Humility

Empathy & Humility Video


Bottom Line

A quick thought to ponder-

What’s your bottom line purpose for today?

What is that baseline commitment that if you meet it, whether or not your day went well, whether or not you performed as a zero or a hero, you can hit the sack with peace?

For me, that is honoring God by being authentic, transparent and speaking truth. If I can function today living out who God has called me to be I can rest. If I tell the truth, both of my life and the life of Jesus, I can rest. If I can be vulnerable and avoid masks and pretenses that portray I can handle life by my own strength, then I can rest knowing I’ve done all I can do.

If we’ll chase after that bottom line commitment today, with all our strength and energy, it’s unlikely we’ll look at porn, go to a strip club, have an(other) affair or be tangled up in the barbed wire of our own egos.

You can do it.


Accommodation for too many wives has become the norm. I sometimes wonder if the biblical concept of submission gets twisted into and applied as accommodation. The idea being that in order to be a ‘good wife’ I have to accommodate my husband and his needs. Which, in theory, doesn’t sound all that bad. If there is reciprocity in fact it could make for a really sweet relationship! But what ends up happening is that the accommodation becomes license to live dysfunctionally.

It shows up in so many ways. Accommodating by having sex when there’s no real intimacy, by acquiescing to irresponsible trips or purchases that hurt the household finances, by overlooking emotional abuse because there’s no physical scars. It also happens around the kids. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from women in their 50’s and 60’s whose husbands were so tangled up in the barbed wire of their own ego, that the wives ended up basically single-parenting and making excuses for why dad wasn’t present or engaged. They were willing to sacrifice on behalf of the kids, which is amazing, but along the way ended up giving him license to shelf his responsibility to his family.

Taking it a step further, it happens on a micro level in my office. I’ll see wives who’ve become so desensitized to it that they take care of making the appointments, they supply a pen and paper for him to take notes and they remind him that he has homework. It’s painful to watch.

Now don’t confuse accommodation with codependency. I’m not talking about wives finding some identity in this. Although that may happen, I’m simply speaking to the unhealthy and dysfunctional pattern of doing life that too easily becomes the norm.

If you can see that your wife has grown accustomed to accommodating, I urge you to take a stand against it. Be the one to call attention to it and go out of your way to ensure she doesn’t have to. She’ll probably thank you in the long run.