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.
It goes like this:
- Identify something that brings up past pain. It could be something happening in the moment, or something from the distant past.
- Think about what it must feel like for your wife to experience this. For example-
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 –