Therapy Blog for Orem, Spanish Fork & South Jordan

Marriage Counseling: What is Empathy?

Improving Empathy in Marriage Counseling

A major part of your success in marriage counseling will be your ability to show empathy for your spouse. As a couple, you have likely gone through a lot, both personally and in your relationship. You go to marriage counseling to learn how to be a better listener and communicator, and developing empathy for each other can help you know how to support each other and fulfill your needs (Related article: Couples Therapy).  Today, you will learn about empathy, and how to be “better” at being empathetic in your marriage.marriage counseling

Marriage Therapy and Empathy

If you are already in marriage counseling, or you are thinking about finding a marriage therapist, you are likely looking for help with improving your connection to your spouse. Marriage is hard, but good communication can help. 

Like you learned in our last blog post, sometimes the hardest part of communication in marriage is being a good listener. A major part of actively listening to your spouse is developing empathy for them and what they are going through. 

What is Empathy?

Empathy is an important part of good communication in your relationship. Empathy is the ability to not just hear what your partner is saying, but to understand how they feel. To be empathetic, you have to be able to focus on your spouse’s experience, not your own perceptions about their experience (Related article: One Way to Fix Your Marriage Problem- Validation). Becoming a good listener for your spouse starts with empathy. 

Empathy vs. Sympathy

An important distinction to make in your mind when it comes to developing empathy is the difference between empathy and sympathy. The key difference between empathy and sympathy is understanding. When you have sympathy towards your spouse, you see their pain, but you don’t try to understand. As a result, you may feel pity or resentment. If you are empathetic towards your spouse, you work to understand and share the weight of their feelings together (Related: Empathy in Intimate Conversations). 

Brene Brown shared a story that can help you remember the difference between empathy and sympathy. In the story, someone falls down into a hole. They say, “I’m stuck! I’m overwhelmed.”. A sympathetic person will look down into the hole at their friend who has fallen and say “wow, that looks terrible!”. They see the pain, but they don’t attempt to understand it. On the other hand, when an empathetic person sees their friend has fallen, they climb down into the hole and say “I know what it’s like down here. You are not alone.” (Related: Brene Brown on Empathy)

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Empathy Requires Vulnerability

To understand what your spouse is feeling empathetically means that you have to make a choice to be vulnerable. You might not actually know what your spouse feels like because you have not experienced their specific struggle. However, you have had struggles, and you have likely had a similar feeling. Empathy in your marriage means you connect with your own similar experiences to help your spouse see and feel that you truly care about them and want them to feel better. Being vulnerable with your spouse can feel scary or intimidating! Thankfully, “climbing into the hole” to experience your spouse’s struggle with them can create opportunities for connection and collaboration (Related Article: Marriage Counseling- Resilience). 

Marriage Counseling: A Great First Step

Ready to work on developing greater empathy in your marriage? Our marriage therapists can help. Start couples therapy today in Orem, South Jordan, or Spanish Fork.

Written by Lauren Adkins


Lauren Adkins

Writer for the Center for Couples and Families


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