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untie meEmpathy is such a powerful component of successful relationships, especially marriages. There’s a real trick to empathy too, it is not simply do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but rather walk in their shoes and figure out what they need, not what “you” want them to need. That throws a lot of people, it’s a subtle difference, but a powerful one.

A bit comical, too. Taken literally, do unto others in marriage  would mean to run the man a bath, get him a romance novel, and paint his toenails. I suppose on the flip side, it would be a bit like a man buying his wife a tool he’s always wanted and then wondering why she’s not as appreciative as he would be with such a gift.

So to empathize really requires one to recognize and appreciate difference. Male and female He made them. We are different. That’s a good thing and often the more we celebrate and rejoice in that fact the happier we will be. To be married to your own self seems to me to be a pretty good definition of hell or perhaps some comedic justice.

I actually struggled with this early in marriage, I proceeded to treat my husband like I would a girlfriend, how I would like to be treated. That didn’t go over so well, he apparently doesn’t like my pouring endless words all over him and talking excessively about feelings and relationships. His eyes tend to glaze over and I think he’s dying inside.

Conversely hubby sometimes still forgets I ‘m a girl. I have to remind him, I do play the girl card whenever necessary, mostly around the idea that I am fragile and I bruise more easily, not physically, but emotionally and spiritually.

He’s a good guy but he will still pile lists of things on me with no awareness of the emotional work and investment that I am going to need to put into them. Where he sees only a simple list of tasks to be completed and fixed, I see huge amount of emotional and psychological work to be done. To give you some idea of what this is like, one of the things on his list one day was “fix the planning department.” He was trying to get a building permit and they weren’t cooperating. In his mind, I just take ten minutes, go down there and straighten them all out, the building department, the planning department, city hall…..piece of cake. Just fix it.

After two weeks, I still did not succeed in “just fixing it.”

Hubby has really had to learn how to empathize with me, something he always gets around to eventually these days, but I don’t think we would have ever gotten there if I had followed some popular modern advice about how strong and independent women are (meaning not fragile) how much we don’t need men (as if we can just do it all) and having no recognition of differences or worse, expecting one another to be alike.

It’s somewhat amusing, I remember informing hubby that I was girl, that I am emotionally fragile, that I have certain weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and he  laughed outright as if that was quite funny. In his mind he really just saw me as a smaller version of himself.

To make matters worse, I explained that I needed him to try to empathize and he had no idea what that word even meant. What a Divine comedy relationships between men and women can be! He did catch on however, and I think I created a monster because he soon had a list of all  the ways I did not empathize with him.

Empathy is the ability to share and understand the feelings of another. It is actually “the capacity to understand or feel what another being is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference.”