Empathy is all about being real and present. But being with your partner’s painful feelings can be hard. If you’re like most people, you don’t like pain, and you don’t like to be with another’s pain.
Does your mind tend towards problem-solving? Are you trying to prevent your partner’s negative emotions overwhelm you? These are common you away from pain. Your brain can read your partner’s pain as a threat rather than as an opportunity to connect.
If you want to build a stronger connection with your partner, consider this: if you can’t stay with your partner’s negative feelings, it could be a red flag for your relationship. Great couples find a way to get comfortable being vulnerable.
So can you let yourself feel some of what your partner feels without rejecting it or trying to change it? Let it in. Feel the discomfort it brings. Try it again and again, it gets easier each time.
When your partner sees that you can stay with them in their darker emotions, they feel your presence and the connection with you.
A lot of people who are very good at problem solving can have a surprisingly difficult time with empathy. Empathy is a muscle that needs to be exercised. The short video below is great at showing how to be present without trying to fix the problem.
Bruce Hearn is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco. He works with couples, men and women. He works with people who have trouble making use of empathy in their relationships.