My Account
0

E is for Empathy

E is for Empathy. I’m obsessed with empathy lately. It’s hard to define exactly what “lately” is, but it’s been floating around my mind for a better part of a year. 

Share this post:

Let’s review the Relationship Alphabet:

        A is for Arguing

        B is for Betrayal

        C is for Contempt and Criticism

        D is for Defensiveness

Pretty grim, right? Not what you signed up for when you got married? Actually, you might have. If you had a wedding you probably stood up in front of a bunch of people and promised something like “for better or for worse.

A-D represents the best of the worst. But it gets better. Because E is for Empathy.

I’m obsessed with empathy lately. It’s hard to define exactly what “lately” is, but it’s been floating around my mind for a better part of a year. And it seems to me that it’s in the public consciousness as well.

There’s actually a pretty vibrant debate these days about whether empathy is a necessary leadership quality. Many high profile (and high profit) companies are thriving in spite of (or in light of) their leaders’ lack of “people skills.” Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Larry Ellison are all infamous for their lack of empathy. But Daniel Goleman cites empathy as cornerstone of emotional intelligence, an essential quality for the most successful leaders.

Empathy is also a hot topic in the medical field. One recent study found that doctors who are more empathetic generally have patients with better outcomes. But we don’t need research to tell us what we intuitively know. Remember, they already invented a thing called “bedside manner” to help evaluate whether or not a doctor was any good.

CEOs have to have it. Doctors have to have it. Presumably anyone who wants to obey the Golden Rule while walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes in order to understand before being understood has to have it.

But what is it?

Empathy is generally understood as the capacity to identify and share someone else’s emotions and experiences. Dr. Gottman describes empathy as mirroring a partner’s feelings in a way that lets them know that their feelings are understood and shared. He cites it as the key to attunement with your partner as well as essential to the emotion coaching style of parenting.

As a husband and as a father, I’m clinging to Gottman’s wisdom on empathy. After all, he’s a brilliant researcher who has earned his stripes with over 40 years of research. My absolute favorite perspective on the concept, however, comes from a little boy.

One of my favorite books of all time is Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. (The movie gets a B+ from me.) On the surface, it’s your typical story of intergalactic warfare with alien bugs. It’s also a brilliant case study in empathy, demonstrated through the character of Ender Wiggin, a fascinating boy with an unusual aptitude for battle strategy as well as an irrepressible capacity for compassion. Reflecting on the central conflict of the novel, Ender says:

In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.

There’s really quite a bit going on here. Ender begins with an insight into conflict and the reader expects to learn how he will achieve victory over his enemy. Victory, however, isn’t the goal. At least it’s not the only goal. Ender is chasing understanding, and that understanding leads to love.

To have empathy is to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe. And not just in the moment, but in general.

As a therapist, my goal is to help couples understand this concept. Often, they come into my office thinking of one another as the enemy. They’re entrenched in patterns of argument, betrayal, contempt, criticism and defensiveness – and they have a really, really hard time achieving or even seeking understanding.

I remind them that the enemy mindset doesn’t help them get what they want: trust, respect, understanding, intimacy. These things are built through a commitment to hearing not only the complaint but also the dream embedded in the conflict. This is hard work, and sometimes it requires you to be a master tactician, strategically deploying conflict management skills. More often it requires you to shift your mindset from “enemy” to “partner” in the battle for your relationship.

You may be a CEO or a doctor. Maybe you’re a husband or a wife or a parent. There’s a pretty good chance you’re a therapist. You are most definitely a person. Whoever you are, I bet you want to be in safe, interesting, life-giving relationships. I urge you to become obsessed with empathy. It’s for better.

Share this post:

Zach Brittle is a Certified Gottman Therapist, best selling author of The Relationship Alphabet, and host of the highly-rated podcast Marriage Therapy Radio. He has a private practice in Seattle, WA and offers online coaching to couples across the country. He he has been happily married to his wife for 20 of 21 years. Together they have two daughters, a minivan, and most of the silverware they received at their wedding.

Recommended products

Original price was: $250.00.Current price is: $179.00.

Transform Your Relationship

The Gottman Relationship Adviser is a complete approach to relationship wellness. Measure your relationship health with the research-based Gottman Assessment, analyze five key areas of your partnership to identify your strengths and weaknesses, then start a tailored, step-by-step digital program proven to heal and strengthen your connection—all on your schedule and from anywhere.

The Adviser uses the legendary scientific Gottman Method to help you understand what’s really going on in your relationship—and gives you exactly what you need to improve it.

Original price was: $119.00.Current price is: $79.00.

Research-based Foundations for a Lifetime of Love.  The Gottman Relationship Coach is an inspiring and educational multimedia experience designed to enhance the well-being of relationships. Participants will be guided through research-based tools and communication skills that can transform relationships—all based on the popular Gottman Method. The first program, “How to Make Your Relationship Work”, is now available and includes:

  • The Gottman Method and How to Make Your Relationship Work
  • How do we predict the future of a relationship?
  • How to build a Sound Relationship House
  • What to do when the destructive Four Horsemen enter your relationship

“Buy Now” will take you to GOTTMAN CONNECT to purchase and view this product.

$599.00

Created by “the Einstein of Love” (Psychology Today), this two-day workshop is grounded on what actually works in relationships that are happy and stable. See for yourself why millions of couples worldwide have benefited from the Gottman Method.

Quote from participant in most recent Live Virtual Workshop:

The Art and Science of Love workshop- where do I begin? It was an absolute stellar workshop. We were looking forward to this for weeks, and it exceeded our expectations! It was well-structured, and well-organized, and provided a wealth of information with real-time demonstrations of how to work through specific scenarios. The outstanding support that was provided throughout the exercises with therapists on standby- WOW! Priceless!

Includes the Art & Science of Love box set.  Please allow time for shipping.  Please Note: This is a live online event. To attend, you will need a reliable internet connection. Our staff will reach out to you with your personal registration and access information.

Related posts

How to Be Kind When You’re Upset With Your Partner

Sanaa Hyder

Kindness is not just important in the heat of an argument. ...

Read More

Inside Out 2 and Emotion Coaching

Amy McMahan

Gottman's emotion coaching is brought to life in the movie Inside Out 2. ...

Read More

Getting Parents on the Same Page

Rebecca Eanes

Dr. Gottman’s research has shown us that there are three steps to reaching a compromise. ...

Read More

What to Do During a Rough Patch

Are Rough Patches in Relationships Normal?

Dana McNeil

What you can do when your relationship is on the rocks ...

Read More

Sad man feeling depressed and crying

Men’s Tears: From Odysseus to Modern Day

Alexander Elguren

How men can learn to navigate the stormy seas of emotion ...

Read More

Improve your sex life by increasing you emotional intelligence and creating a plan for sex!

5 Tips to Improve Sex (from a Sex Therapist)

Kyle Benson

Improving sexual intimacy requires developing emotional and sexual intelligence. It also requires planning (even if that doesn't sound sexy!) ...

Read More

Subscribe to Gottman Love Notes

Sign up and start your relationship transformation. Subscribe and get the latest on relationships, therapy, and much more from the experts. Includes a free download and access to special pricing on Gottman products every month