Why relationships need empathy

Empathy is seriously under-rated. It may not be an attribute that immediately springs to mind if listing personal qualities you'd desire in a friend or partner, yet empathy receives little recognition. A quietly unassuming, but very powerful trait, it dovetails nicely with its cousins' kindness and affection. Oh, we soon notice the lack of empathy if it isn’t forthcoming; the friend who informs us of the finite detail in their life, yet asks very little about ours; the partner who won't listen as we share our truly horrid day, the boss who won't engage with our workload-stress and continues to delegate.

A relationship with little or no empathy is like a hostile desert; the landscape is cracked and barren. We scratch around desperately needing to quench our emotional thirst but fail, regardless of our efforts. We leave the exchange feeling deeply unsatisfied, yet not quite able to put our finger on why, like an itch we can't quite locate. We may wonder why this relationship feels so disjointed and unfulfilling, why we get such little joy from it, why the care and interest only seem to flow one way.

However, those that do empathise well provide a vibrant, lush, welcoming oasis inviting us to drink abundantly; it feels indulgent, like our soul is being nourished as we revel in the genuine interest in our world emerging restored, soothed and deeply satisfied.

It's within this rich oasis that relationships can truly flourish. Maybe we can't be empathic all of the time, but small steps will reap huge rewards for all. Recently a colleague of mine returned to work after a hospital stay. As she paused to take a breath in her tale, I managed to stop the overwhelming urge to jump in and relay my own hospital horror story that she'd reminded me of. Instead, I asked her how she was feeling. Then I listened. With real interest. I've found the more I really listen, the more fascinating I find people; the more I hear, the more compassionate and tolerant I become.

Without empathy, we only live alongside each other, merely co-existing, busy meeting our own needs, intolerant and emotionally stranded. Giving and receiving deep empathy allows us to enjoy enriched relationships and greater personal connections, by experiencing someone putting their own needs aside to be alongside us with ours. Surely this makes empathy the unsung hero of relationships.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Yeovil, Somerset, BA20

Written by Susan Hooper

Yeovil, Somerset, BA20

Being an integrative counsellor means that I work with different psychological theories to understand human minds; using a range of theories means we can work in a way that feels most useful to you. It may be that we explore your personality, internal drives and behaviours, work in a solution-focus...

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