These skills do not come naturally or easily to many men (and some women) due to having been raised in a culture that teaches “real men” suck it up and don’t show emotions. So, these are the skills we taught Juan and many other husbands in our clinical practice of couples therapy:
Empathy in relationships is:
Married just three years, Sandy was what you might call super-insecure because her last boyfriend cheated on her. One night while Jerry was innocently taking a shower, his cell phone which he had put on his pile of clothes beeped indicating a new message. Sandy read it and then began a ragefull rant at Jerry in the shower. Seems that he had gotten a text message from an old girlfriend inviting him out for a cup of coffee (not knowing that he was now married, as it turned out). Jerry defensively pleaded complete innocence (he was) but stubbornly insisted on his right to stay in contact with old friends without his wife controlling what he could or could not do. He told his wife he should be able to have coffee once in a while with the old girlfriend.
Sandy held resentment over this for months, with frequent blow-ups out of nowhere. sometimes in the middle of love-making. While he was innocent, he stoked the fires by refusing to give Sandy the code to his phone, by calling her “crazy” when she had her outbursts, and by refusing to de-friend the woman from his Facebook page.(all losing strategies- which we will talk about later)
Jerry technically was in the right, as he was not actually cheating on his wife. But, being right didn’t take away Sandy’s insecurity or her resentment. The more he provided logical analysis and hours of boring logic defending how he had a right to keep his old friends, the worse things got.
Instead he should have applied the tool of empathy.
First, we taught Jerry how to see things from Sandy’s point of view: namely that she saw his actions as indicating that he was hiding something; if he was innocent, why wasn’t he willing to be more transparent? This was not how Jerry saw things, but the point of empathy is to see things as your partner does, even if you don’t agree with it.
Second, we taught Jerry that if he is in relationship with his wife, he needs to be more sensitive to how she is going to react to his behavior and his words. He married a person who needs a lot of reassurance. He should have acknowledged that he can understand how she could interpret the texting thing, but to please relax and understand that he had nothing to do with the old girlfriend having sent the text.
Finally, Jerry learned to adjust his behavior to be more proactive in creating a loving and secure atmosphere in his relationship so that Sandy could learn to trust him again.