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Why Empathy Is Both the Hero and the Villain in a Relationship

Why Empathy Is Both the Hero and the Villain in a Relationship

Most people wouldn’t think that empathy has a downside or limits, but in our relationships it’s not always a positive tool. It’s something that can be depleted, leaving our emotional tanks empty for other family members.

Empathy is just one ingredient in the recipe for deep connections with our intimate partners. We have to look past this tool and understand its negative effects if we really want to create lasting connections.

First, some definitions are in order.

What Exactly Is Empathy

Empathy is our ability to put ourselves in the place of other people. This allows us to understand their feelings and even experience their pain. Without empathy, it’s difficult to have insights into other people’s behaviors.

Everyone has some ability to empathize thanks to mirror neurons in the brain which allow us to feel what other people feel. When we see a soccer player miss the ball only to kick another player square in the crotch, we react instantly to the perceived pain.

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We feel what they feel without any effort. We can experience a wide range of emotions for situations we’ve never been in because of these neurons. We can also learn how to do things the same way.

Feeling what other people feel can alter our behaviors in a positive way. We can predict how other people might react when we leave the sink full of dishes, or place chocolates and a card on the bed for a nice surprise.

This means we can avoid certain behaviors or adopt positive ones that make our partners happy.

“Compassionate empathy “is a balance of positive cognitive and emotional empathy, which prompts us to take action, as needed.” For instance, a messy partner, who has compassionate empathy, can imagine and feel how annoying or even distressing it is for their partner to deal with their mess, so they modify their behavior and pick up after themselves, she said.”  – PsychCentral

Arguments can be diffused when we pause to understand someone’s position from their point of view, even when we don’t agree. It allows to see how someone might take a certain stance based on where they’re coming from.

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The Negative Side of Empathy

Relying too much on empathy can be an emotional drain. In certain studies, people who used empathy in the workplace had less to give to their families. It’s a finite emotional reserve which can be depleted.

This leads to negative trade offs. Most people wouldn’t make these trade offs consciously if they knew there was going to be less empathy available for loved ones.

Empathy can be used for manipulation too. By understanding other people’s feelings, we can use those feelings against them. In many emotionally abusive relationships, one person may use anger as a tool because they know their partner will do as they want, and attempt to “put out the fire” to make them happy again.

“Both cognitive and emotional empathy can be used in negative ways (e.g. someone might use cognitive empathy to be manipulative; someone who takes on their partner’s emotions might become too burned out to support them).” [1]

Empathy can also be misplaced when we don’t understand context. For example, being nice is generally a good thing. We want to treat others with respect, and can anticipate the same in return. We naturally like people who treat us with some level of respect and kindness.

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This can backfire in the case of the “nice guy” who wants to attract a woman. In this context, nice doesn’t equal turned on. She may like him but it will be on a platonic level. He’s putting himself into the wrong person’s shoes and won’t get the reaction he predicted empathetically.

What’s More Important Than Empathy In a Relationship

A good relationship is made up of many ingredients which can be thought of as a recipe. No single ingredient is enough on it’s own, but put everything together and you’re more likely to succeed.

  1. Mutual responsibility – Take responsibility for everything you do and never play the blame game.
  2. Shared values – Connect on shared values such as respect for life, family, success ambitions, lifestyle or any other value which is a big part of your life blueprint. Find out more about how to know your values here: Knowing My Values Has Filled up the Long-Existed Missing Gap in My Life
  3. Trust – Establish trust by being reliable. That means following through on everything you say you’re going to do.
  4. Boundaries – Create boundaries which allow for mutual respect, and let your partner know if they’re being crossed.
  5. Relationship clarity – Don’t make assumptions on the big things. Always be clear by talking about it.
  6. Emotional Intelligence – Work on your own emotional intelligence for better communication and understanding. This includes empathy. Learn from my other article How to Be More Emotionally Sensitive
  7. Shared Passions – Connect on interest which compels you. Mutual passions create deeper bonds than superficial activities. If you have a passion for the outdoors, it’s going be more powerful than watching Seinfeld reruns together (although that’s OK too).
  8. Sexual Polarity – Sameness = no chemistry. It’s important that both partners know where they stand and their roles. Although different context will call for different aspects of our personalities, both the partners trying to fulfill the same role will lead to disinterest.

Three Questions to Ask in Place of Using Empathy

Instead of trying to guess what your partner is feeling, ask him or her instead. It’s true that we can learn a lot about our partner’s emotions through observation and empathy, but don’t underestimate the power of a direct question.

“When trying to empathize, it’s generally better to talk with people about their experiences than to imagine how they might be feeling.”  – Adam Waytz [2]

That doesn’t mean you’re always going to get a complete answer though. This is where asking the right questions comes in. It also pays to ask questions that hit a few different angles so that you can have ‘big picture’ understandings.

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Start with these:

  • How do you feel?
  • What do you want?
  • What do you think?

When communication is open, these questions will open up a dialogue. It’s also a lot easier than trying to guess emotions and desires, and will reduce the need for empathy. This means we can save more empathy for situations where it’s more useful without getting burnt out.

Outside of asking, pay attention to what your partner actually does. A person’s actions always speak louder than words.

Featured photo credit: Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Eddy Baller

Dating & Confidence Coach

emotional intelligence How to Be More Sensitive for an Emotionally Insensitive Person Why Empathy Is Both the Hero and the Villain in a Relationship marriage longevity Why a Lot of Relationship Experience Doesn’t Equate to a Great Marriage

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Crush Your Lack of Motivation and Always Stay Motivated

How to Crush Your Lack of Motivation and Always Stay Motivated

How many times have you not achieved your goals and let yourself down due to your lack of motivation? When you’re not wallowing in sadness and self-pity, you are too busy procrastinating till you can’t anymore and before you know it, you are part of vicious cycle of anxiety and stress.

Whether it’s losing weight or bringing your business to fruition – motivation is essential for growth and success in every sphere of our lives.

That said, it is not easy staying motivated. In order to constantly stay motivated, you need to take ownership of your life and consciously make efforts in that direction.

Well, it’s never too late to take matters in your hands and change the course of your life. Here are 11 effective ways to crush your lack of motivation and always stay motivated:

1. Write Your Goals

The power of writing goals down has always been underestimated. Why write when you can remember, right? Wrong.

Our thoughts are all over the place and the first step to achieve your goals is to organize your thoughts. So, write your goals down, however big or small they might be. Make them as specific as possible and assign deadlines to each of them.

As you write them down and revisit them regularly, they get further drilled in your head, taking you closer to your goals. Doing this small exercise helps you to remain focused, motivated and lets you track your progress with ease.

Start today – take to your laptop or a diary and get down to writing what you wish to achieve in life.

2. Beat Procrastination

Your lack of motivation and procrastination go hand in hand. Every time you procrastinate, your motivation levels take a greater hit. The only way to bring an end to this loop is to stop procrastinating.

Next time you find yourself putting off something for ‘later’, stop and assess the reasons behind it. Get to the root of the cause and eliminate it in order to overcome this poor habit of procrastinating which is sabotaging your life and mental health.

Take a look at this guide and learn how to beat procrastination:

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What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

When you finally overcome procrastination, you will realize the positive impact it has on your mood and motivation levels.

3. Celebrate Small Wins

In the quest to achieve the bigger goals in life, we often forget to celebrate the smaller wins along the way. An achievement is an achievement – be it big or small, it deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated.

Finished a project on time? Reward yourself. Managed to run on the treadmill for a good one hour? Pat yourself on the back. Found time to meditate? Celebrate it.

It is these small achievements that reinstate that we are on the right path and take us one step closer to the bigger goals.

So, get into the habit of recognizing and appreciating small wins. You will be surprised to see how this practice helps you stay motivated.

4. Practice Gratitude

It’s easier to whine about what we don’t have rather than counting our blessings. Isn’t it?

Making gratefulness a part of your life is a very important step to retain high motivational levels. It revitalizes our spirits and renews our enthusiasm for life.

So, how do you practice gratitude? For starters, keep a gratitude journal to jot down what you are grateful for, express your gratitude to people you love and spread positivity wherever you go. If you need some inspiration to be thankful for, here it is:

60 Things To Be Thankful For In Life

By doing so, you begin to focus more on what you have rather than what you don’t and that is a great start to stay motivated.

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5. Be Optimistic

Life is not always hunky dory. There will be bad days when things aren’t going in your favor, when you feel lost and all you want to do is give up.

At such times, instead of letting negativity take over your life, adopt an optimistic approach to life. Quit overthinking, ask the right questions and focus on finding solutions.

Yes, there will be hurdles along the way but if you hang on to positive affirmations and hopes, the journey will be a lot smoother. So, with every passing day, sow the seeds of positivity and you are sure to build a positive environment around you.

6. Don’t Dwell on the Past

A lot of times, our lack of motivation stems from the habit of dwelling on the past. This gives rise to fear and regrets, preventing us from making progress in the present day.

Dwelling on the past is nothing but a waste of time. Understand that the past is long gone, and you cannot do anything to change that.

What you can do is make your present day worthwhile. Instead of looking back and having regrets, learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself and move on.

So, the next time you find your mind wandering off to the past, be determined to change the way you think and consciously concentrate on living in the present. This guide can help you:

10 Simple Steps To Let Go Of The Past

7. Face your Fears

You can never find motivation where there is fear. Identify the fear that is pulling you back and tackle it.

If you don’t face your fear head on, you cannot expect to conquer it and renew your motivation.

Ask yourself: What is stopping you? What are you scared of?

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Once you accept your fear, you can work on an action plan and think of solutions to overcome it. This article will give you some effective tips on conquering your fears:

How to Overcome Your Irrational Fears (That Stop You from Succeeding)

Seek external help if required but don’t choose to turn a blind eye over your fears – it will only aggravate matters.

8. Visualize your Success

You must have heard the famous quote, ‘see it to believe it’. That is exactly what visualization is about.

One of the most effective self-motivation techniques, visualizing the process to your desired outcome helps you move in a positive direction and achieve your goal.

Close your eyes and focus all your energies on the minutest of details that will take you where you want to reach. Doing this exercise everyday inspires you to keep going and not lose hope. The vision of attaining success will drive you to do better while instilling belief and confidence.

9. Find Inspiration

Can’t seem to find inspiration inwards? Don’t panic. There are plenty of external sources to gain inspiration from.

From motivational books and quotes to speeches, films and apps – it is a good idea to take help from motivational material to rekindle your spirits and regain your motivation.

Everyone is wired differently. For instance, a self-help book might work for your friend, but it might do nothing to move you. So, find what inspires you and turn to it when you are in desperate need for motivation.

Finding inspiration externally fills you with hope and sometimes that is all you need.

10. Enjoy Downtime

You are clearly exhausted with all the running you’re doing in life. So much, that you don’t even have time to stop and think what’s causing you so much unhappiness. All you know is that you are lacking motivation and everyday seems to have become a struggle.

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Now, that’s certainly not how you should live the rest of your life.

You need to schedule downtime for yourself, relax and give your mind and body some rest. Take a vacation, indulge in hobbies, meet some friends, put your hair down and stop with all the overthinking. It is important to do things that make you happy in order to think clearly and stay motivated.

11. Meditate Regularly

Meditation lets you take control of your mind. It improves focus and concentration while helping you relax.

Whenever you have had a tough day or find your thoughts going places, the best way to calm yourself down is by closing your eyes and meditating. It helps you to remove all the unnecessary frills in life and keeps you on the right track.

Include meditation in your daily schedule and you are sure to see an improvement in your productivity and motivation.

The Bottom Line

Practicing these simple exercises isn’t the tough part, what’s tough is religiously doing them every day.

However, don’t expect to get rid of your lack of motivation overnight. There will still be days when you will be low on energy but by making these conscious efforts to stay motivated, you are sure to see a vast change in your perspective and your response to bad days.

So, start today and be committed to making a positive change in your life.

More Tips About Staying Motivated

Featured photo credit: Sonnie Hiles via unsplash.com

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