Marriage Anchor 9: Empathy – The art of caring deeply.

Wed, Jul 7, 2010

Articles At A Glance


"A marriage without empathy becomes nothing more than a cold business arrangement between two people..."


Imagine that you and your mate are vacationing in Paris, France and you are each having your own little picnic on opposite shores of the Seine River. You have your blanket spread out on the left river bank. You have found a nice shady spot under a big sycamore tree. You have your bucket of chicken, potato salad, chips, pickles, grapes, soda, and all the rest. Amazingly, your precious mate has a similar blanket with goodies spread out across the river on the right river bank.Your tendency is to shout across the river, “Hey, come on over, eat and drink with me! Come, listen to me and see life from my side of the river. See life from my point of view for once!”


This attitude is what destroys good marriages. It says, “You exist to hear me out, and meet my needs!” What is needed here is empathy. This is when you choose to act selflessly and your passion is to comfort, side with, and encourage the other person. The heart of empathy is brokenness and humility, thinking of yourself less.”


The Lord Jesus will prompt you to empathize with your mate. There you are sitting on your nice picnic blanket on your side of the river. Since it is “your side”, you naturally think it is the best side. You think your way of looking at things and your view of the river is best. However, you choose to please the Lord by leaving the safe and proud comfort of your blanket and your side of the river. You choose to get up, even when you’d rather not, and walk over the little half moon bridge to the other side.

You shock your mate by asking permission to join her picnic experience. Your heart’s desire is to quietly sit down on her blanket, eat her food with her, and listen to her side of the story. Your passion is not to be right or to win. Your passion is to care, to understand, and know a bit of what it is like to see and taste life from her perspective…from her side of the river.


When you minister empathy, Christ is in control. Your ears enlarge, your emotional drawbridge is lowered, and your mouth shrinks away. Of course, this repulses your flesh. Let it go.

An empathetic dialogue might go something like this:

“You know honey, I have not been very attentive toward you lately with work and all. I guess I have wanted you to revolve around my world and my needs more than the reverse. I am truly sorry. Please forgive me. I want to now give you my undivided attention. I am all ears.”

You may ask any of a number of meaningful questions that build and heal rather than tear down and destroy such as, “Honey, what would you say your greatest need is right now?” or “When was the last time you really felt loved by me?”

As she is sharing, you simply listen attentively, nodding your head, keeping tender eye contact. When she is done sharing, you share four magic words that most women from cradle to grave never hear, Please tell me more.” After she picks her jaw up from hitting the floor, you again listen to understand and experience her perspective.


Now men you will love this! After she has shared all she can, you rephrase what she just shared with you in your own words because you want to understand her correctly. You start out with something like, “Now Honey, I want to make sure I fully appreciate and understand what you are saying…that I get it right. Is it true, that you feel your greatest need is to have regular times throughout the week where we share, listen to, debrief, and encourage one another so we can become closer as a couple?”


Then, wife, you lovingly let him know how accurate his summary was and clarify anything he missed. You, husband, summarize again so as to get it right as close to 100% as you can. When this happens, your mate begins to experience being valued, listened to, and treasured.


Remember the litmus paper test for empathy in your marriage is this:

If the Lord Jesus is first in your life, then your mate will experience being treasured and central in your heart. Your marriage will be a warm, kind, and inviting place to be.

A marriage without empathy becomes nothing more than a cold business arrangement between two people. Empathy says, “I will show you I care. You will experience attentive focus. You and your views will be respected, heard, and prized.”


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