At some point or another, in your romantic relationship, you and your partner have likely discussed what you need from each other, desires in the relationship, or how you could improve communication. As a couple’s therapist, this shows up ALL the time. What I’ve found is that couple’s don’t always know how to be empathetically responsive to their partner. So, many conflicts turn into arguments about how someone did/didn’t do what they wanted them to. If you’re struggling to know how to be empathetically responsive to your partner, then this article is for you. Or, if you want to make sure you’re on the right track, this article is also for you. Read below for 4 tips on how to be more responsive to your partner in an empathetic and supportive way.
1. Remember That You Are Different
Even if you and your partner have a lot of similarities, you also have differences. You don’t need to be the same person. When you respond to your partner’s emotions, you have to think about what they are showing or communicating based on who THEY are. Not who you are. So, if your partner is e motionally upset, frustrated, or worried, before responding to them, consider what it would be like to experience this emotion if you were them and in their shoes. Once you do this, you will be able to understand their emotions and needs much clearer. Moreover, by asking yourself this and reframing how you look at the situation, you will be able to start empathizing with your partner.
When your partner is struggling emotionally, the last thing they need is to feel rushed in their experience. Let your partner feel their emotions in the way that they need to. Be willing to sit with your partner as they go through their own emotional process. You don’t need to offer solutions or advice during this time, but rather, your presence and willingness to be there for them shows that you are a support and comfort for them. Moreover, while you are sitting with them, focus on acknowledging and validating their feelings. If it is something you disagree with, remember that their emotions are their reality. This is not something that you will convince them otherwise of and you don’t want to take away from their experience.
If you are struggling to understand what you partner’s emotions, perspective, or experience is, it is ok to ask questions. Ask your partner to elaborate. Make sure that you are understanding what they have communicated thus far by providing some statement of what you do understand and ask them to tell you more. Additionally, if you are struggling to know what support your partner is needing in that moment, it’s ok to ask. Actually, it’s better to ask opposed to assume and guess wrong. By asking questions, you are removing yourself from having to guess what the situation is and allowing your partner to vocalize their needs.
A key to being responsive to your partner, is being able to be calm when your partner is struggling. Simply put, when your partner is struggling, they need to feel that they are loved and cared for. This is not going to be the case if you’re raising your voice at your partner or getting frustrated that they are feeling the way that they do. Focus on staying calm in these moments by reminding yourself that you don’t need to feel heavy emotions because your partner is. Instead, be soft in how you approach them, use a calm tone of voice, and provide a gentle touch if your partner is ok with it. Most importantly, be present with them in this space. This includes removing distractions so that you can be calm and keep the focus on your partner.
Being responsive to your partner in a supportive and empathetic way is key to communication in any relationship, but especially in your romantic relationship. Start responding to your partner in the way that they need by remembering you are different, being open to sitting with your partner’s feelings, being willing to ask questions, and being calm when you provide support.
About the Author
Amanda Cummins is a marriage counselor with The Marriage and Family Clinic. She focuses on working with couples in distress as well as families and children in transitions. As a Denver Native, Amanda enjoys hiking, yoga, and spending time with her family