There are two types of love, one, which makes you feel complete and safe, and the other one, makes you feel completely otherwise. Experiencing a healthy love can make you not just happy, but can also help you grow as a person. But the second kind of love will always make you question yourself, and your relationship.
Love is defined differently by everyone. For many, love is a feeling of deep connectedness. For others, love is an elusive prize that needs to be contained and controlled. One version may elicit joy and comfort while the other frequently causes anxiety and discomfort. Either way, figuring it out may save a person a great deal of heartache in the long run.
Closeness is the feeling a person gets when he or she falls in love. Talking for hours and getting to know a new love allows a person to learn about a partner’s feelings, thoughts, dreams, hopes, hurts, and struggles; everything that comprises his or her internal world. When reciprocated, the experience of feeling understood, known, and supported allows a person to also feel loved.
The exercise of getting to know someone when falling in love should not end after courtship. Continuing to talk and understand a loved one’s experiences as he or she walks through life allows a person to possess empathy for a partner. Many believe empathy is the cornerstone of a close and healthy relationship.
Empathy is the opposite of feeling sorry for a partner, fixing his or her problems, or surrendering a personal perspective. It is simply a sincere attempt to understand how a person feels while communicating this understanding to him or her. Essentially, it is listening and being attuned to a feeling state, and then honoring the feeling.
Examples of empathic statements include:
- “You are mad. I get it. You have every right to be.”
- “You are hurt. I would be too. I understand.”
- “You are upset. I don’t know why, but I want to understand. Tell me.”
- “You are overwhelmed. It is frustrating. How can I help?”
- “You are disappointed. I would be too. What can I do?”
Understanding how a partner feels does not mean a person relinquishes his or her own viewpoint. It simply means a person is willing to try and understand. This, alone, conveys respect and love. Often when a person receives empathy, he or she feels more connected to the person who “gets it” and less alone in his or her predicament. This is often comforting and sustains the closeness in the relationship.
Related: A Relationship Without Empathy
Perhaps the most difficult time to have empathy for a partner is when you’re the one who hurt them. Still, stay the course. Empathize with your partner’s feelings; “I disappointed you. I am sorry. I had a selfish moment. I won’t do that again.” This type of apology is free of excuses, rationalizations, and minimizations, which add to its authenticity and power. Frequently, heartfelt accountability repairs rupture in the relationship and preserve trust.
It is important to note that if a partner’s insincere apology or lack of an apology is packed with justifications and deflections, he or she may be “playing the victim.” This occurs when a partner uses past hardships to excuse wrongdoing in the present. It is manipulative because a partner is attempting to take advantage of a person’s empathy. Exploiting empathy may erode the trust and squelch a person’s ability to continue being empathic in the relationship.