Three Exercises in Empathy

It’s our judging mind that separates us from feelings.
Empathy is listening with your heart and feeling the emotions involved in communicating with your partner. It is imagining – and on some level, experiencing – the emotions that your partner is sending. It is the ability to truly appreciate and understand your partner’s feelings.

Empathy opens your heart to your partner.
Empathy demonstrates that you’ve experienced the emotions your partner is having. It creates kindness, compassion, safety and vulnerability – thus fostering a deep and genuine level of connection and communication. By empathizing and participating in the feelings that your partner is experiencing, you deepen the level of communication and transcend your separateness.

Three Empathy Exercises to Try
As I’ve said before, we’re not all born with the relationship skills we need; they must be taught and practiced just like learning a new language. Empathy is no exception. Here are three exercises in empathy you can use to understand your partner’s feelings and deepen the connection with him/her.

Exercise #1

Ask your partner to share with something that they may be stressing out about. Step momentarily into the experience of your partner to feel his or her pain, anger, fear, confusion, appreciation or joy. Try to notice signs of emotion in your partner’s face or body language. Once you think you know how your partner is feeling, use an empathetic phrase such as these:

“Given what you said about your , I imagine you might be feeling _. Is that what you’re feeling?”

“I imagine you might be feeling…,” or “I imagine you might have felt…”

After you state what you think your partner is feeling, verify your uderstanding by asking: “Is that what you are/were feeling?”

Your partner can confirm whether your response is accurate. If the feedback is not “yes,” then ask how they are feeling. Allow them to edit or elaborate your guess. In the exercise, simply mirror their words back to them until your partner agrees that you “got it.”

Exercise #2

Click below to watch Jason Headley’s video short, It’s Not About the Nail. Often, the biggest mistake we make is we try to “fix” or “solve the problem,” rather than empathize with our partner. It’s Not About the Nail hilariously addresses this issue.

Exercise #3

Check out Brené Brown on Empathy. In this beautifully animated RSA Short, author and speaker Dr. Brené Brown reminds us that we can only create a genuine empathic connection if we are brave enough to really get in touch with our own fragilities.

Often, the process of empathizing with your partner’s feelings allows both of you to experience a genuine connection. Such experiences can be powerful, and can make a life-changing difference in your relationship!