Four quick thoughts about empathy before we dive in:

  1. It’s awful to feel like your spouse lacks empathy. I’m genuinely sorry about your situation.
  2. Empathy is not an either/or proposition. Like most emotional and relational issues, empathy exists on a scale or a spectrum. Zero would be “completely lacking empathy,” and a 10 would be “completely empathetic.” Your spouse is somewhere on that scale.
  3. Like other emotional and relational qualities, people can improve and grow. Someone with a temper problem can learn self-control. Don’t give up hope.
  4. Empathy is not an end in itself. Empathy helps you say and do the right things for your spouse. Even if your spouse lacks empathy, he or she can but still learn to say and do the right things. In other words, you can work around their lack of empathy. Direct, honest communication is the key. Make yourself more “transparent” so you can be “seen.”

As an empath, you’re excellent at:

  • Listening.
  • Putting yourself in another person’s shoes. 
  • Looking at things from other people’s perspectives. 
  • Reading people like a book. 
  • Understanding non-verbal communication.
  • Approaching problems from someone else’s point of view. 
  • Feeling what other people are feeling. 

You’re a high EQ person or extremely Emotionally Intelligent. You know how valuable these skills are in any relationship — especially in your marriage. But it’s extremely rare for a couple to have the same exact EQ. There are undoubtedly areas where your spouse is “higher on the scale” than you are. Empathy just isn’t one of them.

In the area of empathy, you feel like your spouse is significantly further down the scale than you are. (Or you wouldn’t be reading this!)

★ What do you do when your spouse lacks empathy and falls somewhere on a spectrum between a complete lack of empathy and total and complete empathy?

  1. Practice self-care. But empathetic or not, you can communicate your needs to your spouse. You can express your perspective. You can describe what it’s like to be “in your shoes.”
  1. Don’t expect your spouse to “pick up” on your feelings. You’ll find more success sharing your thoughts in plain factual statements.
  1. Realize that your spouse doesn’t have to validate your feelings. Your spouse won’t match you feeling for feeling, nor reach the intensity level of your emotions. That’s fine. You don’t need them to.
  1. Be instructive. Help your spouse to cultivate empathy with other people. When you pass by a homeless person, ask, “How do you think that person feels? What do you think is going on inside their head?” When your spouse’s co-worker doesn’t get the promotion they had their heart set on, ask, “What are some things they might be thinking and feeling?” This will help them learn to see things from another’s perspective.
  1. Model empathy “out loud” for your spouse. Let them see the processes of an empathetic person. How do you think? What questions do you ask yourself? How do you get to a place of understanding the perspective of others? By walking them through that process, you teach your spouse empathy and move them up the scale.
  1. Remember, empathy is not an end in itself. It’s one means to an end. The goal is for your spouse to understand your perspective and say and do the things you need. How can that end be achieved without your spouse being deeply empathetic? It definitely can.

Continue to practice empathy toward your spouse.

You might understand their wiring better than they do. But just because they can’t “read your feelings” and empathize, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about you or your marriage. Model being fully engaged, present, emotionally expressive, and emotionally available. Again, model the behavior you want to see more of.

Your spouse can develop empathy. Plain and simple. Just like they can grow in and cultivate other emotional and relational skills. Empathy is no different. Hold out hope for this to be a growth area for your spouse. 

This is why marriage is for life. It takes a lifetime to become who our spouse needs us to be. If you don’t see growth and your relationship continues to suffer, don’t be afraid to bring a counselor into the picture. Good luck!

Other helpful blogs:

3 Skills for Managing Conflict in Marriage

How To Protect Your Marriage From An Emotional Affair

What To Do When You And Your Spouse Are Really Opposites

5 Things To Do When You Feel Disconnected From Your Spouse

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