Why is empathy more meaningful than sympathy when a partner is suffering?
Partners need to communicate ahead of time what their specific needs are when they are suffering because everyone has different personalities and needs.
“Yeah, not just another level. There’s another million levels to that because everybody that suffers like that is going to have a different set of needs because of their personality. That’s why this is so important. That spouse that’s caring … thank goodness if you don’t have a spouse that goes, ‘Oh, brother. Here we go again, another ruined evening,’ versus the person that says at least, ‘Can I get you a trash bag to throw up in?’ or whatever it is. At least they’re trying to do something. Maybe if that’s what you want.
“What you can do in those times when you're not in the midst of the excruciating pain is to have those conversations to say, ‘Here’s what it’s like for me. I’ll tell you. This is what would really be helpful, is if you would do XYZ.’ It’s going to be different for every person. That’s why the empathy is so important. That loving partner that they can come alongside the person that’s suffering, and that is genuinely interested in helping, can move beyond just trying to go, ‘Well, can I make dinner?’ or whatever it is that’s more functional, to really recognize: ‘If you would just lay beside me on the bed for 20 minutes while I’m going through this because I just want to hold your hand. That’s all I want,’ or whatever it is for that particular person. That’s when we experience deep love.”
Les Parrott, PhD
Center for Relationship Development
Dr. Les Parrott is a psychologist and #1 New York Times bestselling author. He and his wife, Dr. Leslie Parrott, are co-founders of the Center for Relationship Development in Seattle. Their books have sold more than 3 million copies and include: Love Talk, Your Time-Starved Marriage, Crazy Good Sex, The Good Fight, and the award-winning Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts.
Les and Leslie are founders of the game-changing online tool for couples: DeepLoveAssessment.com. Les has been featured in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. He has appeared on a variety of television programs including: CNN, The Today Show, GMA, The View, and Oprah. Visit LesAndLeslie.com.