Communication

How to Improve Your Relationship Using Empathy

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You may  have seen the emotional intelligence quiz from the New York Times that was floating around last week. (Uh, humblebrag! I totally read the NYTimes). The quiz tested how well you can read emotions just by looking at photos of people’s eyes. Turns out that shiz is hard! But it goes without saying, emotional intelligence, otherwise known as empathy, is a pretty necessary ingredient in a happy relationship.

Here’s another quick quiz: does your partner often get mad at you for not realizing when he/she is sad, excited, angry, annoyed, hungry, horny, or recently got a haircut? Then you, my friend, might have a low emotional intelligence. But fear not! There are ways you can up your emo IQ and avoid future arguments.

When we communicate with someone, only 7% of what we get across to another person is through our words alone. If you’re lacking in empathy, it’s very possible you’re only hearing the 7%, which barely gets the whole point across.

One study in Scientific American showed that our ability to feel empathy is actually a muscle that can be strengthened with a little mental exercise. In the study they had subjects participate in “compassionate meditation,” which basically involved focusing on five specific people (someone they loved, a friend, someone they’re fighting with, a stranger, and of course, themselves) while repeating a compassionate phrase like “May you be free from suffering.” And lo and behold, after two short weeks of doing this for 30 minutes a day, they were more altruistic and empathetic.

Not one for meditation?  Here’s an even easier cheat sheet to becoming a more empathetic person:

Listen! When your partner is talking to you, do your best to give them 100% of your attention – or at least 90% (checking Instagram only takes, like, 10% of your mental focus).  Listening also means not interrupting! You’ll be shocked at what you can learn.

The 93% rule. This is a fascinating rule that’s huge in the social science community but might not be as well known by us civilians: when we communicate with someone, only 7% of what we get across to another person is through our words alone. The other 93% percent comes from other cues like body language and our tone of voice. If you’re lacking in empathy, it’s very possible you’re only hearing the 7%, which barely gets the whole point across. Here’s an example: on Sundays, my boyfriend bogarts the TV by watching approximately 114 different football games over the course of the day. When he asks if that’s OK I usually respond, “Yeah, it’s fine.” But if he’d actually pay attention for once he’d realize my tone saying, “Well, I have three episodes of New Girl on the DVR and there is an America’s Next Top Model marathon on Oxygen, but you go ahead and keep me from doing something I’d really enjoy.”

So fear not, friends, empathy doesn’t have to be so elusive. And remember, if all else fails, plastering a smile on your face and offering a foot rub is always just as good as actually caring.

Image via Veer

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