How to Get More Empathy from Your Husband

Many of you tell me your husbands lack empathy.

They have little empathy for how rotten you’re feeling, little empathy for how illness has uprooted your life and little empathy for how fearful you are about the future.

My heart goes out to you.  Living with little to no empathy in a marriage is tough.

Some people have great difficulty expressing empathy.  It’s not intuitive nor did they see it modeled well growing up.

There will always be people inept at empathy but I believe they are the minority.  Most people have significant capacity for empathy given the right circumstances and environment.

If empathy is currently dormant in your marriage, a number of factors could be at play.

Why your husband is withholding empathy

There is no proof that men are less capable of empathy than women or that women are more skilled at empathy than men.  These are generalizations and stereotypes.

More often than not, a lack of empathy means something is broken.  It’s an indication that something needs to be fixed or changed.

If you were to ask your husband why he’s not more empathetic, would he give you the following responses?

  • You expect me to read your mind.
  • You let your illness consume you.
  • You have forgotten how to have fun.
  • You want me to boost your self-esteem.
  • You talk about your illness constantly.
  • You rarely acknowledge how your illness impacts me.
  • You have expectations that I can’t meet.
  • You don’t give me any empathy either.

Can you hear the underlying resentment?

Nothing will kill empathy more than resentment.  Resentment causes spouses to retreat to their respective corners, lick their wounds and wait for the other to make the first move.

Ways to draw out empathy in your spouse

Chronic illness can be excruciatingly difficult, no doubt about it.  You have every right to cry, scream and feel sorry for yourself from time to time.  But if you allow illness to consume you, your spouse will get resentful.  The lack of empathy in your marriage then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Here are some ways to draw out empathy in your spouse:

  • Inject some fun into your life. 

Illness has a way of taking the fun out of life.  It can be negative and depressing.  Negativity and depression will permeate your marriage if you’re not careful.  Injecting some fun into your life helps to maintain a healthy balance.

What activities and hobbies did you pursue as a couple when you were dating?  Can any of these activities or hobbies be modified so that you can enjoy them today?  What makes you both laugh?  When do you most enjoy each other’s company?  Empathy flows more easily when you’re relaxed, your defenses are down and you’re having fun together.

  • Think of your illness as a child

If you’re a parent, you know how easy it is to get consumed with the needs and demands of your kids.  You can easily get lost in your role as a parent and forget that you’re also a wife or husband.  What happens to couples who live for their kids and neglect each other?  Sadly, they wake up one morning to find the love has died or they no longer have anything in common.

Illness is no different.  Devoting all your energy, time and attention to your illness will starve your marriage.  Find the time to invest in each other on a regular basis.  Empathy thrives in an environment where both partners feel loved, safe and secure.  The only way to create this type of environment is to consistently make your marriage a priority.

  • Remember that empathy is a two way street. 

Living with chronic illness is challenging.  Being married to someone who is chronically ill is equally challenging.   Dreams die, plans get deferred and opportunities are lost due to illness.  These disappointments affect both of you.   Put yourself in your husband’s shoes and remember that empathy is a two way street.

The next time you’re tempted to complain about your husband’s lack of empathy, do something radical.  Be the first to extend it.  Not because you’re trying to gain any empathy for yourself but because you genuinely want to communicate understanding and compassion.  You may just be surprised at the empathy that flows back to you.

  • Ask for what you need.  

Admit it.  You often wish your husband could read your mind.  You would love for him to say the perfect thing or shower you with thoughtful acts of kindness without having to tell him.  You reason that he should just know these things!  That’s not reality.

Instead, ask for you need.

Try the following:

I need ___________ when I’m feeling ____________.

I would like you to give me ___________ when ____________.

I really appreciate when you say or do _____________________.

These actions/words __________ (list them) are very helpful when I’m feeling ___________.

These actions/words __________ (list them) are not helpful when I’m feeling ___________.

Not everyone is born with an abundance of empathy nor is everyone good at consistently expressing it.  But given the right environment, feedback and encouragement, empathy can take root and blossom.

What are some ways you and your spouse express empathy to each other?  Please leave a comment!




17 thoughts on “How to Get More Empathy from Your Husband

  1. You obviously have never lived with a man that lacks empathy. Men are always putting the emotional burden back onto women, just like this article, when all along they should be the leader.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Joy. I didn’t mean to imply that empathy or the emotional temperature in a marriage is the woman’s responsibility. Both parties are clearly responsible for their own ways of relating and behaving. My message was more a reminder that we can’t expect to receive what we don’t give.

    • I couldn’t even finish reading this article. I can’t stomach hearing one more time how “it’s all my fault” and I’m the reason it’s not fixed. Thirty years of this marriage has taken away my life. I can’t wrap my head around a human being who is so cruel with his words, so unbending, so empty. I’m 70 years old!!! What have I done to my life!?!!

      • Karen, I am so sorry for your pain. In no way did I mean to suggest that your husband’s lack of empathy is your fault. Emotional abuse is very real and devastating to a marriage. I obviously don’t know your situation but I hope you seek help from a trusted friend, family member or counselor. You need support and your husband needs both intervention and accountability for the choices he’s making. You’re in my prayers.

  2. I totally disagree with this. I have loved and taken care of my husband for over 21 years + 2 years dating. I have done everything for this man. When he had a couple of construction accidents through the years I did everything in my power to get him well again. Never once made him feel guilty he couldn’t do anything at the time. When I was going through menopause he did nothing but complain, lack of sex, etc. I bought a book about menopause and he threw it at me, said it was all bullshit. Then after a fall I had to have rotator cuff surgery, if it wasn’t for my mom I would have never survived. So to put the responsibility on the women’s shoulder because her husband has no compassion, is so wrong. Some men are just jerks. Unfortunately I married one who is only happy and nice to me when he gets what he wants when he wants it, and pouts, and says mean remarks when I am ill. Nothing I could possible do would make this man more compassionable. Thank God my sons do not take after their father. Oh and after 23 years, yes, I am divorcing him….

    • So sorry…I didn’t mean to imply it’s the woman’s fault if her husband has no compassion. I was merely suggesting that reciprocal empathy is often one way to draw it out. Unfortunately, there are some cases where it appears the one spouse is completely lacking in empathy and down right mean. It appears this is your situation and I’m sorry you’ve had to endure so much emotional pain.

  3. We’ve been married ten years; more often than not, my wife is offended when I ask her to try to listen to me, talk to me, understand me, care about me, or hug me. She usually cuts me off with “okay okay” or “fine” before I get into a sentence describing myself. She often gets angry when I’m ill. She always gets angry when I’m sad. Even being exceptionally happy can trigger her resentment. Anger means the silent treatment, no eye contact, and no physical contact. Actually, she pretty much won’t talk to me for days after the words, “I need ___” or “I would like you to give me ___ when ___”. There is no forgiveness for having the wrong expression on my face at any moment, such as smiling while she talks. I’m afraid to even look at her while talking. I’m a chronic problem solver and always trying to research a solution and formulating strategies to prevent recurrences; I doubt she’s so much as once in our marriage tried to come up with a constructive solution for any problem between us, though of course I’d never dare ask. I know she’s never so much as asked me for my ideas on improving our relationship. Every idea I’ve ever suggested, accepted or not, has gone unimplemented when the time comes. When she’s in a good mood she says she loves me; but when I make a mistake unbeknownst to me, there is no amount of my suffering worthy of a kind or comforting word. I’m fortunate when she doesn’t say I’m not worth the hassle.

    • I’m so sorry Jorge…it sounds like you’re in a very difficult marriage. I’m hoping you have the support of family and friends. You don’t mention if you have tried couples counseling but I’m guessing your wife would not be interested especially if it involves looking at her own behavior in the marriage. In any event, I recommend you go yourself to receive the care, concern and attention you need. All the best!

  4. I have already tried many of the suggestions you gave. My husband along with lacking empathy also appears to be a depressed person. The first two years of our relationship seemed promising after a few bumps and also this being my second marriage I conciously make an effort to be patient and understanding. He comes from a dysfunctional family. I worked 10 years in the mental health field and was aware. Immediately of his families issues but never seen any signs of him having the same.Next month will be 7 years and I am emotionally and physically drained. He refuses tobget counseling and continues to blame me for all of our problems. If he thinks Im leaving him..he will turn on the charm but as soon as he feels things are ok..its back to the short temper, lack of interest and NO communication. I feel hopeless.

  5. I am tend to look at where I’ve went wrong a lot of times. I feel that when I first began to notice his true colors that I would blame his family and the stress they placed on him. Soon after I realized I couldnt continue to do so that he was choosing to take out his frustrations with them on me. I’ve confronted him several times and even when he appeared to underatand it still didnt stop.

    • Crystal, I’m sorry for your pain. I want to recommend an excellent book called The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope by Leslie Vernick. In this book, she provides real and practical help for women at the end of their rope. Please give it a read and let me know what you think. Blessings!

  6. For those of us who’re not satisfied with this article, might be dealing with NPD (narcissistic) husbands. They are sociopaths that lack empathy for everybody according to personal gain. They don’t need for you to harm them with resentment to give you lack of empathy, lack of empathy/remorse comes natural to them.

    • So true Usha! Narcissistic Personality Disorder requires intervention and treatment by a professional counselor. No spouse is able to “cure” or manage this disorder on her own. Thanks for the insight!

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