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!