From the first date to established relationships, the litany I hear is that “he/she doesn’t get me!” The glue that holds relationship together has everything to with pleasing one’s partner. However, making someone feel good requires a good “read” on them. A set of rules can’t possibly apply – rather one must learn from experience when a compliment, a tight hug, a token present, or even a warm grin suffices. This is quite nuanced, and some people are quite good at this; others seem to repeatedly miss the cues their partner may be providing.
Therapy becomes an important way to improve upon empathy. In a relaxed and comfortable environment, it’s easier to be comfortable being oneself. In the presence of a sensitive and experienced therapist, it’s often possible to observe through interaction patterns and and careful discussion some of the errors one might frequently make. Among the most common are the inability to make one’s partner feel best understood, and the manner in which compliments are expressed. Feedback regarding eye contact, tone, paraphrasing, and timing can be immeasurably helpful. In most situations, because of their highly specific nature, it’s vital to include one’s partner in the session. When two people are with me, I can observe feedback loops which seem to “misfire,” and at times, be destructive.
Outside of therapy, watching videos can be quite illuminating. While there are instructive videos available, well-written tv shows, especially those with continuing story lines can be a good way to learn from the satisfactions and mistakes of others. There is also recent research to suggest that as little as a few minutes a day of reading literary fiction can sharpen one’s empathy skills! This was recently reported in the New York TImes.