When you tell me you are grieving the loss of a loved one, my brain help’s me experience your loss even if I have not lost a loved one myself. I am able to imagine how it would feel to lose a loved one.
So what does this have to do with getting what you want from your partner? You can use the brain’s ability to empathize to your advantage in your relationship. But first you must examine how you approach your partner when you want something.
Let’s say that you want your partner to regularly wash the car. What approach would you take to get your partner to comply with your wish? Would you badger your partner, promise to reward him or her, or explode in anger after a period of waiting for the car to come home bright and shiny?
The best way to motivate your partner is to generate empathy for your desire for a clean car. Your challenge is to present your desire in a manner that asks for empathy.
One method would be to contrast your feelings when the car is dirty versus when it is clean, “I feel tense when the car is dirty. I feel that it projects the image that I am a slob; but when the car is clean, I feel confident and that I am projecting a positive image!”
You may be tempted to establish rules of conduct for your relationship – such as, call me if you are going to be more than 15 minutes late. The problem with such rules is that your partner will be tempted to argue about the rule rather than appreciating the feelings that generated the rule. It is better to suggest to your partner, “I know that I worry too much, but when you are late, my mind rushes to all of the awful things that could have led to your being late. If you just call or text me, then I’ll be able to worry less.”
By challenging your partner to empathize, you are also challenging him or her to actively care about you. By asking your partner to show caring for your views and feelings, you avoid debating whether your request is reasonable. You can even say, “I know this isn’t reasonable, but it is really important to me!” This allows your partner to determine whether you are worth caring for in this particular way.
You must realize that caring does not mean that you get everything you want. Empathy is a two-way street. Start today to sharpen your skills by listening for your partner’s views, feelings and desires. Show your partner that you are motivated to care for him or her.