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Benefits of Empathy In Romantic Relationships


  •  Shiri Cohen Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital
  • Marc S. Schulz and Emily Weiss Bryn Mawr College
  • Robert J. Waldinger Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital
"Relationship satisfaction in couples plays a major role in psychological well-being, physical health, and longevity (KiecoltGlaser & Newton, 2001). Research suggests that empathy is a key component of satisfaction in romantic partnerships (Cramer & Jowett, 2010). However, the specific ingredients that foster empathy and the pathways by which those factors promote relationship satisfaction are less well understood. 

Much of the work on empathy has looked at empathic accuracy, the extent to which one can accurately infer a partner’s thoughts and feelings during an interaction (Ickes & Simpson, 1997), as well as the motivation that drives one to be empathically accurate. What is less explored in the literature are the consequences for close relationships of the perception of whether a partner is trying to be empathic, or perceived empathic effort. 

In the present study, we examine the relative contributions of these two facets of empathy—empathic accuracy and perceived empathic effort—to self and partner relationship satisfaction, focusing on empathy around positive and negative emotions separately. "

Empathy: The Secret Sauce to a Happy Marriage
July 4, 2012
by Julie Hanks
Communication is key to a happy marriage
"Are you empathetic? Is your partner? It might be the secret to a happier marriage. According to a recent study from Harvard University, being able to accurately read a partner's emotions--and believing that your partner is trying to understand your emotions--is related to couple relationship satisfaction. "
  • + couple relationship satisfaction 

Perceived empathy, accurate empathy and relationship satisfaction in heterosexual couples
Duncan Cramer, Sophia Jowett
April 22, 2010
"One aim of this study was to test a model derived from Cutrona that conflict and depression partially mediate the relation between perceived and accurate empathy and relationship satisfaction. This was investigated in 149 heterosexual couples using dyadic analysis. As accurate empathy was not significantly related to relationship satisfaction when actual and assumed similarities were controlled, this model was only examined with perceived empathy.

 Apart from conflict in men, the actor effects of the model were supported. Perceived empathy was positively associated with relationship satisfaction and negatively associated with depression and conflict. Depression and conflict were negatively associated with relationship satisfaction. There were two partner effects. Conflict in women was significantly associated with depression and relationship dissatisfaction in men."
  • + relationship satisfaction
  • - depression
  • - conflict.

Empathy is one of the most important abilities that help people understand each other. So why is it even more important in your relationship? By Lianne Choo

"Whether with your friends, family members, kids, neighbors, colleagues or your favorite Starbucks barista, empathy is very important when it comes to building lasting relationships with others. The most important person you should be empathizing with is, of course, your partner. If you can’t connect with the most important person in your life, then who can you connect with?
  • #1 Bridge the divide. ...
  • #2 Give each other attention....
  • #3 Bring out the positive. ...
  • #4 Compassion is practiced....
  • #5 Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. ...
  • #6 It teaches patience...
  • #7 Work on your flaws..."

‘I’m not a mind reader’: understanding your partner’s thoughts can be both good and bad
by Gery Karantzas
Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology / Relationship Science, Deakin University
January 11, 2017 
"Research suggests empathic accuracy buffers against aggression in couples and inhibits acting out in destructive ways in romantic relationships. Empathic accuracy is also linked to relationship commitment, being supportive of one’s romantic partner, experiencing relationship closeness, and couple wellbeing. Recent research has also shown that people who report high empathic accuracy are able to better detect whether someone is telling the truth or not.

Conclusion "The findings of this investigation can be interpreted as part of the growing body of evidence regarding the empathy-support link. In the present study, cognitive as well as affective empathy, and dispositional as well as situational forms of empathy played a meaningful role in shaping the provision of spousal support. This nuanced pattern underscores the value of taking a multidimensional approach to the study of both empathy and social support."

Verhofstadt L, Devoldre I, Buysse A, Stevens M, Hinnekens C, Ickes W, et al. (2016) The Role of Cognitive and Affective Empathy in Spouses' Support Interactions: An Observational Study. PLoS ONE 11(2): e0149944. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0149944