Empathy is one of the sexiest skills you can have.
In my mind, good sex is less about how many Kama Sutra positions you’ve memorized and more about how you show up emotionally in the relationship.
Relationships can be rich with feelings, both celebratory and challenging. Being able to meet those feelings with empathy helps demonstrate our regard for our partners.
Knowing how to respond to your partner’s feelings is a key grown-up skill. And most of the time when people are having feelings, they need empathy, not strategy.
When empathy is nurtured, mutual understanding is also nurtured. And being understood is super sexy.
Here are four ways to nurture your own ability to empathize and connect.
1. Get curious and inquire.
In order to get more empathetic, we have to be curious about someone else’s emotional reality. We must wonder, “What’s going on for them?” without immediately going into evaluation or judgment.
Remaining curious, rather than judgmental, about their emotional reality helps us stay open and inviting to what they have to tell us.
Actively nurture your curious instincts. Wonder more and judge less.
2. Let go of “fixing” what’s going on for someone.
If your partner is expressing emotional distress, an effort to “fix it” is unlikely to land with them.
Fixing can be antithetical to empathy. One of my favorite definitions of empathy comes from the Center for Nonviolent Communication: “To be fully present with someone’s feelings, without trying to change what’s alive in them.”
That kind of presence is powerful. And when we can connect like that to a partner, it can be pretty damn sexy, too.
Most of the time we can’t fix something for someone, even if they wanted us to. Offer more presence and less strategy.
3. Don’t listen just to plan your response. Listen for their feelings and needs.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in communication in general is getting so in their own heads that they don’t fully listen to what’s being said by the other person.
They focus on their own reply rather than on deeply hearing the other person’s words.
Sometimes in our attempt to empathize, we get into our own stories about a time when we felt similarly to what someone else is feeling.
Occasionally this kind of shared experience is helpful – like in instances when someone feels alone in the world.
But often, if we go into our own stories, we take the focus off the person having the big feelings. What they really need is for us to just be present and make space for their feelings.
Giving empathy requires more listening than replying. Your presence is more important than your insight.
4. Ask what kind of support they’d like.
This is where a strategy might come into play. After you’ve listened and given your partner your presence, you can ask something like, “Is there any specific kind of support you’d like from me?”
If you want to offer suggestions, here are some examples: a glass of water, a tissue, some solitude, or just more listening. Let them tell you what they need.
Empathy is a communication superpower. But it’s a superpower that must be learned and practiced. We’re not born knowing how to be empathic communicators. I invite you to take try on these suggestions and see how they fit with your communication style. It might feel a little uncomfortable at first (new stuff often does), but in the long run, I think you’ll find it’ll help you upgrade your connection to the people in your life.