I have written previously that we bring two things to our relationships:
- Our Deepest Hope
- Our Worst Dread
These two principles are central to understanding how couples work together—or fail to work together! And, they should be a part of good couples counseling or marriage counseling because these twin pillars of emotional identity govern pretty much all of our behaviors and our thinking patterns.
If you don’t know what your partner’s deepest hope is, or if you don’t know what he or she most dreads, you’re probably also confused about the rest of the relationship. Perhaps you yourself don’t feel fully understood. And perhaps your partner is just as confused about your emotional inner world as you are about his or hers. When it comes right down to it, you and your partner might feel like strangers to each other, having little sense of what each one is feeling, thinking and longing for.
There’s nothing quite as lonely as finding yourself in a relationship with someone who doesn’t understand you and who doesn’t actually see you.
How Do We Begin To See One Another?
First, let’s be clear: when we speak about “seeing” one another, we’re talking about “seeing” your partner’s emotional needs. Some of those needs include the need to be respected and treated with dignity, the need to matter, the need to feel validated and acknowledged.
It’s easy to feel invisible when your partner doesn’t “see” what you need. Likewise, it’s easy to blind ourselves to the needs of others.
The Key to Seeing the Other is Empathy!
Empathy is how we try to imagine what another person is thinking and feeling by stepping into their shoes. Empathy is the momentary attempt to become the other!
As we begin to imagine what it must be like to be the other person, we become able to imagine their inner emotional life, to imagine their likes and dislikes, to imagine their emotional needs, their longings, and their vulnerabilities.
When both partners in a marriage engage in empathy, interesting things start to happen. As each partner begins to feel recognized and acknowledged by the other, he or she begins to want to reciprocate. Recognition breeds recognition. Empathy breeds empathy. The downward spiral of anger, recrimination, and dread becomes an upward spiral of mutual recognition as the deepest hopes and longings of each partner are acknowledged.