If you want to strengthen your relationship with your partner, be empathetic, especially when the other person is experiencing something good. This was the conclusion of an interesting investigation, led by Michael Andreychik from the University of Fairfield in Connecticut. For years, empathy has stood out as one of the most desired capabilities in the dating world. It is what allows us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and essentially, help them get through the bad times in their lives. There’s sense to this. When you are disheartened, you expect the other person to understand and support you (whether they’re a man or a woman, and each in their own fashion, as we saw in an earlier example). But strangely enough, according to Andreychik, it is even more valuable for a person to be there for you in the good times – not just the bad.
Shared victories are more complete and rewarding
To demonstrate this, Andreychik chose 175 men and women and asked them in two investigations to measure the level of empathy their partner showed them and how satisfied they were in their current relationship. It came as no surprise that the people who perceived a higher degree of empathy from their partner when they were going through a tough time were happier in their relationships. They felt like they could count on them. But what wasn’t as expected was the response about positive moments. When a person perceived their partner as empathetic to their success or good experiences, they were up to five times happier in their relationship than if their partner wasn’t there for those moments. What is the reason for this?
According to Andreychik, when a person is feeling down, there is the risk their partner may not know how to help them. Men and women look for different ways to ignore or overcome problems. Some prefer to go into hiding to order their thoughts or simply sweep them under the rug until they decide what to do with them; other women, for example, prefer to talk through their issues to find a solution or at least, relief. These are different strategies, which require the other person to take on different attitudes. But these are not always easy to predict. However, when we are feeling positive, we look for someone to celebrate with. You see this when you receive a job promotion and your children surprise you, or when you favorite soccer team wins a division title.
It is more valuable for a partner to be there for you in the good times – not just the bad
Shared victories feel better, they are more complete and if your significant other isn’t with you during those times, you feel their absence more. The reasons for this could be that they have a different criteria for success or that they are so caught up in their own issues they can’t see outside themselves or simply that they are jealous. Whatever it may be, if we take the results of this test into account, the more willing we are to support out partner in the good times, the stronger our relationships will be. In order to do this, we must train our positive empathy.
First, it is important to identify what our partner is going through. If we are just navel-gazing, it will be difficult to perceive any emotions that are not ours. We need to stop thinking about ourselves, lift up our heads and start asking questions like: “What is going on with my partner?” Secondly, being empathetic requires genuine and sincere interest in what’s going on in the other person’s life, which means you have to ask and listen, without imposing your own opinion. Thirdly, when you know about a success in their life, it is a good idea to be the one to ask about it, surprise them by celebrating this success, or, if it is about a funny story or a hobby of theirs, share in their joy.
To sum up, when we are truly happy for our companion’s successes, we strengthen our relationship and feel better with ourselves. Like Professor Mariano Yela of the Complutense University of Madrid (1921-1994) said: “You don’t need love to be alive but you do need it to make life worth living.” Happy St. Valentines Day!
English version by Laura Rodríguez.