Empathy means you understand what someone is going through. Not that you sympathize or agree with them.
Having empathy for your partner starting at the beginning of the divorce process can make all the difference in the world. It helps lead to a divorce in which both partners are “satisfied” with the outcome. It means less conflict and cost.
Stepping into the shoes of the other person to see their perspective, makes it easier for the two of you to work through disagreements. People who can empathize with each other are also more likely to treat each other in a kinder, more civil manner. Your children (even adult children) see that, and it has a tremendous positive impact on them.
There are evidence-based exercises that we can all do to increase our empathy. They can all be modified to help you as you navigate a divorce. They are:
- Talk to New People
The idea behind this is to be curious and go beyond superficial conversations. In the divorce context, be willing to really listen to your partner and ask genuine questions to understand what matters to them and why. By taking the time to do this, one can often learn that what the other person is saying isn’t what they really mean. For instance, “You’re not getting the house” may really be covering up the pain of the loss of the marriage.
- Try out Someone’s Else’s Life
This exercise focuses on literally walking in the shoes of another person. This is a bit easier for a person involved in a divorce, because both partners are really getting divorced. That doesn’t mean that each person will feel the same things, but generally, each person is feeling some form of pain, as well as fear around children and/or money. Examples are to really think about what it would be like to see your children every other weekend, or what it would be like to move to an apartment and worry about how to pay bills each month. It is also helpful to try to identify positive traits and strengths about the other parent. They may be harder to find, but with effort, they can be identified.
- Join Forces for a Shared Cause
This exercise encourages people to work on a shared project or goal, which generally results in people minimizing their differences. For parents who are divorcing, the goal is the children. Think about the goals you jointly share for your children and use that to help guide your settlement discussions and post-divorce relationship.
For more information: https://www.nytimes.com/guides/year-of-living-better/how-to-be-more-empathetic