Lack of Empathy: How to Deal When Your Partner Struggles to Feel.

Oct 4, 2021

We all hope to have relationships that overwhelm us with love and compassion. The unfortunate news is that not everyone can be loved because of a lack of empathy in relationships. Why is empathy important in a relationship? Empathy is the secret sauce that will make your relationship continue to grow and strengthen over time instead of dead-ending into a breakup. 

If your partner is struggling to be empathetic, these tips will help you through tough times:

  • Get Clear 

If you’re getting ready to confront your partner with their lack of empathy, the first thing to consider is that you share some common definition of the subject. To make things extra clear, feel free to use the definition below:

Empathy- the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Ultimately, empathy is a skill. And like any skill, it can be sharpened and refined. Due to how we were raised and our life circumstances, it may not yet be a developed skill set for either you, your partner or the both of you.  

Even if it is a developed skill, you’ll have to refine your abilities to be empathetic to ones that are tailored specifically to your partner. A lack of empathy in relationships isn’t a relationship death sentence but merely an opportunity for you to connect more with your partner moving forward. 

  • Reflect on How You Like Being Loved.

Just like any communication with your partner, the more clear you can be, the better. That might mean you first need to tune into yourself and figure out how you feel loved best. Consider learning the different types of intimacy and doing some journaling about what helps you feel loved. Similarly, if there’s a friend or family member that really IS hitting your love button, consider asking them for their feedback. How are they treating you, and how is it making you feel? Conquering a lack of empathy in relationships can sometimes be easier if you have a model of what you do like. 

And the most unfortunate news once you figure out how you like being loved? Your partner isn’t a mind reader, so you’ll have to tell them through ample amounts of open and honest communication. If you like when they take the trash out, tell them. If it really gives you butterflies when they tell you that you’re attractive, tell them. You’re responsible for clearly explaining this information to them. The clarity in how you like being loved is crucial. 

Try this excellent frame for the next time your partner does something that makes you feel great:

“I loved when you ____. It made me feel ____. I felt this way because ____. Can you please continue to do that?”

Remember that there isn’t one right way to love. Sure, flowers and chocolate are what are in the movies, but there’s no one size fits all approach. If you’re not sharing what you like with your partner, they’ll be dealing with their own- potentially misguided- assumptions instead. Give your relationship a healthy head start by figuring out and communicating how you want to be treated, and practice the different ways to say I love you to cater to all types of intimacy and acceptance of love. 

lack of empathy in relationships
  • Share with Care. 

A pivotal misstep happens when people try to rectify the lack of empathy in relationships with other unkind ultimatums. When you share how you want to be loved with your partner, it’s important that you do so kindly. After all, the golden rule states that we need to treat people how we want to be treated. 

Limit labeling your partner. While labeling them as “unempathetic” may feel good for you, those words can hurt. Odds are your partner is doing the best they can with the skills they have to love you. If you decide they aren’t empathetic, they’ll be less likely to grow with you because you’ve already limited their potential to be a more caring partner. They need to know that you’re assuming the best of them. 

When they reflect back to you what they’re hearing, listen with an open heart and always practice effective listening. Listen to understand, not to judge. Remember, if they’re learning how to show empathy in a relationship, they’re learning a lot from how you listen to them. If they have roadblocks to loving you in some way, you’ll need to work through those together. 

  • Love your partner 

It’s easy to be disappointed in your partner’s lack of empathy and harder to reflect on your own. Doing the work of digging in and loving another can be challenging. If you have trust issues, it may even feel impossible at times. 

It can also be a challenge if you’ve waited too long to broach the subject of lack of empathy in relationships with them. Holding on to hurt feelings can brew resentment and hostility. If this is where you’re at, it’s important that you take accountability for your anger. It’s ok to be angry, and valid that your feelings are hurt. It’s not ok to blame your partner for the struggles in your relationship. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango. You should be contributing equitably to the love in your relationship, and that means telling them promptly when things are or aren’t working for you, as a healthy relationship includes good communication, fairness, and trust

If you’re ready to move forward, get curious and actively seek ways to love your partner. Ask them what sort of acts of service would feel good for them. Ask them what the most loving things they like to hear from you. When they share, listen non-defensively, and then look for ways to turn towards them lovingly. A lack of empathy in relationships can’t improve unless you are both willing to be curious about how you can do more to serve your partnership. 

lack of empathy in relationships
  • Honor the Struggles 

Even the strongest couples struggle to find empathy for one another sometimes. External factors can have a huge impact on whether or not people have the capacity to connect. Anything from an overwhelming work schedule to a parenting challenge is enough to create a lack of empathy in relationships. 

So what do you do when you notice a struggle? Get curious. Odds are something is in the way of you or your partner showing love. Even with all the information in the world about how to show empathy in a relationship, there are going to be challenges specific to your relationship. Approach the situation with care and talk through what is and isn’t working for you. Ask what has shifted for them recently or if they feel cared for themselves. 

The strongest couples work through these moments of love loss together. They know a lack of empathy in relationships isn’t a terminal diagnosis but merely a symptom that needs further testing and care. 

Hopefully, you’ve figured out some answers to the question, “why is empathy important in a relationship?” and how it can be better integrated into yours. You deserve loving, empathetic relationships. Continue to remind yourself of this every day. Some people may be worth waiting for if they’re actively working to also love you. If your partner isn’t working or isn’t interested in working with you to love the way you need, you deserve to move on too. Always prioritize your care and make sure you continue to love yourself through the hard times you’re going through. 


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