Healing Your Broken Relationship: Developing Empathy for Your Partner

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In their book, Out of the Doghouse for Christian Men: A Redemptive Guide for Men Caught Cheating, authors Robert Weiss and Marnie Ferree list eight specific things that men (or women) who’ve engaged in sexual infidelity (with or without the presence of sex addiction/compulsivity) can do to help mend their damaged relationship. Although this advice comes from a book written for a Christian audience, we believe that the advice given is useful regardless of your spiritual belief system.

According to Weiss and Ferree, the eight actions you can take to repair your connection with your significant other include:

  1. Develop empathy for your partner.
  2. Learn to disagree in healthy and productive ways.
  3. Instead of telling your partner you care, show it.
  4. Always keep the need to rebuild relationship trust in mind.
  5. Anticipate and deal with potential hazards before they happen.
  6. Don’t forget about self-care.
  7. Express gratitude to your partner.
  8. View love as a verb.

In this post, we will examine the first item on this list: developing empathy for your betrayed partner.

Without a doubt, the single biggest step you can take toward rebuilding relationship trust and a more intimate bond with your mate involves empathy. Empathy, in case you’re wondering, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another sentient being.

Deciphering your betrayed partner’s thoughts and feelings isn’t easy, of course, and you won’t learn how overnight. Initially, you’ll need to learn how your partner thinks and feels through open and honest communication coupled with a bit of trial and error. You’ll have to consistently put yourself in your partner’s shoes and say things like, “I sense you’re feeling some anxiety. Is that right? If it is, can you explain what you’re anxious about? I really want to understand what you’re feeling.”

In general, however, you can bet that if your partner is behaving in a way that doesn’t make any sense to you, he or she is likely feeling one or more of the following:

  • Fear of further loss and abandonment
  • Shame (feeling unworthy of love, as if the cheating were somehow his or her fault and he or she deserved it and can never expect anything better from you or anyone else)
  • Self-doubt (fearing that whatever move he or she makes will be the wrong one)
  • Anxiety (the constant fear that something bad is lurking around the corner)
  • Worries about the future (related to finances, separation/divorce, caring for the kids, etc.)
  • Intrusive thoughts and mental pictures of your cheating

All these things are very natural reactions to traumatic betrayals by a loved one (i.e., you). Fortunately, as you learn over time to empathize with your partner’s fear, shame, self-doubt, anxiety, and whatever else he or she is feeling—when you’re able to feel these things with your partner—it becomes much easier to understand and accept your partner’s emotional ups and downs.