Confession: sometimes I have hard time letting a relationship quarrel go. I don’t hold a grudge, exactly…but I do sometimes prolong disagreements to make sure I’m being heard and understood. Of course, when I’m upset about something, sometimes this goes down less maturely than I’d like, and just when he thinks our argument is resolved, I jump in for round two. And three. (Do you understand why I’m upset? But do you get it?)
But before you criticize, I’ll have you know that science totally has my back on this one. According to a study by the American Psychological Association, empathy makes for a happy relationship…but men and women differ on what they want empathy on.
In addition to asking about overall relationship satisfaction, researchers had 156 heterosexual couples describe a recent incident with their partners that was frustrating, disappointing, or upsetting. The couples were asked to try to come to an understanding, in a 10-minute discussion together, of what had happened. The researchers recorded the discussion and then played it back for the couples, asking them to rate their negative and positive emotions throughout.
The results? Women wanted their partners to know when they were upset—in fact, the women reported happier when this happened (the men didn’t). The women were also happier when they correctly understood when their partners were upset, rather than happy. The authors behind the study suggest that these results may show that being empathetic to a partner’s negative emotions may feel threatening to the relationship for men, but not for women.
Do you see evidence of that in your own relationship? I’ll certainly ponder it next time I find myself asking “but do you really get why I’m upset? Are you sure?” when I’m having a disagreement with my (wonderful, patient) partner.