It's no shock that showing empathy for your partner leads to a better relationship. What's a little more interesting, though, is that men and women seem to value different kinds of empathy: in a new study, women cared more about their partner understanding their negative emotions, whereas guys were more concerned with sharing happiness.
According to a study published in the Journal of Family Psychology and recapped in ScienceDaily, researchers looked at 156 straight couples, married and unmarried, of various races and ages. They put the subjects through an extremely complicated routine designed to capture on videotape moments of positive and negative emotion. Then they played the moments back to the subjects and asked them to evaluate their partners' feelings and rate their perceptions of their relationships. They found that men were more likely to be happy in a relationship if they were good at spotting their partners' happiness. Women, on the other hand, were more satisfied if they were in tune with their partners' more negative feelings — and if their partner was in tune with theirs. Interestingly, when women were able to tell when their dudes were feeling bad, those dudes were more satisfied with the relationship too.
In one way, these results are a little depressing. The kind of bear out the stereotype that women are supposed to be the custodians of the relationship, making guys feel better when they're sad — but that men don't really care when women are feeling bad, they just want to share in their happiness. But of course, it's possible that these results were influenced by cultural factors — guys are always told that women are incredibly complicated creatures and they'll never understand why we're mad, so maybe some of them have stopped trying. The good news is that empathy in general seems to be good for relationships, and that if guys do a good job understanding why their partner is upset, they'll be rewarded with a happier lady (which, the study implies, will make them happy). Also, the study authors write that "the perception of a partner's empathic effort — as distinct from empathic accuracy — is uniquely informative in understanding how partners may derive relationship satisfaction from empathic processes." So ultimately, it may be less important that you always know how your partner is feeling, and more important that you show that you're trying.
Women Happier in Relationships When Men Feel Their Pain [ScienceDaily]
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