So you’re probably thinking this title has GOT to be clickbait but I promise you it’s not.
Early last year when we were preparing to lead a marriage conference we wanted to make sure to include many interactive sessions. No one wants to hear someone talking on and on at a conference. So we filled the agenda with short talks, exercises and videos.
One of the videos was an Empathy vs Sympathy by Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.
In preparation for our marriage conference, I had Russ review all the videos I had picked out. It’s a little less than 3 minutes so it was a quick study. When Russ watched it again right away, I wondered what did he miss? Seems straightforward. When I asked why he was watching it again, he said, I really want to get this.
Let me back you up 15 years. After Russ and I started dating, we waited 10 months before introducing me to the kids. We didn’t want them to experience a revolving door of people so we waited to make sure we were serious enough about each other before we included them. It was Christmas Eve and we were on our way to his former wife’s house to introduce both me and his former wife’s boyfriend to the kids at the same time. Obviously, there were some nerves walking into that evening.
During our drive that evening, I shared with Russ some difficulty I was having with a friend. His response was “I’m glad I have a great relationship with so and so.” I felt a million miles apart from him in that moment. It’s true when Brené says Empathy fuels connection and Sympathy drives disconnection.
Whenever I would ask Russ to understand my point of view, he assumed he would have to feel exactly the way I was feeling. It wasn’t the case, but I had a hard time explaining how I felt disconnected when I would share things, especially hard situations for me.
You know the guy in the video who says, “At least…” – that was Russ for years. It wasn’t until he watched this video did it resonate with him versus the disconnect I kept trying to explain. It truly has shifted our marriage into another level of understanding.
This past weekend we moved from our apartment into our new townhome. Moving for some folks is energizing and for others it is their least favorite thing to do. I’m energized and Russ is not! It is downright painful for him. Since we’ve been married I have moved 3 times with Russ and it has been extremely painful for me to see how miserable he is with a move. So with this latest move, I asked him to step aside and let me do the logistics. Who wouldn’t agree to that scenario?!
Naturally with any move there were some hiccups. To my surprise, Russ stepped in and helped me manage a situation that I could have easily done on my own but it was nice to have him alongside me to help. The most surprising part was how happy he was getting the house settled. Russ is a man of routine and convenience and nothing about a move is convenient.
Truly I tell you this is a different man than what I have experienced in the past. He was very caring, kind and supportive during this move. As a personalizer, I have a difficult time not taking someone’s frustration as a personal reflection of me. So it was nice to have someone who could stand in the middle of the chaos with me.
So what’s the lesson I’ve learned the past 15 years? That becoming one in marriage is a process. Your wedding day is just the beginning. Naively I thought we had talked through everything prior to getting married and marriage was simply about doing life together. But there is a pruning process that feels painful at times but looking back now I can see how important it is to stay in the fight of understanding each other.
What are some obstacles you have faced that you’ve worked through? Your comments help others to see everyone has issues to work through in marriage.