I received quite a bit of feedback and questions about last week’s blog, “Manage the Pain; Love the People.” The blog focused my father’s reflection on an interaction with my mother early in their marriage and how he believes he could have done a better job managing the situation. My father reflected on his lack of empathy, which led to him being triggered as my mother wrestled with her own challenges involving my father and his mother.
Thanks to everyone who read it and thank you also for the questions and comments. One of the questions was “What’s the point of him empathizing with her?”
Was he supposed to fix her problems? Or—after developing a better understanding of my mother’s history—should he have ignored the issues that he had a problem with? What should he have done if my mother kept doing whatever he had a problem with?
If you didn’t read the blog yet, please do so to gain some context. If you did and have a question or a comment, please share it.
I found the questions I received related to the value of empathy to be thought-provoking. Sure, it’s good to put ourself in someone else’s shoes. Theoretically. But what do we do with that? What is the point?
Empathy is the action of not the ability to put ourself in someone else’s shoes or circumstance. Empathy isn’t theoretical. It is active. And without action, whatever we are doing isn’t a show of empathy. It is more so philosophy: I care about how you feel, but I will ignore what is happening to you or with you. Ignoring is not caring. Ignoring whatever is going on is being disconnected. Love is an act of connection.
Along with empathy, the ability to calm ourself is vitally important. Calming ourself, in this context, means living our vision and working toward the thing or the environment we wish to create despite the attitude and efforts of anyone else. If we wish to create a loving environment in our household, partnership, or anywhere else, it is not contingent upon the actions, attitudes, or efforts of anyone else . . . including our partner.
One way of pursuing the ability to calm ourself is to reduce and/or eliminate our triggers (the things other people do that we respond to with irritation). This was previously discussed in my “Are You Glad I’m Home?” post.
Alright, enough with the definitions. What’s the point in it all? Our ability to be empathetic is important because we are identifying the root of someone else’s challenge(s) and we can use that information to bring their challenge(s) into perspective. We may realize how deeply our partners’ issues run. That they are not doing whatever to bother us or in a direct response to us (as we may assume). They have historic programming that feeds their response(s). Once we identify a root, we no longer need to ask questions of and fight with the leaves or the branches. We can begin to accept the person for who they are, at their roots. We can also work to reduce how triggered we are by them.
We work toward accepting a person’s history and their historic characteristics. We acknowledge that the roots run deep and that there are years of history entwined in whatever they are doing in the moment that we find irritating. So we realize that it is highly doubtful that arguing or fighting with our partner will change something that runs so deep.
Instead of conflicting, we also have the opportunity to accept that whatever our partner is doing would not irritate everyone. Therefore, their action is not an irritation by definition. It is irritating to us. And there is a possibility of reducing the anxiety or irritation that we associate with that action, if we work to reduce and calm our trigger. Instead of asking, or even wanting, our partner to change, we can work to change ourself. It is a beautiful opportunity.
In the future, if we find ourself triggered, let’s take a look at, and possibly accept that, we are triggered and that our partner is not irritating, we are irritated. Then let’s try sitting in that irritated state just a little longer than we have been able to in the past.
None of us wants to be considered an irritant by our partner. And none of us wants to be irritated! Each of us, as individuals, have the opportunity to address this. We get the opportunity to eliminate perceiving our partner as irritating, and we get to work on the part of us that gets triggered by a specific action. Both can be loving.
Watch Frank Love’s presentation “The Act of Caring.”
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Frank Love coaches individuals toward creating a loving culture in their family. He is also the author of Relationship Conversations You Don’t Want to Have (But Should Anyway) and 25 Ways to Be Loving. To schedule a free consultation, contact Frank at Frank@FrankLove.com.