Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Empathy Fuels Connection

Even though we are in recovery and overall, things are going well, sometimes I feel super disconnected with Ben. It's hard to communicate, and I honestly feel selfish most of the time. I have felt these feelings of selfishness quite frequently lately, and I know some have some real grounds while others don't (because I'm depressed and think not-so-nice things about myself).

But Sunday night, I realized where some of my selfishness comes from: Empathy. Rather, lack of empathy.

I practice empathy with my friends. I try to practice empathy on myself (because sometimes if I don't empathize from an outside perspective, I will be really mean to myself). And I prefer people to show me empathy too. So, why why why do I rarely show Ben empathy?

Quite often, when he comes to me with something big--like struggles he is having with his job, our finances, our infertility, or the addiction--I tune out. I blame him. I "at least" him to death. I respond, rather than connect. Many of my responses drive a further wedge between us, and then I blame him for the disconnection we experience. Why? Because he is the addict, and I'm depressed, and everything is his fault! Duh.

Except it's not. Not everything is his fault. And sometimes I am selfish.

Watch this video:

Empathy fuels connection! It's feeling with people and sharing their sacred space that feels like a deep, dark hole.

Sometimes when Ben comes to me in his deep, dark hole, I respond kind of like, "Well, that sucks. Now listen to how depressed I am." "At least I don't look at porn too." "At least you're not going to be a mother. You have no idea the pain I feel with infertility." "Infertility would feel much harder if you were in my shoes. Because a lot of this is your fault anyway." "At least you have a job." The list could go on. And that list is selfish.

When I'm in a dark hole, Ben generally comes down to me and sits with me. But when Ben is in a dark hole, I tend to remind him who's fault it is that he is down there (not always, but way too often).

And I wonder why we feel disconnected.

In reality, it doesn't matter what kind of pain he feels. It doesn't matter what kind of pain anyone feels because PAIN IS PAIN. That person's pain is their reality. We have to understand that. Even if their pain looks small on the outside, to them, it's big. I'm positive we have all felt pain before. And we can use our reality of pain to connect. Connecting with your reality and understanding of the pain and darkness you have felt can be scary because it's vulnerable. And it can feel uncomfortable. But once we connect with our experiences, we can connect with the person in the dark hole and build connections and show empathy, which will help lessen the burden.

"I know what it's like down here, and you're not alone." That should be my response. That should be all of our responses to anyone's pain.

If I can't imagine the pain my husband feels when he is aching for owning his own business and the stress of providing for our family, that's okay. Because if he is in a dark place, and he is inviting me in to that sacred space, that space can be used to fuel our connection. I can connect with his pain because I have experienced pain of my own. I know that sacred place. (And if I don't know how to connect, I can say, "I don't know what to say. But thank you for trusting me with this." And then I can sit with him as long as he needs me to.)

And if, for some reason, I truly can't connect because of my own trauma and depression that is related to him, I can let him know in the most empathetic way that I can't be his support at that time. Because I do need to keep myself safe and hold on to my boundaries.

Empathy is what has been missing in my relationship with Ben. I don't connect to that piece of me that does understand his pain. Sometimes it's because I really and truly can't be vulnerable in that way because of what is happening in our marriage. But, especially lately, quite often, I can connect and choose not to.

I realized on Sunday, if I want our relationship to work (and obviously I do), I have to choose empathy. I have to start choosing to really connect with him on both of our terms, not just mine. There was a time when I really needed distance and space, and we couldn't be vulnerable. Now is the time to start being vulnerable in ways we haven't in a long time. I need to choose empathy. I need to choose vulnerability because that is what drives connection.


  1. You might appreciate this story.

    This guy's walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can't get out.
    A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, "Hey you. Can you help me out?" The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
    Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, "Father, I'm down in this hole can you help me out?" The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
    Then a friend walks by, "Hey, Joe, it's me can you help me out?" And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, "Are you stupid? Now we're both down here." The friend says, "Yeah, but I've been down here before and I know the way out."

    1. David, that is a great story! Thank you so much for sharing it. It is so applicable on so many levels. And what the friend did in the end--that is what I love about empathy.

  2. This is exactly what I needed to hear today. When I went through all of my own trauma dealing with the addiction of my ex-husband I became so disconnected that it has been constantly on my mind lately. I am disconnected with almost everything and everyone because that was the only way I knew how to cope with it all. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this, now maybe I can learn to reconnect. I am really glad you are part of our family.

  3. In recent months I've learned that sometimes we still have lingering pain and heartache, not because the Savior can't take it all away, but because we need to use it to connect and love those around us. Even though our pain is different, it is the connection we create as we empathize that allows us to complete the healing process. Just something I've seen in my experience. You are amazing Kilee and I know that if anyone can do it, you can!