Relationship Advice Tips by Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

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Trevor has empathy for his son but not his wife

Watching his wife struggle with their defiant three year old son made Trevor feel concerned for the boy. He imagined that Nancy would lose her cool and get rough with little Peyton and do some damage. Trevor’s entire emotional energy was focused on Peyton’s wellbeing.  Peyton’s rebellious crying and hitting his mother became a sign of wanting freedom from a heartless ogre.

Nancy’s frustration and stern voice was a sign of controlling behavior and disregard for his son. Trevor was able to empathize with his son, but not with his wife. Trevor was pulled into protecting Peyton the victim from Nancy the cruel tyrant.

Acting from a place of empathy for his son Trevor pulled him away from Nancy and told her she was not handling the situation appropriately. He showed his wife that he disapproved and what’s more not liking her in that moment. Trevor gave all his love, softness and support to his son and withdrew his love, understanding and support from his wife.

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Nancy felt as if she was chained, unsupported and thrown over for her son

Lack of empathy for his wife had a big impact on Nancy and the marital relationship

Nancy felt like he was taking sides

Nancy felt she had to compete with a 3 year old child

Nancy felt her struggle as a parent was not shared by her husband

Nancy felt shunned, demoted in her husband’s affections and made to stand in the corner and suffer.

Nancy became the naughty child being admonished and Peyton became the object of comfort and understanding.

Nancy became the enemy and Peyton became the ally

A huge rift developed between this couple.

In this situation Trevor was not able to use his emotions and empathize with all concerned.

Trevor couldn’t empathize fully because he was missing the third vital component of empathy.

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Empathy means understanding everyone’s point of view at the same time

The third secret ingredient of empathy

The first component of empathy is sharing feelings.

The second component of empathy is to be able to separate your feelings from that of the other person.

The third component of empathy is to have flexibility in regulating your feelings so that you can engage in multiple perspectives at the same time. The Journal of Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 2004.

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empathy helps everyone feel connected,loved and understood

If Trevor had been able to empathize with his wife and son at the same time

He would have been seeing all sides and feeling all the feelings of and with his wife and son.

If Trevor had been able to manage his intense feelings of fear that his son was being harmed

He would have been able to understand his wife’s fear that she couldn’t control a 3 year old boy. He would have been able to sense that Nancy was scared of hurting her son.

If Trevor had been able to feel his son’s defiance and not just his rage at being controlled

Trevor would have been able to understand Nancy feeling provoked, up against a wall, alone and unsupported.

If Trevor had been able to use his gut feelings to understand how Nancy was also a victim of a determined and strong 3 year old

He would have been able to offer her support and encouragement rather than reprobation and shame.

If Trevor had been able to feel both his son’s distress and his wife’s distress

  • He would have realized how they were in a power struggle and that both were victims and bullies to one another.
  • Then Trevor would have been able to get in touch with times when he felt bullied and help out in this mess.
  • He would have been able to remember times when he felt like a bully to get his way. He would have appreciated the sense of power and guilt that Nancy was experiencing.

Trevor would have been able to use all his feelings and experiences to inform him about both Nancy and Peyton’s dilemma.

If Trevor had shared his feelings with and between Nancy and Peyton, while still keeping his own experience firmly intact, he would have been able to manage his emotions in ways that benefited all concerned. He would have calmed everyone down, reduced the temperature and found compromise.

Trevor would have been using all three components of empathy and brought the family closer together and safer in the knowledge that everyone is understood, tolerated and accepted. Empathy for everyone knits families together. Empathy for only one person at one time divides families into good guy and bad guys, making trust and security a major issue.

So learn from Trevor’s mistakes and share your feelings, keep a hold of your own versus that of others, and feel for and with everyone involved.


Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.


Disclaimer: this article is for information and educative purposes only. There is no liability on the part of Dr. Raymond for any reactions you may have when reading the material or using the suggestions contained therein. Interacting with this material does not constitute a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Raymond, Ph.D.