Empathy in relationships: The key to emotional intelligence

Enhance your romantic relationships by embracing empathy. Learn how it fosters emotional intelligence and strengthens connections.

On this page

Empathy is a key factor in the success of any relationship, especially when nurturing a romantic relationship. It involves being able to understand the feelings and experiences of your partner and being able to put yourself in their shoes. 1

Whether you’ve been married for years or are just beginning a new relationship, empathy is a powerful tool for creating a healthy, strong relationship. In this article, we’ll talk about the importance of empathy in relationships and tips for developing empathy in your relationship.

Are communication problems getting in the way of your relationship? Learn how effective communication can help create and maintain a strong bond with your partner.

The power of empathy

The power of empathy

The power of empathy in romantic relationships is something that cannot be overstated. It is the ability to understand and share your partner’s emotions, often a precursor to trust and communication. 2

When you can understand and appreciate someone else’s feelings, it creates a deep connection that helps the relationship thrive. This connection encourages intimacy, understanding, and trust. 3

Empathy fosters positive relationship outcomes such as satisfaction, trust, and effective communication. And married couples often cite empathy as one of the most important elements of a healthy marriage. 4

Thankfully, empathy is a skill that can be developed over time. So, don’t worry if you don’t feel like you can empathize with your partner. With a few simple strategies, you can start to build empathy in your relationship. 5

Build lasting love with emotional intelligence in relationships. Discover its vital role in nurturing understanding, trust, and a stronger bond.

10 Tips for developing empathy in romantic relationships

10 Tips for developing empathy in romantic relationships

Developing empathy isn’t just something that happens overnight. It takes time and effort to cultivate empathy in your relationship. Here are some tips for getting started:

1. Practice active listening

Active listening is fundamental to effective communication and empathetic engagement in relationships. It involves maintaining eye contact, nodding or providing non-verbal cues to show understanding, and asking clarifying questions to ensure comprehension. 6

Engaging in active listening requires focused effort and mindfulness. It involves setting aside distractions like electronic devices and creating a space where your partner feels heard and valued.

Discover powerful active listening exercises to strengthen your relationship. Foster understanding, empathy, and meaningful connections with your partner.

2. Engage in perspective-taking exercises

Perspective-taking is consciously trying to understand another person’s point of view. It involves adopting the other person’s perspective, even if you don’t necessarily agree with it. 7

One way to do this is through role-playing exercises. You can take turns “acting out” different scenarios, such as an argument or a disagreement, and then discuss how each of you felt.

3. Cultivate curiosity

Cultivating curiosity is an essential aspect of developing empathy in romantic relationships. Being curious allows us to explore our partner’s emotions, experiences, and perspectives.

Being genuinely curious about your partner is a sign of respect and shows that you value their experience. It also encourages open communication, the cornerstone of any successful relationship. 8

Improve your relationship through open communication. Explore techniques to express yourself authentically and create a stronger connection.

4. Show empathy through non-verbal cues

Non-verbal cues such as body language and facial expressions can communicate empathy. Showing understanding through non-verbal cues can often be more effective than words.

You can show empathy with a hug, a gentle touch on the hand or arm, or even just a smile. These small gestures can go a long way in showing your partner that you understand and appreciate their feelings.

Discover powerful ways to use body language to show love and affection. Deepen your connection and foster a more intimate relationship.

5. Be intentional with affirmations

Affirmations are words of encouragement that can be used to build trust and strengthen relationships. Statements such as “I love how you handled that situation” or “I’m proud of you for being so patient” can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated and valued. 9

Be intentional with your affirmations; try to make them specific and meaningful. Use language that is sincere, specific, and heartfelt. For example, you can express gratitude for their kindness, acknowledge their effort in a particular area, or affirm their resilience during challenging times.  

6. Practice forgiveness and compassion

Developing empathy also involves practicing forgiveness and compassion towards your partner. Forgiveness is an important part of any relationship, as it helps to address past hurts and enables us to move forward. 10

Compassion is about understanding and being aware of another person’s feelings without judgment. It helps us connect with our partners and understand them more deeply.

7. Make time for meaningful conversations

Having regular, meaningful conversations with your partner is a great way to cultivate empathy in your relationship. It helps you understand each other’s perspectives, feelings, and experiences.

Set aside time each day to have an honest conversation with your partner. Talk about what’s happening in your life and ask questions to learn more about each other.

8. Seek feedback and learn from mistakes

Empathy isn’t always easy, and sometimes you don’t understand your partner, or they don’t understand you. That’s okay because it’s part of learning and growing together as a couple.

It’s important to remember that we all make mistakes. If your partner does something that hurts your feelings, take the time to talk it through and ask for feedback. Be open to learning from mistakes and use them as opportunities to grow closer together.

9. Engage in shared activities

Engaging in shared activities can be a great way to build empathy in your relationship. Spending time doing something together allows you to understand each other on a deeper level and connect in meaningful ways.

Shared activities can be anything from attending a cooking class or hiking to simply spending time in the same room reading or listening to music. Something as simple as planning a date night can make a significant impact on your relationship. 11

10. Seek professional help

Developing empathy in relationships can be a long process, and if you’re struggling to make progress on your own, it might be beneficial to seek professional help. A therapist or counselor can guide and support you in developing empathy toward each other.

Even if you don’t feel like your relationship is in trouble, seeking professional help can be beneficial. A therapist or counselor can provide valuable insight and guidance to help you build a stronger, more empathetic connection with your partner.

Developing empathy in a romantic relationship isn’t always easy, but with the right knowledge and skills, it can be achieved. With patience, understanding, and practice, you can create a strong connection based on mutual respect and understanding. Learn how other effective communication in relationships can strengthen bonds and foster deeper connections with your partner.

  1. Decety, J., & Jackson, P. L. (2004). The functional architecture of human empathy. Behavioral and Cognitive Neuroscience Reviews, 3(2), 71–100. ↩︎

  2. Kimmes, J. G., & Durtschi, J. A. (2016). Forgiveness in Romantic Relationships: The Roles of Attachment, Empathy, and Attributions. Journal of marital and family therapy, 42(4), 645–658. doi.org ↩︎

  3. Welch, S., & Rubin, R. B. (2002). Development of relationship stage measures. Communication Quarterly, 50(1), 24–40. ↩︎

  4. Cordova, J. V., Gee, C. B., & Warren, L. Z. (2005). Emotional Skillfulness in Marriage: Intimacy As a Mediator of the Relationship Between Emotional Skillfulness and Marital Satisfaction. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 24(2), 218–235. doi.org ↩︎

  5. Baron-Cohen, S., & Wheelwright, S. (2004). The empathy quotient: an investigation of adults with Asperger syndrome or high functioning autism, and normal sex differences. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 34(2), 163–175. doi.org ↩︎

  6. Weger, H., Bell, G. C., Minei, E., & Robinson, M. J. (2014). The Relative Effectiveness of Active Listening in Initial Interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13–31. doi.org ↩︎

  7. Healey, M. L., & Grossman, M. (2018). Cognitive and Affective Perspective-Taking: Evidence for Shared and Dissociable Anatomical Substrates. Frontiers in neurology, 9, 491. doi.org ↩︎

  8. Kashdan, T. B., Rose, P., & Fincham, F. D. (2004). Curiosity and exploration: facilitating positive subjective experiences and personal growth opportunities. Journal of personality assessment, 82(3), 291–305. doi.org ↩︎

  9. Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228–245. doi.org ↩︎

  10. Fincham, F. D. (2009). Prosocial Motives, Emotions, and Behavior: The Better Angels of our Nature. ↩︎

  11. Harasymchuk, C., Walker, D. L., Muise, A., & Impett, E. A. (2021). Planning date nights that promote closeness: The roles of relationship goals and self-expansion. Journal of social and personal relationships, 38(5), 1692–1709. ↩︎

Author picture of Amy Clark
Relationship Expert

Amy Clark

Amy Clark is a freelance writer who writes about relationships, marriage, and family. She has been happily married for over ten years and loves her husband and three kids. Before …

Read full bio

Get the official app 😍

PumPum® app icon


For iPhone & Android
Browse all articles