This hilarious video highlights an important truth about empathy that can cause lots of problems in relationships or be a powerful source of connection.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4EDhdAHrOg]
Relationship Guru Pat Love author of, How to improve your marriage without talking about it comments on the fact that the brain actually has two empathy networks. The first is the one most woman are familiar with called the mirror neuron network.
This system enable us to feel into another’s world – it was discovered by accident during an experiment on monkey’s trying to figure out what part of the brain activated during particular activities. During a break a researcher grabbed a couple of peanuts from the monkey’s stash. The still wired up monkey’s brain processed the researcher eating the peanuts as if the monkey was eating them himself. The mirror neuron networks enables us to connect emotionally with another person and also to feel ‘felt’.
The other system is what love calls the Temporal Parietal Junction – this part of the brain enables us to see ourselves as distinct from another. It is part of what gives us the ability to stand apart from a situation and imagine how it might be different or improved aka fixed.
This system is very useful in disaster scenarios because we disconnect from our emotional responses and move into highly action oriented solution finding methods. It’s no surprise to most people that in general men are socialised to use this method of empathy.
There is a handy technique that can avoid these kinds of conflicts in your relationship. If you are upset and want mirror neuron empathy tell your partner e.g. “I’d like to share something and what would really help me is if you listen to me hold my hands and try and imagine what it feels like being in my world. This would make me feel loved and understood by you and I will probably feel more connected to you (and you might get lucky – is an optional but very effective ending).”
If you partner is wanting empathy but you don’t know which type simply ask, try, “I’d like to listen to listen to you well and it would help me know if you are wanting me to simply listen and try and understand your world or if you want me to think up some brilliant solutions?” Then give them what they asked for.
Finally the important thing to remember is what you appreciate is what you get more of. If you partner gets this even partly right tell them how much you appreciate what they did right and the impact it had on you – this gives your partner the tools to be more sucessful in loving you.