Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is a crucial skill in any relationship, especially in marriage. As a clinical psychologist, I have witnessed firsthand how empathy can make or break a couple’s ability to navigate the inevitable conflicts that arise. In this article, we’ll explore the role of empathy in marriage, how it can help couples navigate conflict, and practical strategies to cultivate empathy in your relationship.

Understanding the power of empathy

Empathy is more than just sympathizing with your partner’s feelings; it involves actively trying to understand their perspective, even when it differs from your own. Research has shown that empathy is a key predictor of relationship satisfaction and longevity.1 Couples who practice empathy report feeling more connected, supported, and understood by their partners.2

When it comes to navigating conflict, empathy can be a game-changer. Instead of getting defensive or trying to “win” an argument, an empathetic approach involves listening to understand, validating your partner’s feelings, and working together to find a solution that meets both of your needs.3

Empathy in action: A real-life example

Imagine a couple, Lori and Christopher, who are arguing about their finances. Lori is stressed about their mounting credit card debt, while Christopher feels like they should be able to enjoy their hard-earned money. Without empathy, this conversation could quickly escalate into a heated argument, with each partner becoming more entrenched in their own perspective.

However, if Lori and Christopher approach the conversation with empathy, it might look something like this:

Lori: “I know you work hard and want to enjoy our money, but I’m feeling really anxious about our credit card debt. Can we talk about ways to balance our spending and saving?”

Christopher: “I hear you. I know the debt is stressing you out, and that’s valid. I want to find a solution that helps us both feel good about our finances.”

By practicing empathy, Lori and Christopher are able to have a productive conversation that acknowledges both of their feelings and needs.

Cultivating empathy in your marriage

Like any skill, empathy takes practice. Here are some practical strategies to cultivate empathy in your relationship:

  1. Practice active listening: When your partner is speaking, give them your full attention. Avoid interrupting or planning your response. Instead, focus on understanding their perspective.4
  2. Validate their feelings: Even if you don’t agree with your partner’s perspective, you can still validate their feelings. Phrases like “I can see why you would feel that way” or “That must be really difficult” can help your partner feel heard and understood.5
  3. Put yourself in their shoes: Try to imagine how you would feel in your partner’s situation. Consider their past experiences, current stressors, and unique personality traits that might be influencing their perspective.6
  4. Express your own feelings and needs: Empathy is a two-way street. By openly and honestly expressing your own feelings and needs, you give your partner the opportunity to practice empathy with you.7


Empathy is a powerful tool for strengthening your marriage and navigating conflict. By actively trying to understand your partner’s perspective, validating their feelings, and expressing your own needs, you can create a more connected, supportive, and resilient relationship. While it takes practice, cultivating empathy is well worth the effort for the long-term health and happiness of your marriage.


1. Sened, H., Lavidor, M., Lazarus, G., Bar-Kalifa, E., Rafaeli, E., & Ickes, W. (2017). Empathic accuracy and relationship satisfaction: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Family Psychology, 31(6), 742-752.

2. Perrone-McGovern, K. M., Oliveira-Silva, P., Simon-Dack, S., Lefdahl-Davis, E., Adams, D., McConnell, J., … & Gonçalves, Ó. F. (2014). Effects of empathy and conflict resolution strategies on psychophysiological arousal and satisfaction in romantic relationships. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 39(1), 19-28.

3. Levenson, R. W., Carstensen, L. L., & Gottman, J. M. (1993). Long-term marriage: Age, gender, and satisfaction. Psychology and Aging, 8(2), 301-313.

4. Weger Jr, H., Castle Bell, G., Minei, E. M., & Robinson, M. C. (2014). The relative effectiveness of active listening in initial interactions. International Journal of Listening, 28(1), 13-31.

5. Greenberg, L. S., & Goldman, R. N. (2008). Emotion-focused couples therapy: The dynamics of emotion, love, and power. American Psychological Association.

6. Kurdek, L. A. (1978). Perspective taking as the cognitive basis of children’s moral development: A review of the literature. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly of Behavior and Development, 24(1), 3-28.

7. Johnson, S. M. (2012). The practice of emotionally focused couple therapy: Creating connection. Routledge.