My grandpa died this morning. I found out as I rolled over to turn off my alarm. My screen showed an email from my uncle. "Dad passed to the other side at 5:25 a.m." And a wave of sadness hit me.
These are the moments you don't think about when you're falling in love.
While you're snuggling into your boyfriend's shoulder during your impromptu dance on his front lawn, you don't think about how he'll respond when your parent dies. Or when you lose a job. Or when any other inevitable heartbreak of life comes your way - because they will come.
We don't think about it, but we should.
How does someone deal with pain - theirs and yours? Are they empathetic or sympathetic? The answer can make all the difference in a relationship, and yet we never take it into consideration.
Empathy and sympathy are two very different things.
Sympathy is often well-intended, but it lacks the vulnerability and the action necessary for empathy. Years ago while in a relationship with a man I thought was the love of my life, my paternal grandpa died. My boyfriend's response to my grieving text was simple: "At least you know he's gone to a good place."
No heartbreak should be dismissed with "at least."
"At least" invalidates emotion. "At least" kills empathy. And maybe you'll be OK with both of those while you're dealing with agonizing heartbreaks ... but maybe you won't.
Empathy, on the other hand, is connection. Brené Brown, a research professor of empathy, vulnerability and courage, said, "Empathy is a choice, and it's a vulnerable choice because in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling."
In contrast to the sympathetic (though not helpful) response I received from my boyfriend of years ago, this morning the moment after I read the bad news, my husband immediately pulled me into his arms. "I'm so sorry," he whispered. I knew he meant it because over the past few days he had come with me through my mourning process.
In the hospital, he held my sick grandpa's hand and cried with me.
When we stayed up until 4 a.m. to be with him, he was by my side. He visited my grandma even when I wasn't there. When he found out my cousin had stayed up all night to be with my grandpa when he died, he took the day off work and offered to watch her kids.
In a time of mourning, empathy will create connection, and in a marriage those tender moments are some of the most critical for the relationship.
Empathy doesn't look as good in an Instagram picture as a perfect body or beautiful smile, and it definitely won't generate as many likes. But it will be what makes you hold on when you experience miscarriage or when the diagnosis reads cancer.
In turn, most of us likely want to be the person who responds with empathy rather than sympathy. As Brené Brown mentioned, it's a choice. According to nursing scholar Theresa Wiseman, an empathetic person:
1. Has the ability to take the perspective of another person
Amberlee is the content manager for FamilyShare.com and earned a degree in journalism. She creates beautiful things with her experience in writing, graphic design, photography, video and music. She loves her family, the outdoors, baby foxes and podcasts.