Think You Know How Someone Is Feeling? No, You Have to Feel It, Too

Think you understand someone?  It doesn't really help unless you feel it, too.

That's the conclusion of some new research is that, in the absence of caring, understanding alone doesn't cut it when stressful situations arise.

When stress sets in, many of us turn to a partner to help us manage by being a sounding board or shoulder to cry on. Your odds of actually feeling better are much improved if they're both those things.

My partner isn't very good at listening, or understanding.  He just wants to solve it.  I understand that that's men's way of reacting to a crisis.  They want action.  But it would be so much more helpful if they let us feel it, then felt it, too.
New research by psychologists at UC Santa Barbara reveals that simply understanding your partner's suffering isn't sufficient to be helpful in a stressful situation; you've got to actually care that they're suffering in the first place.

Now that doesn't mean your partner has to care that your favorite shoe store is moving out of town (well, maybe), or that your tomatoes aren't growing. But it does help to have him look like he wishes you felt better about having to travel 30 miles to get those Louboutins today.

"When people were empathically accurate -- when they had an accurate understanding of their partner's thoughts and feelings -- they were more responsive only when they also felt more empathic concern, more compassion and motivation to attend to their partner's needs," explained lead author Lauren Winczewski, a graduate student in University of California Santa Barbara's Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences.

"People might assume that accurate understanding is all it takes to be responsive, but understanding a partner's thoughts and feelings was helpful only when listeners were also feeling more compassionate and sympathetic toward their partner. When listeners had accurate knowledge but did not feel compassionate, they tended to be less supportive and responsive," she adds.

Responsiveness has become an important line of study in social and health psychology because research evidence increasingly suggests that feeling understood, validated and cared for by other people is crucial to relationships and personal well-being. But exactly what enables one to be responsive to others?

Understanding another person's thoughts and feelings -- a cognitive skill known as empathic accuracy -- would foster responsive behavior only when paired with benevolent motivation, or empathic concern, the web site notes.

So the next time your husband gets angry about the pitiful candidates running for president, punch a pillow, too.


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