Asking for Empathy

by Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac.

"My husband's good at solving problems, but I wish he listened better when I want to share how I'm feeling or talk about our relationship. Is there something I could ask him to do?"

ready to pull out your hair!All of us could probably get better at empathy, but men in particular tend to be raised in our society to focus on facts and solutions rather than feelings and relationships. If approached with respect (and some empathy as well), many fathers welcome a gentle suggestion about what to actually do in order to be more empathic. One dad actually asked his partner to give him a list of questions to ask her, and this is what she came up with:

• Can you say more about ____________?
• What do you mean when you say _____________?
• Can you give me an example?
• How was it for you that ___________?
• How did you react when he told you about _____________?
• Could you say it in a different way so I can understand it?
• How mad were you? (Or worried, hurt, alarmed, sad, etc.)
• What was the most upsetting part? (The most irritating? The most worrisome?)
• What do you wish would have happened instead?
• What do you feel underneath all that?
• Did you also feel hurt (or embarrassed, ashamed, helpless, etc.)?
• What does ___________ remind you of?
• How does the history of __________ affect how you feel about __________?
• Deep down, what is really bothering you about ___________?

Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist, Jan Hanson is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a daughter and son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they are the authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin.

Copyright © Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Jan Hanson, L.Ac. Permission to republish granted to