“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?”

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 partners welcome a gentle suggestion about what to actually do in order to be more empathic. One man actually asked his partner to give him a list of questions to ask, and this is what they 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 they 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 ___________?

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This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.