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Can Too Much Empathy Harm Your Relationship?

DiPietro Law Group, PLLC

Modern couples value empathy above all else. Emotional understanding is the first step to preventing/resolving marital issues. Too much of a good thing can cause problems, however, and in marriage, it's surprisingly easy to achieve an excess of empathy.

In Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, Yale Professor Paul Bloom argues that empathy constitutes a 'poor moral guide.' He views this oft-touted quality as biased and irrational — and the cause of everything from relationship issues to war atrocities. Clearly, Bloom holds a controversial opinion, but it has some merit. We preach moderation in all other areas of life; why should empathy be any different?

Unconvinced that empathy could be a problem? Read on to learn what happens when excess empathy takes over a relationship.

Emotional Depletion

Demonstrating empathy can be tiring. As an empathetic individual, you acutely experience the other person's anger, grief, or anxiety. This causes cortisol (the stress hormone) to spike. The average spouse only holds so much emotional stamina. If you feel compelled to share in your spouse's joys and pains, you'll eventually feel drained, or worse, resentful. Excessive empathy prevents you from keeping your distance when needed for your mental sanity — and theirs.

Intrusive Behavior

If you fully experience the other person's emotions, you may feel compelled to solve their problems for them. It's only natural — you want to alleviate the pain the two of you constantly suffer. Unfortunately, your spouse may view your efforts as intrusive.

It's a common scenario: One person tries to find a proactive solution when the other simply needs to vent. Fearing intrusion, the suffering person withdraws until the emotions can no longer be contained; the ensuing outburst is that much more painful for the empath.

Struggling to Break the Cycle of Abuse

Empathy is particularly problematic when one-sided. Many relationships feature an alarming imbalance of power. The least-powerful partner may use empathy to excuse the other person's bad behavior. This trait enables abusers to avoid confrontation and continue acting out. Too much empathy could be a problem in romance, but it's a valued trait among Virginia attorneys. Still, you need balance — your attorney should be supportive, but also assertive, even aggressive when necessary.

Look to DiPietro Law Group, PLLC for compassionate, yet proactive counsel through the ups and downs of the divorce process. Contact our Virginia family law attorneys at (888) 530-4374.

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