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Lack of Empathy in a Relationship: Why It Matters & How to Fix It

A lack of empathy in a relationship can be a real deal-breaker, but righting the situation is possible if both parties address the problem.

lack of empathy in a relationship

There are certain traits we all need to become close to others and enjoy healthy and happy relationships. This is true for friendships, family relationship, and romantic partnerships. Without these traits, things become difficult. Particularly damaging is a lack of empathy in a relationship.

What is empathy?

Empathy is a trait which allows you to feel sympathy, love, and happiness for another person. It helps you put yourself in their situation and understand what they’re going through. When you have empathy, you’re able to put your own feelings or needs to one side and concentrate on the other person for as long as they need you.

From that description you can see why empathy is pretty important in a relationship! So, can a relationship survive if there is a lack of empathy present?

[Read: The 7 reasons why empathy is so important in a relationship]

Yes, but there must be work done to develop empathy over time. If the situation continues, the partner who is doing all the empathy giving is going to eventually feel unwanted and unloved, and it isn’t a sign of a healthy connection!

Is it a fixable problem?

There are two important factors when it comes to lack of empathy in a relationship. Firstly, address whether or not your partner is simply a little under the radar when it comes to empathy and needs to work on it, or whether they’re actually a narcissist.

The first situation is workable, we can pull some tricks out of the box and over time things may change for the better. However, the second situation is one you should walk away from now.

A narcissist can’t feel empathy because they suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The key trait of NPD is a total lack of empathy. You won’t change a narcissist. Don’t even try.

[Read: The clear signs you’re entwined in a narcissistic relationship]

However, if you’re pretty sure that your partner simply needs a nudge to be a little more open and in touch with their emotions and yours, there are ways you can get over a lack of empathy in a relationship and look forward to a brighter future.

Why is a lack of empathy in a relationship a problem?

A lack of empathy in a relationship is an issue because it will cause further problems down the line. It’s also not pleasant for the person who is showing empathy without it being returned.

Empathy helps you solve problems in your relationship, it helps you forgive and forget and move on from things which might otherwise derail your connection. It also lets you understand your partner far more deeply, and allows you to show love and compassion to your partner. In addition, empathy allows you to sidestep petty problems that aren’t worth your time, because you focus on the love you have for the other person.

When you lack empathy, you’re basically stuck in your own bubble. You’re self absorbed and everything is about you. You might not know you’re doing this, so it’s worthwhile having a check in with yourself and analyzing whether you could do things a little differently from this point onwards. [Read: The 12 signs you’re the one being selfish in a relationship]

What does a lack of empathy in a relationship look like?

If you’re not sure if there really is a lack of empathy in your particular relationship or whether you might be reading into things, let’s look at a few traits of a relationship lacking empathy.

#1 One partner gives more emotional input into the relationship than the other.

#2 They usually drop everything to run to their partner’s side if there is a problem. The other partner doesn’t reciprocate. [Read: How to stop being taken for granted in a relationship]

#3 One partner communicates their feelings more freely and easier than the other.

#4 They often feel unloved or unsure about whether their partner is fully engaged in the relationship

#5 It’s easier for one partner to forgive than the other.

#6 One partner reads the other better, e.g. body language, moods, and facial expressions. They pick up on nonverbal clues, while the other goes simply on words said only.

As you can see, it doesn’t look like much fun to be in a one-sided relationship. When there is a lack of empathy from one partner, it’s really what it is.

If you’re sure that your partner is simply in need of a nudge and a few eye-opening lessons, then there is hope. However, if you think your partner might be narcissistic, save your effort. Seriously, it’s not worth the time. You deserve better in that case.

[Read: The crucial tips to help you survive living with a narcissist]

How to deal with a lack of empathy in a relationship

So, if you want to try and work through it, what can you do?

It’s a long road. Don’t expect results straight away. Here are a few tactics to bring out the empathy in your partner.

#1 Stop doing everything for them. Don’t run to their side when you need them or be tempted to apologize for something when you know you’re not wrong.

Don’t gain emotional support from them if you really feel you’re not going to get it. It might sound harsh, but being a little emotionally unavailable for a while could be all it takes to jolt them back into reality. [Read: How to pull back in a relationship when you’re giving too much]

#2 Do more for yourself. This means going out with friends, spending more time with family members, and looking after number one. Stop pouring all your time and attention into your partner. Again, this could be all it takes to make your partner move back in line.

#3 Your partner notices the changes. If your partner approaches you about changes that are occurring in your relationship, e.g. you’re spending more time out of the house, go ahead and explain why. However, make sure that you do this in a way which doesn’t blame. Instead, focus on explaining how the lack of empathy is making you feel. [Read: 15 signs of codependency to know if you’re being taken for granted]

#4 Is your partner ready to make changes? If your partner is willing to make changes, help them do so. Support their efforts and praise them when they do good things. Don’t expect them to read your mind or simply know what you need, communicate and let them know.

The more you practice together, the more the empathy will grow. You should also make sure that you continue to show empathy towards your partner. You don’t just shut it off because you’re feeling disconnected.

#5 Take your time. Celebrate small milestones in your journey together.

At the end of the day, a lack of empathy in a relationship can be a reason to leave. If you’re willing to make changes, your partner should be on board too. If nothing changes, and you’re not happy to live with a one-sided relationship, look towards the future and move on.

[Read: How to fix a one-sided relationship before it ends in failure]

A lack of empathy in a relationship can be a deal breaker if nothing changes over time. Explain your needs to your partner and allow them to change, and you give the relationship a chance to survive.

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Nicky Curtis
Nicky Curtis
Having stumbled from one relationship drama to another throughout her 20s, Nicky is now somewhat of a guru in the crazy world of life and love. Telling it how i...
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