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Empathy as the Key to Romance

Samuel Hearn

Kathryn from 'Through a Glass Brightly' - published on 02/14/14

By contrast, take the example of melancholic Mr. Bates from last week's Downton Abbey. Sanguine-phlegmatic Anna is distressed that Bates is off by himself looking sullen and anxious. He tells her, "Your husband is a brooder, and brooders brood." She does not respond with, "Well, snap out of it," as a choleric might. Instead, she says, "Well brood on me, then." She accepts that this is his tendency and chooses to redirect it towards a more positive end.

If you invite me to your wedding, you're going to get this book. I know the cover is kind of meh (I put a pretty wrapping-paper cover on mine), but it is the best tool for marital harmony that I can possibly give to another couple. What ten years of loving my husband has taught me is that we're always happiest when we're taking the time and the energy to consider each other's distinct viewpoint—generally (remembering our temperaments) and specifically (appreciating the particularities of the given circumstance and observing carefully each other's language, verbal and otherwise). This is how empathy fans the fire of romance. Nothing tells me that I'm cherished by my husband like his accurate articulation of what I'm experiencing and his offer to share the yoke. I think about that as I look around at all of the couples at weddings. I like to imagine how they compare and contrast temperamentally.

I give this book as a wedding present because I wish someone had done that for me. If I had known from the get-go that my husband is drained by socializing rather than energized (like I am), I could have spared us at least a dozen fights about "over-committing" and "being so lame." If I had known that nagging is the worst thing that I could do to inspire my husband to take out the trash every morning, I wouldn't have seethed through my coffee steam a thousand or so times. Choosing to say, "It makes such a difference in my day when you take out the trash on your way to work. Thank you so much *kiss*!" has been infinitely more productive than an exasperated, "How many times do I have to remind you to do this? Do I have to put it in your hand and open the door myself??" I now know that when he does not take out the trash, it's not a deliberate choice to make my life harder (my go-to choleric assumption about most things); rather, he's contemplating the next chapter of his dissertation or dreaming of a world without modern architecture. It's not what I would be thinking about as I crush a yogurt container under the lid of the trash can, but it is one of the things that I love about him—his ever-teeming mind.

One of my favorite scenes from Brideshead Revisitedis when a very drunk Sebastian vomits into Charles's window and his fellow reveler attempts to explain the situation:

"I trust that you will forgive my friend. The wines were too various. It was neither the quality nor the quantity that was at fault – it was the mixture. Grasp that and you have the very root of the matter. To understand all is to forgive all."

This is how God is with us. He is all-knowing and all-merciful. We are called to imitate that greatest empathy. Now that I have a clearer understanding of how my husband thinks, I more easily and happily give him the benefit of the doubt; which is no more than the courtesy that I give myself all the time. "Love thy neighbor as thyself." This is a mandate of our faith. And it is a burden made all the lighter when we realize that the unique temperament of our beloved is the very Will of God, and that God shares with us His Divine Spirit to keep our wedding vows a whole life long.

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