Being empathetic is a great quality to have. It’s also a very important trait when it comes to intimate relationships. However, being TOO empathetic might actually be ruining your love life, especially if you’re with someone who doesn’t appreciate this great quality, but rather, takes advantage. When you consistently put your partner’s needs above your own, or set your standards too low when considering your own needs in the relationship, it could be problematic.
In this case, the message that you’re sending to your partner is that your needs and feelings don’t matter, says psychotherapist, Dr. Robi Ludwig. “Empathetic people are more sensitive to the feelings of those around them. This can lead to taking responsibility for others’ feeling states, when you really shouldn’t.”
The overly empathetic person may lose the ability to even realize what they need in the relationship. They’re too busy identifying with their partner’s feelings that they can’t make decisions in their own best interest.
There is a clear loss of power and an increase in vulnerability.
“The overly empathetic person can feel burnt out emotionally because they don’t know how to separate themselves from the other person and the emotions the other person is experiencing. Suddenly, their partner’s problems become their own,” says Ludwig.
In intimate relationships, like most things, empathy is supposed to be reciprocal. If you’re the over-empathetic one (it is safe to say women are more empathetic than men) and with someone who can’t appreciate your understanding and kindness, it’s easy to be taken advantage of. It’s no surprise that sociopaths and narcissists tend to prey on these types of people.
A recent article titled “The Empathy Trap”, published in the June 2015 edition of Psychology Today, warns that if you spend more time thinking about your partner’s feelings than your own, focus more on what your partner says during an argument, to the exclusion of what you want to say, or that your mate’s feelings become your own, you may become trapped by your own empathy.
There is no argument that empathy is a great quality and a positive attribute. So, how do you prevent others from taking advantage?
“Ask yourself if the empathy is serving you and the relationship well or not. If the empathy is helping to plug into your partner’s needs without forgetting about yourself and your own needs, then great! But, if the empathy is getting you to forget yourself, your needs and creating an imbalance in the relationship, that’s not good,” says Ludwig.
Being empathetic should never feel exhausting. Sure, we want to not be seen as selfish, but there is nothing wrong with being self-aware. If you feel burnt out as a result of constantly putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and catering to THEIR needs, you need to revisit just how understanding and accommodating you’re being. It’s one thing to be empathetic and another to be someone’s doormat.
-Ashley M. Papa