According to Business Insider’s 2017 research, one of the most popular Google searches related to relationships was, “How to save your relationship.”
This was at number five in the top 10.
Couples therapist Esther Perel previously told Business Insider that there are two behaviours that are the “saving grace” of a relationship going through challenges: showing empathy and taking responsibility.
In all my relations, I have always had a struggle of “caring too much”. I don’t know how to care about someone from a distance. Equally, I have a problem of not being able to know when to let people be.
Often, I get told, “I know you mean well Kabelo, but just let me be. I understand that what you are saying comes from a good place, but just let me be.”
I want to start showing empathy. I want to simply listen, hear the story out, and ensure that I understand and not even make a single suggestion or remark.
I am tired of ending up in conflicts with people who are near and dear to me because of the different lenses I look at things through. Every single time I hear of a problem or something that was not done, I switch into problem solving and contingency plan mode.
My challenge is, if I foresee a problem from a person’s approach to a situation, I quickly want to warn them. I want to see them avoid what is ahead straight away. My friends and family members remind me every single chance they get: “Not everyone is like you. Let people make their own mistakes. Yours is to simply be there for them.”
Let me admit, I don’t know how to be there for anyone close to me without wanting to help. I suppose my definition of love and care is wrapped around being cautious, and cautioning the next person about what is to come. Also, I have come to realise that I find it very difficult to sympathise with someone when I know they could have avoided a situation.
This possibly makes me cruel or heartless.
My understanding is, one can be very empathetic but fail to be sympathetic. By definition, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. On the other hand, sympathy is feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
Here is the thing: as much as I understand what they are going through (empathy), I struggle to grasp or feel sorry for a person who makes a potentially harmful decision (sympathy).
I deliberately didn’t mention much about taking responsibility. I am very quick to admit that I am wrong and apologise. People in my life know that saying “I am sorry” comes very easily to me.
I must also add that I have had a lot of relationships (friendships in particular) ending because of my struggles with sympathy. I couldn’t thoroughly explain why I cannot physically be there for someone who knew how detrimental their decision was and yet went ahead.
I care too much. By the time they need the sympathy, I have been pained by the process(es) of their decision(s).
Nevertheless, the older I get, the more I realise that to have peace in my relations, to save them and nurture them, I have to practise being more sympathetic. I just hope that they don’t expect my sympathy to be a space where I move mountains for things that could have been avoided in the first place.
I will save my relations with empathy and sympathy.
Kabelo Chabalala is the founder and chairperson of the Young Men Movement (YMM), an organisation that focuses on the reconstruction of the socialisation of boys to create a new cohort of men. Email email@example.com; Twitter @KabeloJay; Facebook Kabelo Chabalala
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