Thanks for reading the Introductory post about Empathy, but now I have a question for you.

When was the last time you visited an art gallery and viewed the treasured pieces of art that were displayed? If you remember your last visit, and if you recall the time you took to walk through the halls and deliberately take in, interpret and comment about what you observed, then you are not far off from demonstrating Empathy.

Think of Empathy as being invited into one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world, which happens to be located in the mind and heart of your spouse, friend or partner. By employing a patient, deliberate and mindful communication process, you are able to “view the pictures” that are important to your spouse that are “on the walls of his or her heart.” As your communication process helps you to observe her valuable thoughts and feelings, what do you see and what are you learning about her that helps you to understand where she is at emotionally, during the time you have taken to reflect upon her artwork (her thoughts)?

What is your insight telling you about her circumstance?  What questions do you ask to inquire more about her condition?  What comments do you make or what behaviors are you moved to implement based on what you discover about your spouse? When you slow down and take time to view, take in, interpret and respond to the valuable pictures in the gallery of her mind and heart, you are practicing Empathy.

Let’s take this one step further. Let’s say you walk into a room in the gallery of your spouse’s heart, and the room has four (4) walls. Let’s call the room “our most recent talk about our marriage” room.  Well, on each of the four walls is a picture depicting how she felt the last time the two of you talked about something that was of concern about your marriage. As you walk around the room (in your conversation with her) you’ll notice that these are the “pictures” your wife sees about your most recent talk; her thoughts could look something like this:


Wall #1: “I felt a wave of fear, anger and shock when I heard you say you were skeptical about us working out and that you wanted to throw in the towel. I thought that was unfair because we have both been doing the work to rebuild our marriage and now it seems like you are sabotaging our progress. I didn’t like that at all.”   


Wall #2: “It shocked me to hear this because I thought we were making progress and had a great time at the lake last weekend. Now I’m confused and I am wondering what happened…and when I hear things like this it makes it hard for me to want to open up and be vulnerable with you.”  


Wall #3“I also didn’t feel equal to you, like I had a voice in the matter. I felt like you hold all the cards and what you say goes. Going forward, I would like for both of us to talk about what may be generating doubt in you, because your doubt triggers fear in me. I would like for both of us to use our communication and problem solving tools equally to try to understand what you are afraid about so that your fear and my fear does not drive us to a place where neither of us want to go. Are you willing to do this?”

couples-talkingWall #4: “Perhaps we could talk after dinner and begin to sort things out and come to an agreement on how to proceed. I love you John and I want our marriage to work, and I am committed to continue working to overcome my fears and other feelings that may flare up…what about you?” 

If you are John, then “walking around the room” and integrating all of the complex data that you discover on this particular issue will reveal more information about your wife’s feelings than just looking at one wall, and subsequently getting stuck in your conversation because you or your wife are only focusing on 1/4 of the problem.

I have seen couples experience great frustration because what is most important to her is her hurt feelings about not being consulted regarding his thinking process (“Wall #3”), and him fearing not being able to handle her legitimate expressions of anger (“Wall #1”).

Sadly, each may stand next to what they think is the most important picture on the most important wall, arguing for hours to convince their spouse about what he or she seems incapable of seeing, only to discover the solution to their problems (at about 1:00 a.m.) is to be found on one of the other unexplored walls (in the example above, Wall #3 or Wall #4)! To avoid this mistake, I encourage you to make sure you work to ascertain and understand all that is relevant to an issue, which usually occurs when a thorough examination of the heart is taken.

To experience a fuller and deeper form of Empathy means both of you may need to take responsibility to patiently dialogue about the varied and complex issues that deserve your insight and comprehension. Asking questions that will help you to gain a more complete understanding about all that is involved with this one specific issue in this one specific room in the gallery of the heart means you are one step closer to demonstrating and delivering the skills connected to Empathy, because observation, discovery, communication and understanding are all involved in the empathetic process.

Application #1: Take time to explore the 4 walls of your spouse’s heart. Taking time to examine, inquire and reflect about all of the “data” that is connected to one issue will help you to grasp and understand the complexity of what your spouse is thinking, feeling and wants you to know about any one particular issue.

Application #2:  Use your tools that help you to gather knowledge and information about your spouse’s viewpoint, condition and “the way she see’s it.” Some of these tools were written about in the “Know the Truth” post.

Application #3: It is very important to remember you are in her gallery!  You may be tempted to talk about a “similar piece of art in your own gallery” (or, how you see the issue from your own point of view as it originates in your heart). Don’t fall prey to this. You will have plenty of time to visit “the gallery of your heart” to talk about how you see things from your vantage point momentarily. For now, focus on using your energy to look at things from your spouse’s perspective and learn about what is most important to her.

Application #4: Consider practicing any of the “Empowering E’s” which are powerful and healing responses to any relational hurt and pain in that they facilitate Encouragement, Empowerment, Emotional Restitution, Equality and Empathy, which are a few but some of the necessary ingredients that promote healing.

Thanks for reading this info on Empathy and next time we’ll look at questions that you may wish to consider asking in your effort to learn more about what you observe in the heart of your spouse.

Future posts on Empathy will be labeled “Empathy #2,” “Empathy #3” and “Empathy #4” and so on.

Thanks for visiting and please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.

TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill

Businesswoman presses button psychological counseling online on virtual screens. technology, internet and networking concept.

Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Such a meaningful metaphor and the examples, with the language, are very helpful. Sharing! Thank you.


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About Dr Ken McGill

Dr. Ken McGill is an ordained minister and has been involved in counseling for more than 25 years. Dr. McGill holds a Bachelor's degree in Religion from Pacific Christian College (now Hope International University), a Certificate of Completion in the Alcohol and Drug Studies/Counseling Program from the University of California at Los Angeles and a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University. Dr. McGill received his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Family Psychology from Azusa Pacific University in May, 2003. Dr. McGill's dissertation focused on the development of an integrated treatment program for the sexually addicted homeless population, and Ken was "personally mentored" by dissertation committee member Dr. Patrick Carnes, a pioneer in the field of sex addiction work. Dr. McGill authored a chapter in the text The Clinical Management of Sex Addiction, with his chapter addressing the homeless and sex addiction. Dr. McGill is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the States of Texas and California and Mississippi, and is a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, through the International Institute for Trauma and Addictive Professionals (IITAP). Dr. McGill had a private practice in Glendora, CA (Aspen Counseling Center), Inglewood, CA (Faithful Central Bible Church), and Hattiesburg, MS (River of Life Church), specializing in the following areas with individuals, couples, families, groups and psychoeducational training: addictions and recovery, pre-marital, marital and family counseling, issues related to traumatization and abuse, as well as depression, grief, loss, anger management and men's and women's issues. Dr. McGill also provided psychotherapeutic treatment with Student-Athletes on the University of Southern Mississippi Football and Men's Basketball teams. Dr. McGill served as the Director of the Gentle Path Program, which is a seven-week residential program, for people who are challenged with sexual addiction, sexual anorexia, and relationship issues. Dr. McGill also supervised Doctoral students in the Southern Mississippi Psychology Internship Consortium with the University of Southern Mississippi. Dr. McGill was inducted into the Azusa Pacific University Academic Hall of Honor, School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences, in October, 2010. Dr. McGill currently works as a Private practice clinician with an office in Plano, Texas, providing treatment with people who are challenged in the areas mentioned above.


Daily Bread for Addressing Compulsion