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Empathy from WS?

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MandMs posted 6/16/2014 19:28 PM

Is it possible for the WS to have genuine empathy for the BS?

There have been so many discussions lately that leave me feeling unheard, misunderstood, and alone. It doesn't seem like my H is able to get past his own feelings of shame and fear to feel true empathy for me.

I've told him all I want is a hug and a pat on the back, maybe a "there, there, it's going to be ok" He agrees to do this next time but when there is a next time he can't bring himself to do it. The best he's been able to do is just shut up and not try to talk me into feeling better.

When we talk about it after he's failed, yet again, to comfort me, it becomes apparent that he's so wrapped up in his feelings in that moment that he can't bring himself to do the simple thing I ask for. Even as we talk about it I can hear by the things he says that he's thinking mostly about himself and trying to imagine how I'm feeling isn't even on his radar. It's like empathy isn't something he's capable of in this situation.

I feel like I've worked so hard to understand his whys and how he was feeling when he was acting out in his SA. I've been successful at putting my feelings aside to really understand and empathize where he was at that time in his life and the feelings that led him to cheating. I've actually been able to get to a place where I've actually felt sad for him and all he's been through with his addiction (substance abuse is a big part of his story as well as SA…)
Of course this is a place I can visit but I don't live there by any means. I am human after all!

I'm not sure exactly what I'm trying to say here but…

Do you think that empathy can be a learned skill if it is something that does not come naturally?

WS please chime in. Thank you!

blindsided14 posted 6/16/2014 20:05 PM

BS here. I think empathy can be a learned behavior. For my WW it is very much a work in progress. They are so used to thinking about me me me that, until the light goes on, you'll get nowhere. From what you've written, it sounds like your WH hasn't had that ah-ha moment. Is he in IC for his addiction issues and are you in MC? What happens in MC when he shows a lack of empathy? Does your C call him on it?

lostmylight55 posted 6/16/2014 20:17 PM

It's not an easy question to answer but here goes.

My mother has no empathy. Never had it and doesn't understand the concept. I've had conversations about it with her and it's just not there. I believe she's not capable of it.

Not coming naturally to someone is different from not having/understanding it at all.

I believe that I had empathy as a child – not through my primary caregivers but it was there somehow. I seemed to have lost it or buried it the more self centered and egotistical I became growing up and into adulthood and especially prior to and during my A.

I had to fall pretty hard and get to humility and humbleness first before I was able to open up enough to let the feelings of empathy in. There needs to be a willingness for it but I believe it can grow with time.

If toxic shame overwhelms you it will keep you focused on yourself.

I'm sorry you are having to deal with this.

sunvalley posted 6/17/2014 02:47 AM

I see it starting recently. I'm not sure if it is that it is learned or new. I think his empathy was suppressed during the As. I think he always had it in him, but he allowed himself to rationalize and blame shift during the As so that he didn't feel so guilty and ashamed. He went through a long time of guilt and shame overriding his ability to help me after Dday. He was still too needy and insecure to be emotionally available to me. He was defensive because he couldn't handle seeing my pain. It's only been recently that he's figured out ways to help me. Before it was by trying to get me to 'see the positives', focus on the good and moving forward instead of letting me just grieve my pain. Finally recently he gets it. He holds me when I get upset instead of trying to talk me out of it...that's compassion, that's empathy...talking me out of the tears by focusing on the positives and not letting myself get upset served him a purpose...it helped him not feel his emotions and guilt. Of course he wasn't empathetic when he was still dealing with things that way. But just holding me through the tears or doing something nice for me when I am angry, that is true empathy. It is coming back slowly as he moves out of self loathing and his own neediness, but I think they have to do their own inner healing before they can really show that they're emotionally ready to be there for anyone else.

mozzchops posted 6/17/2014 03:46 AM


I'm in the same boat here.
I have given her loads of advice over the last few months. She agrees with it but then never does it.

I have a feeling this is not remorseful behaviour...

somethingremorse posted 6/17/2014 09:41 AM

WH here. I think empathy is something that can be learned. Maybe your WS has something in his way that his work will fix.

Maybe it requires small steps -- have him make an "appointment" to listen to you and try to think about how you are feeling. Maybe have a set time every day to go through that.

I think that a lot of thinking is kind of brain wiring. To think differently, we have to create new paths for the wiring. For some people it comes easy. For others, it takes conscious repetition to establish that path.

Chinadoll30 posted 6/17/2014 10:11 AM

I think a lot of addicts lack empathy. Especially if the addictive behavior started in adolescence. The area of the brain responsible for empathy just shuts down. MC has helped us a lot with this. And I do think it can be developed over time.

MandMs posted 6/17/2014 20:13 PM

Thank you to everyone who chimed in. I don't know what I would do with out you all…

We've had a few good talks since and he agrees, we've spent the past three years talking about how he is feeling when he was active in his SA and what he's doing to change and his struggles and his character defects and on and on and on… now it's time to focus on me.

At least now, I think he is at the point where he can try to learn about what i've been feeling and experiencing since the avalanche of OW began.

We've started reading Living & Loving after Betrayal together which I think does a wonderful job explaining the physiological effects intimate betrayal has on a BS. I have another book coming about empathy that we will read together as well.

I think a lot of addicts lack empathy. Especially if the addictive behavior started in adolescence.

I think they have to do their own inner healing before they can really show that they're emotionally ready to be there for anyone else.

I think this is so true in my WH's case. He has always been so completely self absorbed and self centered he never got the chance to learn empathy for others. I hope he is reaching that point in his own recovery where he is capable of really learning how to be compassionate.

He has been in recovery for substance abuse for about three years and in recovery for SA for about a year. I don't think he has ever been able to really take a good look at the pain he has caused me and the lasting effects his betrayal has had on me. He has worked very hard and changed so much over the past 3+ years but this seems to be the final frontier for him.

Ibelieveinme posted 6/18/2014 00:18 AM

I have learned through this process to embrace the OW and be thankful for the OW because she taught me a lot in life. She taught me to start thinking about "me" to love "me". I no longer hate the OW nor do I want to hunt her down and make her die kind of thing.

Once we recognize that we are here on earth to learn lessons so that we don't have to come back, we have this "gig" licked. This takes a lot of soul searching and stop blaming the people who are directing this at us. Bottom line, forgiveness of someone's weakness will help you through this, whether you stay with the person or nor.

rachelc posted 6/18/2014 08:01 AM

Once we recognize that we are here on earth to learn lessons so that we don't have to come back, we have this "gig" licked. This takes a lot of soul searching and stop blaming the people who are directing this at us. Bottom line, forgiveness of someone's weakness will help you through this, whether you stay with the person or nor.

oh my... how long did it take you to get here? I just can't fathom it. What the heck is the lesson?

MandMs posted 6/18/2014 16:47 PM

I have learned through this process to embrace the OW and be thankful for the OW because she taught me a lot in life.

I think this was accidentally posted on this thread since it doesn't really have anything to do with the topic but…

oh my... how long did it take you to get here? I just can't fathom it. What the heck is the lesson?

I agree!! Seriously? I cannot imagine being so spiritually evolved that this could ever be my truth… if this is your truth then I'm very happy for you and in awe...

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