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Empathizing With the Good and the Bad

A new study by Dr. Shiri Cohen(1), published by the American Psychological Association, explores empathy in relationships. The study had some expected and some interesting results. The expected results are what one would expect when considering empathy in relationships – men and women both want to feel like their partners can empathize with their happiness. What was surprising, however, was how men and women felt about negative situations.


Men felt worse when they could empathize with their female partners being upset, but women felt better when they thought their male partners could empathize with them when they were upset. For women, the most important thing was knowing that their partners understood their unhappiness. Or, as the APA article explains it, “men like to know when their wife or girlfriend is happy while women really want the man in their life to know when they are upset.”


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(1) “Eye of the Beholder: The Individual and Dyadic Contributions of Empathic Accuracy and Perceived Empathic Effort to Relationship Satisfaction,” Shiri Cohen, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital; Marc S. Schulz, PhD, and Emily Weiss, Bryn Mawr College; and Robert J. Waldinger, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 2.

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