Love and Empathy Part II

Love and Empathy Part II

In the previous article titled "Love and Empathy", I discussed how one acts when you see a friend is upset, hurt or in danger.   This also extends to your neighbors as well, when they are hurt, scared or in danger, we sometimes find the courage to intervene and in most cases, we call the police if someone is in danger.  The bystander effect is a glitch in this normal way that people act.  I also talked about how a therapist uses empathy to help another person.  The person needs someone strong but also very empathetic.  A victim needs someone to console them as well as being a source of strength.  This is where it was hard for me to do when I was in love with someone.  Her name was Lynn and we lived as husband and wife.

To understand what I felt about her, one example comes to mind that doesn't exactly fit but it does work as a metaphor.  I saw someone with a car and they were obsessed with making sure there was no scratch on the surface of the car.  He was angry at anyone who would scratch his car.  He probably would not put his body in the way to ensure that no harm comes to that body, in the case of the car.  However, I would have done so to make sure Lynn was never bruised or scratched by anything or anything.  If she was sad and was crying it would hurt me, and I would feel sadness and get teary eyed.  If she was scared, I would feel sad for or with her.  For example, when receiving medical care, she had to go into the hospital.  It would not have been possible for me to play the role of the therapist in most cases if she had been hurt by another person.  I would feel sad with her, scared with her and angry at the person who hurt her.  This is different than what a client needs from a therapist - a client doesn't want the therapist to be the one to punish the bad guy or secure justice.    

This feeling with the girl I loved (the woman I loved) was a problem at times.  When she went into the hospital and wanted me to hold her hand while they insert an IV, I felt guilty when I felt sick or dizzy.  I suppose letting myself pass out would not have helped me to stay with her or support her either.  So, in one instance I got fresh air and walked for a few moments.  When I hear about men abusing their spouses, I am so confused.  I don't know how it is physically possible to be in the same room and not want to stop whatever is hurting the one I love.  That would make it physically impossible to cause harm or fear.  That should go without saying when one considers my desire to stop anything or any person from hurting her but I felt it necessary to clarify.  

In other settings, we were seen to argue often.  However, it would be counterintuitive to realize that Lynn and I had more in common than existed with 99% of everyone else I ever met or knew.  Our beliefs and opinions were more similar than I had with almost anyone I ever met or knew.  I say almost because occasionally I have found similar minds in the world, though it seems very rare.  Lynn and I, for the most part, were in-sync about most of the way we thought.  That may have seemed odd to those who saw us arguing all the time.  Of course, the person who pointed out this oddity turned out to be someone who had less in common with me than I had originally thought.  There were other observers, mutual friends, who saw through the apparent constant arguing.  Dusty was a mutual friend who saw no contradiction between the apparent constant arguing and the idea that we were both in love, of one mind, in-sync, and shared the same opinions and beliefs.  

In retrospect, the areas of disagreement resulted in me reconsidering my beliefs, opinions or understanding of different matters.  This ranged from morals to matters of science, and rational reasoning based on evidence.  It creates cognitive dissonance.  That is what happens when you discover two contradictory beliefs about the same matter at the same time.  Imagine a trial and you become certain of a person's guilt or you have an opinion about what justice is in a matter.  It is hard to hold the belief that a person is both innocent and guilty at the same time.  You might be frustrated that the other person doesn't see what you see or understand what you understand, so you would discuss the matter.  If I cannot persuade her to alter her belief than that effects my beliefs.  She is smart and has heard my evidence that leads to a certain conclusion so if she still disagrees, I am thinking from a state of mind that increasingly involves cognitive dissonance.  To merely disagree and argue a matter requires that we both listen and form good logical arguments with compelling evidence to form a conclusion.  If you are listening to each other, then you will have to come up with better arguments, more rationally reasoned arguments, with better evidence that better supports your conclusions. 

In most relationships, it is sad but we often give up the discussion out of fear of offending the other person or the effort to come up with a rational argument that leads to a certain conclusion.  This can cause unbearable anger, feelings of being insulted, and sometimes people stop talking to each other.  It would be different if we knew that our disagreement would not have the potential to lessen the love that we feel for each other.  It wouldn't destroy a valuable relationship.  We wouldn't feel that things are hopeless.  We wouldn't avoid certain topics.  It is my greatest wish that people discover whatever it was that we had that allowed this to work.  It is possible to translate this in some way into all of our relationships.  It is possible to disagree with respect.  Trying to demonstrate this is hard.  We have to accept the feedback from the other person when they state that we have resorted to insults or put-downs.   Often the fear that someone will upset me by disagreeing with me is a fear that the other person has that is not justified in me.  Technically, I suppose I feel an angry frustration when my argument fails to be persuasive but for me, I am angry at myself and I realize that the other person didn't cause that by disagreeing.  They were just being honest and that is what Lynn was doing with me.

I never felt in my discussions or arguments with Lynn that she would leave me, that she didn't like me as much as earlier, or that she would stop loving me.  If I said something I regretted, I would make it clear that I didn't mean it and I regret what I said.  She figured out that being angry and not speaking for a few hours didn't mean that my love for her changed.  I demonstrated that when we went out together after an argument.  I mutual friend (a poet) was releasing a poetry collection and we drove downtown to listen to his presentation and get a copy of his book.  We got a seat upstairs without hardly talking and then I went downstairs to get a copy of our friends book.  I asked the poet to sign a copy of Lynn and bought her a copy and brought it to her upstairs.  I remember how she smiled when I did that and commented about how hard it is to stay mad at me.  I just responded in a matter of fact way that it didn't change my feelings about her or my love for her.  She didn't ask for an explanation or for me to clarify that what I said was true that our argument or being mad at each other didn't change things at all.  She didn't bring up something regrettable that I said in a prior argument.  For example, one time she asked: "why are you still with me if you feel this way."  Initially, I responded in anger with "I don't know."  I don't know how she knew I didn't mean it when I said that I didn't know.  

I think it is unusual to know that someone understands that you don't mean it if you say something that suggests that you aren't sure why you are still with a person.   What I do know is that Lynn would not stay with a man whose love she doubted.  For her, there would be no value in that.  At the time, if I doubted her love for me, I would have left her.  It's a moot point because I never did doubt her love.   In addition, it was important that we didn't insult each other's character or at least if we slipped up and said something regrettable we made sure to apologize.  The only strange area of exception is in the area of morality.  It's hard to describe how we navigated that without insulting each other.  She didn't imply that I was stupid to believe in something just because I heard it in church.  Let me clarify so as to not attack religious teaching.  There are some rules or beliefs that are taught that we embrace without a logical argument that independently extolls the wisdom of the belief.  Also, there are ideas where we have an opportunity to say "How could you believe that?"  If you otherwise have high esteem for the person, the wisdom and morals of that person, it's possible to convey that question in a way that is less damaging to the other person.  She already knew I loved her, admired her, and respected her - including her thoughts and ideas.  

I suppose it would have been worse to not bring up the topic again.  That is a wisdom she had that I lacked.  She would not let a matter go.   If she had an argument about anything, like how to understand the character in a movie, she would not let me walk away to stop talking about a matter.  That might not be a good example but it is to demonstrate that the range of disagreements was not limited to the serious stuff.  In addition,  disagreements didn't build up as animosity or the feelings of anger over any matter didn't build up.  Walking away from a discussion when someone else is talking was also not allowed.  That might have been frustrating to me at times but I now see the wisdom of that.  I was more likely now to walk away out of frustration in any discussion.  It could be the smallest matter, where I might respond, "I don't want to talk about it anymore," which implies at least not right now ( often I recognize that if not now becomes not ever).  Therefore, even a relatively trivial matter of disagreement, like about a movie, is not a matter where I could cut her off while talking and walk away.  Is that emotional intelligence?  At the time, I think hers was better than mine, though I have learned since then.