Are you happy in your relationship? The answer may depend on how empathetic you believe your partner feels toward you – and vice versa.
That’s the key finding of a new study that suggests believing your partner is trying to be sensitive to your feelings may even be more important than actual empathy – for both sexes.
The Harvard Medical School study, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, tracked more than 150 heterosexual couples and found individuals’ perceptions of their partners’ ability to tell when they are happy – or sad – is a critical factor to relationship satisfaction.
For the study, researchers asked study participants to describe a recent negative experience involving his or her partner that was upsetting. Investigators then shared those details with the individuals’ partners and the couples were brought together and encouraged to come to terms on the events.
At the end of the process, individuals were asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their relationships and whether their partners were empathetic. Researchers noted men who could effectively read their partners’ feelings tended to have female partners who had high levels of relationship satisfaction – even when those feelings were negative.
“The perception of empathic effort by one’s partner was more strongly linked with both men’s and women’s relationship satisfaction than empathic accuracy,” they wrote.
“Men’s relationship satisfaction was related to the ability to read their partners’ positive emotions accurately, whereas women’s relationship satisfaction was related to their partners’ ability to read women’s negative emotions accurately.”