Skip to content
For Your Marriage

Married for 20 years and the proud parents of five children, Soren and Ever are co-founders of Trinity House Community, a Catholic nonprofit with a mission to inspire families to make home a small taste of heaven for the renewal of faith and culture.

Wanted: Empathic Witness

Love is in the air! You might even manage a Date Night, Level 2, Person & Relationship’s core practice. In case you do, take a moment now for a reminder about the heart of date night, and that’s to be an empathic witness to your spouse’s life and development.

What on earth is an empathic witness? It’s a concept in psychology and relationship science that meshes perfectly (indeed comes from) the fact that we are made in the image of a God whose very life is a communion among persons. The presence and caring of an empathic witness is what allows each of us to develop as a person. In the daily thrum of life’s challenges, we need the loving and accepting witness of another, to help us make sense of—and grow into—our lives.

We’ve all had the experience—we are faced with a big challenge and as we try to think it through alone, we’re paralyzed and remain stuck. Then, we take some time to explain where we’re at to our spouse (or a dear friend, sibling, or parent). The “empathic witness” listens and helps us make sense of our experience and choose the path ahead. And even when they tell us exactly what we were already telling ourselves, somehow the path ahead becomes clear and we are strengthened to act.

It makes sense: when our spouse or another dear person is intimately present in our life and development, his or her witness is a key that allows us to integrate our experiences into our understanding and acting. If our spouse is absent—or distracted, selfish, staying late at the office—then we are often unable to make sense of things in a healthy way. Without their empathic witness, we can’t help but feel alone.

Scripture allows us to see this dimension of life powerfully:

  • “Emmanuel” literally means “God-with-us”
  • “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rm. 12:15).
  • “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
  •  “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1).

We are “image bearers” of the Most Holy Trinity, a “communion of persons” who continually make a perfect gift of themselves, one to the other. Thus, in our very deepest hard-wiring as a man or woman, we are meant to live out a “communion” with others, always seeking to give of ourselves and receive another’s love.

To test-drive some of these insights, here are a few suggestions:

  • Challenge yourself to put everything aside (yes, your glowing rectangle or “relationship inhibitor”) and listen to your spouse and children, being attentive to their bids for your witness, attention, and love.
  • If you feel the urge to jump in and offer a “solution” while listening, challenge yourself to put it in your “good ideas folder” and just listen some more. We’re all for teaching moments but choose them carefully.
  • In personal prayer, thank the Lord for His steadfast witness to your every struggle and joy, and everything in between. Then ask Him to strengthen you as you seek to be your spouse, children, sibling, or friend’s loving witness for the day ahead.

Human relationships go through periods of stress, coasting, and deepening, so it’s important to remember that none of us is without God’s witness to our daily struggles and joys. In deepening our union with Him, we can get the healthy witness we need and still be there for the many others who need us, with the eyes of Christ, to be their empathic witness today. What a privilege!