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The Secret Weapon That Will Improve All of Your Relationships

Prior to 1960, the residents of the little town of Roseto, Pennsylvania, had superpowers. Roseto was highly resistant to the biggest killer in the United States. Even today, it accounts for well over 600,000 deaths a year. Yet, Roseto had a fraction of the deaths compared to nearby towns. 

What was this villain? 

Heart Disease. 

This caught the eye of the Center for Social Research at Lehigh University, who conducted a studyWhat they found was amazing. The residents of Roseto didn’t have a special diet, exercise routine, or access to unique medicine. What they did have: strong relationships. 

Roseto was a town made up of immigrants from Southern Italy that were able to preserve the family traditions of the old country. Households consisted of multiple generations of the family living together. It would be hard to feel alone for long with parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and siblings all under one roof.  

The researchers concluded that greater social solidarity is effective at fighting off heart disease. 

This is how much we absolutely need good relationships in our lives. They are literally life-saving. 

How can we form super-powered relationships?

After 1960, the super-powers slowly faded in Roseto. What happened? The Italian immigrants of Roseto assimilated into American culture. Children went off to college, smaller families formed in homes scattered across the country, and the town lost what made it unique. Relationships weakened, and heart disease began to take its toll. After 1960, Roseto’s heart disease mortality rate increased to the national average.

In today’s smaller, on-the-go households, how can we have relationships as strong as a Roseto family? Our lives pull us in so many directions that we have to prioritize our own agendas. The problem starts when we put blinders on. If our perspective is all we concern ourselves with, our relationships will suffer. That’s because all relationships involve other people. They have their own lives and agendas, too. They have their perspective. 

With this in mind, the secret to making stronger relationships is straightforward: Empathy.

Stepping into someone else’s shoes builds a solid foundation for a healthy relationship.

3 Ways empathy creates stronger relationships:

Whether you want a stronger marriage, deeper friendships, or a closer bond with your family, empathy plays a vital role. Here’s just a few of the benefits empathy gives your relationships.

1. Becoming invested in each other’s lives.

Empathy helps you become a team in your relationships. You work together on things that would otherwise be done alone. 

How many times have you asked a friend, “Hey, how’s that work project going?” Then you get the simple response, “good.” Then the conversation moves on. 

What if you imagined yourself in your friend’s position? You’re at their work, getting their deadlines, and have a chance to prove how dependable they are. When we see something deeply from someone else’s perspective, we become invested. 

Real investment makes you a team. Now, there’s excitement when your friend tells you things are going well. They, in turn, get excited about what is happening in your life, too. 

2. Giving (and getting) more grace.

What happens when we mess up? We will inevitably disappoint, and be disappointed by, the people we are closest to. 

Once again, empathy gives us a realistic perspective: Do we want to disappoint our wives, or make our friends angry, or hurt our parents? Of course not.

Remember that when, say, your spouse accidentally backs into a pole with the car. They are already embarrassed, angry at themselves, and worried about what you will think.

What if you showed grace here? What if, contrary to what they thought was going to happen, you realize it was all just an accident? You’re able to see that rage is the last thing they need right now. 

That’s all possible because you put yourself in their place.

3. Making dreams a reality.

Our life goals and dreams come in many shapes and sizes. But all dreams have one thing in common: persistence

Alone, it’s hard to keep motivated. When we have long-term plans for our lives, we need to make conscious decisions to keep going every single day

We need to tap into empathy and feel what it’s like to see the dreams of others. Our investment makes us the best kind of accountability partners. When we lose sight of our dreams, our empathetic relationships are there to get us back on track.

How do we become more empathetic?

What if empathy doesn’t come as naturally as we like?

Here are three phrases to keep you focused on your empathy: I notice you, I feel you, and I act to help you.

I notice you.

Remember our busy agendas? We need to deal with that first. We need to set aside our own agenda (temporarily.) Temporarily because you want to be empathetic, not devote yourself entirely to others. 

Here’s what it’s like to miss someone else’s perspective: 

A father calls home, and his four-year-old daughter answers the phone. 

He asks, “Is mom home?” 

She nods her head, yes

After hearing silence, the father asks again, “Is mom home?” 

His daughter nods again. 

“Are you still there?” 

She nods, yes

The daughter doesn’t realize that her father can’t see her. And we’ve all done this to loved ones.

We need to learn to see from others’ perspectives. 

I feel you.

Here’s the thing about people: plainly stating our emotions is not our strength. Well over half of all communication is non-verbal. If we don’t recognize body language, facial expressions, and eye contact, we are missing most of the message. So, we need to turn on our emotional radar. 

Our spouse might say they’re fine, but picking up on those non-verbal cues gives us a much clearer picture.

We need to help our friends, family, and spouse feel like we understand their emotions.

I act to help you.

This is the payoff of the first two points. We set aside our agenda and understand their feelings, but if it stopped there, our empathy would be based on words, not action. 

Here’s another visual for you:

A man with a broken leg goes to the hospital. The doctor is about to eat lunch, but this needs immediate attention. So she sets aside her agenda. Then she sees how much pain this man is in and knows all the pain signals the brain is receiving. Our doctor can tell the patient just how much she feels for him. 

Then she goes back to lunch. 

Well, that doesn’t do a whole lot, does it?

She would, of course, set the bone and start the healing process. That’s empathy taking action. 

We may know our friend or spouse struggles with loneliness, but if we never make plans with them, our empathy only goes so far. 

Being empathetic means being vulnerable. 

When we show empathy, we put our hearts on display.

One thing to remember: vulnerability is contagious. When one person opens up and makes themselves available, the other feels like a safe space has been made to also open up. 

Empathy allows relationships to become vulnerable enough to grow. 

The Secret Weapon That Will Improve All of Your Relationships


Les Parrott, PhD

#1 New York Times bestselling author Dr. Les Parrott is a psychologist and author of best-selling books include Love Talk, The Good Fight, Crazy Good Sex, and the award-winning Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts. His work has been featured in the New York Times and USA Today and on CNN, Good Morning America, the Today Show, The View, and Oprah. HealthyMeHealthyUs.com

APA Reference
Parrott, L. (2020). The Secret Weapon That Will Improve All of Your Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/lib/the-secret-weapon-that-will-improve-all-of-your-relationships/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 3 Mar 2020 (Originally: 4 Mar 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 3 Mar 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.