Does your fiancé show compassion, empathy?

Bridal Registry, Clarion Herald

In the search for a future spouse, two characteristics are desirable that play parts in the strength and longevity of a marriage. They are the ability of the spouse to be sympathetic, recognizing when a person is suffering, and the ability to be empathetic, that is, feeling the other person’s pain or distress.

The basis for both is compassion.

Every marriage will experience ups and downs. There will be times of disagreement, of personal or family loss, of sickness or despair, or perhaps even questions of faith. These are the times when it is so important to have a spouse who is able to feel sorry for you and, if they have experienced something similar and know what you are going through, empathize with you and offer comfort.

Empathy is the stronger of the two emotions. Because of shared experiences, a stronger connection can be made between the spouses during that trial. Sometimes it is difficult to talk about a personal loss. For one who can be empathetic, the bridge to communication is ready to be opened.

Nothing can be more comforting than talking to someone who not only feels sorrow for your plight, because he or she loves you and doesn’t want to see you suffering, and importantly, won’t be judgmental, but also to someone who has walked in your shoes and is willing to walk with you on your current journey, offering an open ear, advice, support and comfort.

Real-life example

On Oct. 25, I had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder and, unfortunately, I am right handed. The post-surgery effects include pain, keeping the area “iced” around the clock for multiple weeks, trouble learning to sleep in a lounge chair, trying to bathe and clothe oneself, not being able to drive – and the list goes on.

If I didn’t have a loving wife, Laura, who could be my nursemaid for these past weeks, life would have been a whole lot more difficult. Not only was she sympathetic, but she was also empathetic, since she had previously experienced a similar surgery and knew what I was going through. At the time, we didn’t know that this would be the beginning of our challenges.

A loss in the family

On Nov. 3, Laura’s birthday, she, in concurrence with her siblings, decided to put her 94-year-old mother into hospice care where she would succumb to old age 11 days later. Now the tables were being turned.

It was now my turn to offer support and consolation. While I, too, was experiencing the loss, I joyfully wanted to be there for my spouse. I had been through the loss of both of my parents and could empathize. I wanted to be with Laura during her most difficult of times. To be able to pray at her mom’s bedside when she was dying, after her death, and even to give the homily at her funeral. All this transpired while Laura was still nursing me.

I am still going to physical therapy, and Laura still grieves the loss of her mom, but together we’ll get through it. We have each other, our love for each other, the knowledge of the experiences we share and the desire to help each other through this tough time.

A lifetime of support 

It has been over 46 years since we began dating, and we dated more than four years before we married. During our courtship, it was obvious Laura cared deeply for people. She was always trying to comfort those who had experienced loss or consoling a young toddler who was crying or expressing concern for the welfare of others she would see on television, perhaps half a world away, who were experiencing some tragedy.

This is the type of spouse people should seek, one who is sympathetic, empathetic and compassionate. For certainly, these character traits will get them through the good times and the bad.

If you are contemplating marriage, ask yourself how many of these attributes your future spouse has. If they haven’t exhibited any of them, perhaps the opportunity hasn’t presented itself, or perhaps it has, and they haven’t answered the bell.

Now would be a good time to discuss this and consider the long-term implications.

May the Holy Spirit guide and bless you. 

Deacon W. Gerard Gautrau is a permanent deacon serving at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Norco.

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