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Vital Emotional Intelligence Skills for Men Who Lack Empathy in Relationships

Have you ever tried to share your feelings with a friend, partner, or family member only to feel dismissed or misunderstood? It can be confusing, and even hurt. Perhaps you struggle to connect emotionally yourself. And it's not uncommon for men who lack empathy to struggle in relationships. Every person who feels unheard and every couple who argues needs empathy.

Whether you want to learn to connect deeper with yourself or be more present to your partner, this emotional intelligence skill needs to be in the front row of every communication.

Estimated reading: 6 minutes

Man who lacks empathy with an upset wife.Heartmanity is proud to partner with outstanding companies that we wholeheartedly recommend so this post may contain affiliate links. This means if you click on a link and purchase something, we will receive a commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for supporting Heartmanity's mission!

Empathy, the EQ ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is a critical foundation of human connection. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is not a fixed intelligence like IQ. It’s a set of skills that can be developed, much like building muscles by working out at the gym. So empathy can be learned and nurtured.

However, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially some men.

In this exploration, we will dive into empathy, specifically focusing on why men can struggle to empathize. We’ll shed light on the causes, signs, and impacts of men who lack empathy and provide emotional intelligence skills for both men and their loved ones to cultivate this essential skill.


Why Do Some Men Lack Empathy?

Empathy, or the lack thereof, can be complex, rooted in various factors. Understanding why men lack empathy is beneficial to assist in enhancing relationships and fostering stronger emotional connections. Identifying these underlying causes also points to potential growth and development areas in individuals lacking empathy.

Three main factors contribute to a man’s level of empathy: societal expectations, upbringing, and biological factors. Each of these elements influences a man’s ability to understand and share the feelings of others, ultimately shaping their overall level of empathy.

Societal Expectations and Pressures

In many cultures, societal expectations and norms play a significant role in shaping men’s emotional behavior. Men are often taught to value logic over emotion, creating a disconnect from their emotional selves. Many times, they are expected to suppress their feelings, to “buck up.” Showing emotions, particularly the more vulnerable ones, can be seen as a sign of weakness. These cultural norms often discourage men from expressing their feelings and deter them from seeking emotional support, which leads to lower empathetic understanding.

Societal pressures can negatively influence men’s empathetic abilities. Suppressing emotions and discouraging emotional support can significantly hinder the development of compassionate empathy. Compassionate empathy involves understanding, feeling, and responding to others’ emotions. This kind of empathy can be challenging for men due to societal norms. Instead, to appear strong, they often minimize their own and others’ feelings.

Doesn't really seem fair, does it? We toughen our boys up then we expect them to be able to empathize and be tender with girlfriends and wives. Over the years of working with couples, I've found that many women are comparing their male partners' level of empathy with the empathy they receive from their girlfriends or mothers—that's a lot of pressure! Men may deeply care, yet not know how to empathize or express their love. Love doesn't automatically include empathy.

Asian muscular man with a parted shirt.

Childhood Upbringing

A man’s upbringing can significantly influence his empathetic abilities. The family environment, particularly the level of emotional nurturing received from parents, can shape a man's capacity to understand and share others' feelings, and encourage or deter him from building empathy.

When a supportive emotional environment is absent during childhood, men might develop deficits in empathy. This deficiency often manifests as low empathy and decreased EQ in adulthood due to the emotional neglect or trauma experienced during their formative years. Sometimes, an emotionally immature parent can deny a child their feelings, which also gives the wrong message about our emotional world.

On the contrary, positive experiences of empathy, nurturance, compassion, emotional mirroring and emotion coaching during upbringing can lead to healthier emotional expression and more empathetic behavior as adults.

Biological Factors

Biological elements such as genetics and brain chemistry can also influence a man’s empathy. For instance, a person with temperament traits such as low sensitivity, mild emotional intensity, and a serious and analytical nature can make it more challenging to empathize. Studies also show that men tend to systemize over empathize. Plus, any leanings toward the autistic spectrum can tune out some of the cues needed for this EQ skill.

Struggles with processing and interpreting emotions are closely tied to an individual’s self-understanding, impacting their ability to connect with others. Lacking empathy can manifest as poor listening skills, making it difficult to understand and empathize with others.

Related reading:The Science of Connection: Building Empathy and Social Bonds through Neuroscience.”


Signs of a Person Lacking Empathy


Identifying the signs of low empathy is a crucial first step in addressing the problem. People who lack empathy can:

  • Dismiss or belittle other people's emotions.
  • Have difficulty interpreting emotional cues.
  • Be overly critical, judgmental, and defensive.
  • Focus on their own needs and goals at the exclusion of others.
  • React in stressful or emotional situations.
  • Disconnect emotionally and appear aloft or uninterested.
  • Struggle to maintain healthy friendships and relationships.

Another common sign is difficulty maintaining romantic relationships. Since empathetic understanding and connection are vital to a successful relationship, men lacking empathy may switch partners more frequently due to unresolved conflicts, lack of connection, and unhappiness.

The Impact of a Lack of Empathy in Relationships

An empathy deficiency, sometimes called empathy deficit disorder, can negatively impact relationships and increase the following:

  • misunderstandings
  • conflicts
  • the emotional distance between partners
  • dissatisfaction
  • instability in the relationship

Encouraging empathy within a relationship can be achieved by asking your partner how they would feel in a similar situation as what you're experiencing. Also, when they have a touch day or difficult news, empathizing with them will help. It's challenging to empathize if we haven't experienced it.

These responses encourage partners to develop empathy and better comprehend their feelings. Being attuned to your partner’s emotions can also enhance empathy within the relationship.

Ways Men Can Develop Empathy

Empathy is a learnable and improvable emotional intelligence skill. Men can cultivate empathy through self-reflection, active listening, emotional literacy, and practicing expressing their emotions. By understanding their own emotions and learning to relate to the experiences of others, men can enhance their social interactions and relationships.

Developing empathy: practice self-reflection.

Self-reflection serves as an effective method for cultivating empathy. By understanding one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, men can better understand and relate to others’ experiences and emotions.

Developing empathy: practice self-reflection.
Mindfulness / Mindful Presence

Mindfulness, the practice of being fully present and engaged in the moment, can also help individuals learn empathy. It helps them tune into their feelings and understand how they affect their relationships. Various mindfulness exercises can help men better grasp different perspectives and build stronger emotional connections.

Cultivate empathy through attentive listening.
Active Listening

Be fully present when someone else is speaking takes practice. Avoid distractions and hone your focus on the speaker's words, body language, and emotions.

Active listening is another valuable skill in the cultivation of empathy. It involves being fully present to the speaker, getting curious, asking questions, and genuinely seeking to understand their perspective. One of the abilities lacking with low empathy is often perspective-taking, which active listening can help develop.

Cultivate empathy through attentive listening.

Nonjudgmental Approach

Refrain from interrupting or immediately formulating your response. Suspend judgment and give your attention to the speaker's words and viewpoint. Create a safe space for them to step into and reveal themselves at their own pace and speed.

Cultivate empathy through attentive listening.
Reflective Responses

Practice paraphrasing what someone has said to ensure you understand their point. Reflective listening can reinforce your understanding and show the speaker that you are genuinely engaged. It also provides an opportunity for the speaker to correct any misinterpretations.

Cultivate empathy through attentive listening.
Ask Open-Ended Questions

Use open-ended questions to encourage the speaker to elaborate on their thoughts and experiences. This inquisitiveness can lead to deeper insights and enriched meaning while promoting greater understanding.

Cultivate empathy through attentive listening.

Watch Non-Verbal Cues

Maintain good eye contact, nod, and use other non-verbal cues to show you're actively engaged. Practicing these steps in your daily conversations will enhance your active listening skills, a crucial component of empathy.

Focusing on the other person’s feelings while watching for facial and body cues when listening can help men understand and empathize with the emotions of others. It allows a person to more accurately interpret and respond to others’ emotional states, enhancing empathetic understanding.

Building empathy requires growing emotional literacy and expression.
Emotional Literacy and Expression

Expressing emotions plays a vital role in cultivating emotional, cognitive, and emotional empathy. By first feeling and then expressing their feelings, men can better understand and empathize with other people’s emotions and experiences.

How much empathy can be developed through this process, and how does it relate to understanding other people's feelings?

A man who is reading a book and studying under a tree.Emotional literacy is the ability to identify specific emotions and what action we need to take on our own behalf. Emotional expression is the capacity to express our emotions appropriately, given the relationship and situation. By increasing both of these skills, a person becomes more emotionally intelligent.

This emotional intelligence—the ability to identify, express, and manage our own emotions—leads to improved well-being. Listening, understanding, and mirroring the emotions of others promotes better relationships and enhances relationship-building skills and develops empathy.

When these practices are done earnestly, they can help men see others’ perspectives, develop empathy, and be better at understanding and connecting more with others on an emotional level.

Supporting a Partner Who Lacks Empathy

Supporting a partner who lacks empathy can pose a challenge, yet sustaining a healthy relationship is critical. Creating a happy and connected relationship involves clear communication, patience, love, and, sometimes, setting boundaries.

The good news is that empathy and emotional intelligence can be learned and developed. It’s not like IQ, which is a fixed measurement.

Remember that just because your partner struggles to empathize doesn’t mean they don’t care or love you. As explained above, the empathetic deficiency is often beyond their control, such as through childhood neglect.

They may not realize when they’re aloof, invalidating your feelings, or overstepping boundaries. Speak up for your needs without shaming or blaming them. Set loving and firm boundaries when it feels like they’ve overstepped. And affirm your partner when they show signs of empathy and listen lovingly.

The above actions will help you find a balance in your relationship and make it more reciprocal and fulfilling.

Strategies for Co-Workers and Friends

Establishing clear communication with healthy boundaries for professional behavior helps to create solid work relationships. Also, respectfully advocating for yourself is crucial; do not let your personal feelings be disregarded or invalidated. In some cases, seeking guidance from human resources or a mental health professional might be beneficial.

Supporting a co-worker or friend who lacks empathy involves:

  • Practicing self-care to safeguard your emotional well-being.
  • Setting and sticking to clear boundaries
  • Letting them know how they impact you and your work.
  • Empathizing with them when they are having a tough day. Experiencing empathy is one of the best ways to develop it!
  • Encouraging them to seek professional help if needed.

Closing Thoughts

The journey of understanding empathy, particularly in men, is one of compassion, patience, and open dialogue. We’ve explored the societal, upbringing, and biological factors that contribute to a man’s level of empathy. We’ve identified the signs of a man lacking empathy and discussed the impact on relationships.

We’ve also discussed ways men can develop empathy, such as self-reflection, active listening, and emotional expression. Finally, we’ve provided strategies for supporting a partner, friend, or co-worker who may struggle with empathy. Remember, the road to empathy is a process that doesn’t have immediate results; it’s about growing compassion, understanding, and connection.

For a deep dive into empathy: "The Three Kinds of Empathy: Emotional, Cognitive, and Compassionate."


Yes, I want to learn to be more empathetic!


Frequently Asked Questions

How do I deal with a nonempathetic husband?

First, recognize that his lack of empathy doesn’t equate to not loving you or caring deeply. Express your needs directly and clearly, empathize with yourself, and understand that your partner expresses himself differently.

Show empathy in the relationship, pay attention to your partner lovingly, and listen to them. Ultimately, these efforts can help your spouse become more empathetic.

Can empathy be learned?

Neuroscience has given us a powerful understanding of neuroplasticity, the brain's ability to change and adapt throughout life. Our neural networks' malleability allows for empathy development, even later in life. So yes, new habits and experiences can rewire the brain to become more attuned to others' emotions.

Therefore, empathy can absolutely be learned. It's an EQ skill that requires understanding your own emotions and learning to relate to the experiences of others. The more you practice empathy, the better at it you will become.

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer is the Heartmanity founder and an emotional intelligence expert. She has two decades of EQ experience and is the author of emotional intelligence training and courses. As an emotional fitness coach, Jennifer teaches EQ skills, brain science hacks, and a comprehensive approach that gets results. She is happily married and the mother of three incredible grown children.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

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