4:44 by Jay-Z and the Art of Empathy

Pop culture often offers examples of relationship dynamics and behaviors similar to our own, yet we tend to believe that — because of their millions and luxurious lifestyles — celebrities are quite different from us. Therefore, we yearn for creative art from these celebrities that make us feel connected to them and help us remember that they are normal human beings, with problems and experiences just like we have.

Jay-Z allowed his human nature to flow freely on his latest project, 4:44. The project comes at a time in the musical artist’s career where he has undergone tremendous growth, both professionally and personally. Shifting away from the notoriety of the album and focusing on the emotional vulnerability of it, we discover that the album’s title song represents the true art of empathy.

In Jay-Z’s song, 4:44, we hear an emotionally charged, open letter to his wife, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter. After hearing her last project, Lemonade, the world was intrigued and wanted to know more about the alluded marital strife the couple faced. Instead of simply admitting to betraying the fidelity of their marriage, Jay-Z goes deeper by both apologizing and empathizing with the hurt experienced by his partner. He allows himself to view his wife’s pain from her perspective, therefore increasing the depth of understanding and providing validation of her feelings.

Here are three tips to increase empathy in your relationship that we can learn from Jay-Z’s song, 4:44:

Listen to understand, not to respond.

Often we only listen to enough of what our partner is saying so that we can formulate a response or a rebuttal. However, if we change this dynamic and listen to only listen; taking time to hear the feelings and experiences of our partner, we are able to internalize their perspective and therefore increase understanding. For example, when your partner starts to say, “my feelings were hurt…”, you won’t interrupt with defensiveness (“YOUR feelings?! What about MY feelings?!).

Use caring intuition to read between the lines

By listening and internalizing our partner’s experience, we are able to see situations from our partner’s perspective. In adopting our partner’s perspective — temporarily putting ourselves in their shoes — we can provide better empathy and dive deeper by “reading between the lines”. This process requires a complete transformation of how we typically communicate. For example, when you hear your partner say “my feelings were hurt, so I pulled away from you and started to question your love for me,” you might read between the lines to understand that response is one she learned from watching her parents fight when she was a child. Recognizing the deeper emotions attached to our partner’s experience allows a more profound connection to grow in a couple.

Check in with your partner

Lastly, you want to check in and confirm that you are understanding fully your partner’s experience and feelings. Take time to be accountable and vulnerable; asking questions such as “I hear you say that you felt hurt because my actions made you question my love for you, and so you put distance between us. Is that right?” Checking in to make sure you truly understand prevents miscommunication and reassures your partner that you are trying to fully understand the depth of their experience.

For those of us who have experienced hurt in a relationship due to infidelity or another form of betrayal, we know that it makes a difference when the person who hurt us holds himself accountable and demonstrates the art of empathy. By recognizing and validating the feelings of someone else, there is a deeper level of understanding and vulnerability achieved that allows a stronger foundation to be built for the next chapter of the relationship.

For couples stuck in gridlocked conflict or who are struggling with overcoming a trauma in the relationship, ask yourself — am I truly seeking to understand the other person using the art of empathy?

If you and your partner are struggling with the art of empathy, call the experienced marriage counseling specialists at Emily Cook Therapy in Bethesda, MD. By learning and practicing these tips for empathy and validation, we can help you and your partner deepen your connection and heal emotional injuries.