It’s Hard to Live with Someone Who Lacks Empathy

Empathy is defined as the “intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another” ( Empathy is an important part of the process in bonding. When two people can imagine how the other person feels it leads to support and connectedness. Often it is men who lack empathy (though certainly not always). Someone who lacks empathy can often be rigid and judgemental; this means it can be hard for the other person to share things that hurt or things that they’re ashamed of. This can lead to disconnectedness.

Part of what creates a bond between two people is being able to be vulnerable and share intimately. The danger for a partner paired with someone who lacks empathy is that you will give up on sharing because you fear adding to your shame. This can be very difficult to overcome and two people can easily grow apart in this situation.

One option is to talk with the person who lacks empathy and teach them about what you experience. Self-awareness is the first step of change (which is why AA begins with introductions of first name and the statement, “I am an alcoholic”). Think of this as an opportunity to teach each other about what’s not working. Asking for what you want is a basic in making relationships work.

Three steps to take:

1. Ask them to suspend their quick leap to judgement because most likely, you’re already feeling really badly and are judging yourself plenty.

2. Then teach them there is value in being a witness instead of the judge. A witness listens and that in and of itself is valuable. There have been many times in my office, where all I could really do was be a witness and over the years I’ve learned to trust just how helpful that can be. For someone else to know the truth can be enough.

3. The third thing you can ask for is that they become willing to offer a silent hug. There is so much comfort in just being held – that in and of itself can be healing.

I often recommend not piling on more than 3 things to learn because any more than that, just gets lost. Discuss how this is a process that will be new for both of you – so it’ll be a bit bumpy in the beginning. Remember that moving from rigidity to adapting and being more flexible is the road to greater mental health.

Living without empathy is hard. One way for you to adapt to it (if your partner is resistant to change) is to delay sharing instead of giving up on it. Delay until you feel more able to sustain yourself so that you won’t allow the hurt to be compounded.

It’s my belief that those who lack empathy also lack the ability to forgive themselves of their own faults. If you lack compassion for others, you are likely to be prejudiced. You will not understand when a friend struggles with the disease of depression and you will judge them as not working hard enough at life. It is also likely that you will choose someone who is very compassionate and empathetic. We unconsciously look for the missing parts of ourselves in the people we love.

This pattern of an empathetic, generous partner who is linked up with someone who is not is something I often see. The good news is that if someone is willing to learn to be more empathetic, the brain can be trained to do so. Change requires recognition there is a problem and then there has to be a willingness to do the work. Longevity in relationships is about being willing to respect your partner enough to want to be a better person for him or her.

November 2014 addendum: Science has proven that people who read fiction improve the brain’s capacity for empathy. Here is a link to the article: science-shows-something-surprising-about-people-who-love-reading-fiction

Read more on my website:  Listen to my podcast “What Healthy Couples Know that You Don’t” on website, iTunes or download with your favorite podcast app.

68 thoughts on “It’s Hard to Live with Someone Who Lacks Empathy

  1. m.baumunk says:

    Thank you so much for this information. Many years ago I was told by a psychologist that my husband had little or no capacity to show empathy. At the time all I had experienced was emotional pain in the relationship, never realizing that years later I would come through the pain a stronger and more compassionate person myself. It is very painful to live in this marriage, because there is no intimacy therefore little of what a loving relationship should be. Hind sight is perfect, but looking back I believe I should have left the marriage years ago. I have had a life long struggle with depression,even before this marriage, and today it seems as though I have paid a high price to remain commited. I am 56 yrs old and I am going back to school, for myself and I hope to find greater fulfillment in more outside relationships in the future. Out of my weakness, strenght has come.
    Thank you again for simply acknowledgeing that life with one who has no capacity for empathy is very difficult. Just knowing that someone understands and acknowledges the pain somehow relieves it. M.B.

    • Jessie says:

      Hi. I just want you to know you are not alone in your experience. Sounds like my situation. You are right, it makes us stronger! If you want to email me so we can support each other on this journey, please let me know.

  2. Kevin Wolfe says:

    Was nice to read this. I just ended a tree year relationship to a woman raised, and is still being raised by a narcsissitic mother. You can imagine. Sadly N.P.D., makes it difficult to admit any wrong thus, hindering any growth toward empathy.

  3. Mila says:

    It was nice to read a little about this. My significant other is an extremely rigid person, and has absolutely no empathy for people. I am not sure if he is a sociopath or a narcissist, or both. He was in prison for 5 years, because he was a drug addict. He is not violent, but really cold and cruel. I have been with him for 4 years and am trying to make the relationship work because we have a child together. However, it is the most frustrating thing to expect love, compassion and support from a rock. Whenever I am going through tough times, he makes me feel ridiculous and trivial. He says he can’t empathize with my problems because he has had a hard life, and I, apparently, have not. Just to give you an example, he loves to watch the X-Factor just to see the kids get their hearts broken when they get eliminated. And for the most part, he usually blames the victim when there’s a crime. Especially if they’re women. He will rarely have sex with me, but I know he likes to meet random women through Craigslist. And he says he loves me. I don’t know who is more messed up: him or me, for staying with him.

    • rhodasommer says:

      I think it might help you to read my blog post on 10/30 & follow the link for the test on whether or not you are emotionally abused….I certainly can’t tell from a paragraph but things sound pretty bad. Please read the Codependence category of the blog & the section on this on the anxiety page of the website. I also recommend you find someone to talk to for perspective on being more self protective. Thanks for reading! Rhoda

      • S says:

        I have something similar but a lot mild. My ex-boyfriend lacks empathy, is quick to spit rude and hurtful things when I bring up a concern, and does not initiate sex (or express any intimate gestures). All else, I don’t trust him because he would clear out all his history and chat logs on a daily basis saying he is trying to “save space”. I asked him why he never indicated that I was his girlfriend on social media and he acted dumb and said he was being polite when I found out he asked a girl to go “jogging” and that he’ll “cook for her” on his free time which he rarely has. He got highly offended that I didn’t trust him for his suspiciousness, we broke up. In fact, I wanted to work things out and try to understand him but he’d rather stay broken up. For a week, I wondered if I was being too insecure and overwhelming. I don’t know anymore. It was a happy relationship 80% of the time but it got really nasty from the beginning of this year. He did do lots of things for me and spent lots of money on my birthdays. I think he just suffers from normative male alexithymia because he often identifies himself as a robot. I don’t know what to do. I still have feelings for him and I am scared I will keep meeting emotionally unavailable men because all the guys I’ve dated in my past were very similar.

  4. Mike says:

    I have just recently experienced this. I made friends with a guy this summer and started hanging out quite a bit. We really had a good time playing tennis, bowling and just spending time with each other. I thought we had gotten pretty close so I decided to share some things that bothered me with life in general. all of a sudden he stopped wanted to hang out, told me I was too dramatic for him and he never wanted to do anything with me again. I am no longer welcome in his home. I finally found out he was diagnosed with lack of empathy as a kid and has grown into an adult with the disease. its really frustrating the no matter what I say to him he disregards as drama and he tells me no matter what happens he is no longer interested in being friends with me

  5. Anne Clements says:

    Thank you so much for this very insightful article. My ex boyfriend was a musician. I’m an actress. We were together for six months and I had to leave due to his lack of empathy. First sign: In that time he NEVER came to see any of my performances but I attended many of his shows. Second sign: After attending a funeral for an aunt of mine in November he wanted to have sex that afternoon! I was still upset but he wanted to watch porn!!! Third sign: I called him in tears one night after finding out some very touching news about my deceased parent. I asked him if I could just come over because I didn’t want to be alone. His response? He was busy doing laundry! On top of all of this after we broke up he claimed that I was just using him – even though he told me that he always viewed relationships as obstacles that got in the way of his spiritual growth!

    • rhodasommer says:

      First sign would have been enough….the lopsidedness is way NOT ok. My guess is yoou are an overly generous woman & there is a blog post about that…. You can only really learn about yourself in relationship to somebody else so it is BS that relationships hinder his spiritual growth! Theater is my favorite cultural event & I wish you luck in your endeavors!! Rhoda

  6. GranmawAnnie says:

    My grown daughter is a year and a half into what I consider to be a terrible relationship. He has zero empathy. He yells at her and at my grandchildren(not his children), actually calls them things like *stupid* and *retarded*. My grandchildren often cry when they are telling me why they are grounded again.My daughter is always defending him, saying we don’y know him and that at least he does not hit her. She moved in with him already, into HIS house, and even though she pays him 500 dollars a month to live there, it is always *His way or the Highway*.
    My daughter has left him one time, brought the sobbing kids and her sobbing self to my house and told me all kinds of things about him,and then went back to him, because she found out she was pregnant and she now thinks that a baby will change everything. My daughter WAS horribly abused, beaten, teeth knocked out, ribs cracked, stabbed with pliers, head cracked open, bones broken etc, by my grandson’s father. She stayed with him for ten years, and when she finally walked away, she just closed the door to that chapter of her life…no looking back, no therapy. nothing. And like I said, she thinks that her current relationship is OK because he does not physically abuse her.
    I am to the point that I do not care how she chooses to live HER life, but it is extremely difficult to overlook what he is doing to my grandchildren, ages 7 and 12. ANY advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • rhodasommer says:

      I would buy her the graphic novel Dragonslippers which is about Men who are controlling & verbally abusive. You would benefit from reading the manipulation page of my website. If you suspect abuse CYS will investigate & you can report anonymously, though often without concrete evidence it can be a frustrating business, meaning you can’t expect solid results. You are a witness to a tragic story & it’s like being the parent of a heroin addict. You might want to try getting therapy for yourself because it sounds like many painful years ahead. I can’t assess this over the internet, it’s beyond my abilities. These are suggestions only. Emotional Manipulation by Susan Forward is another good book. Rhoda

    • rhodasommer says:

      Part 2: Your comment is troubling & I want to add; Keep the Lines of Communication open with your grandchildren. Be the one they can tell the truth to. Ask them 2 ways you can be a better grandparent to teach them exactly how honest they can be. Then if a line gets crossed that’s a concern bring CYS into the picture.That’s the best thing you can do for them. Rhoda

      • GranmawAnnie says:

        Thankyou, Rhoda. I will do the things that you have suggested. I am very grateful to have discovered this website. I will be checking in here to study the other topics, the one about manipulation especially.

  7. Linda says:

    I feel like I need to hide from him if I’m sad or sick because it hurts so much that he doesn’t care and he usually gets angry and starts yelling at me if I’m sad even when I tell him that it has nothing to do with him and if I’m sick he gets mad and changes it to him being sick or tired or whatever it is. We’ve been together 10yrs and it’s like when I’m happy he’s happy and easy to get along with but I can’t spend the rest of my life with just a good time friend. How do I explain to him without him getting mad and making me fearful w/o making it sound Ok to treat me the way he does?

    • rhodasommer says:

      I don’t know him & don’t just hand out advice without knowing people. He sounds like he has an anger problem not just a lack of empathy. I would share the post that publishes tomorrow on mental health & ask him to learn to regulate his anger. Ask him to read Beyond Anger by Thomas Harbin which all my male clients have found extremely useful. Make an appointment with a couples therapist. Mistreatment is not ok. Rhoda

  8. Jay says:

    Love it, sent it to my mom. I have tried to express to her that she not sharing things with me, bad things, like the progression of my fathers alzheimers, my brother being hospilized “so i dont worry” breaks our bond (since i moved 3000 miles away this is all we have, the sharing and she wont do it!)

    My mother has empathy. I think. She “feels” my pain but she doesnt understand the pains themselves. I sent her this. I hope she understands because it is coming from another person, not me.

    Reposting in the Featured section of my blog.

    • rhodasommer says:

      I’m so glad it’s helpful to you. She is missing out by not sharing & she may not realize that even after you tell her. She may struggle with being vulnerable in general. Rhoda

      • the audacious amateur blogger says:

        Yes, she is. I know she is guarded and may never change. It sucks. I am the one that needs to change. My therapist suggested (no he told me) I mourn my family as a support system. Accept what they cannot provide, don’t expect or look to it from them, you have other sources to go to

        When he said it, it all came together. Made complete sense. Then I got sad and scared. What if I can’t ? What if I can’t be me w/o them? And the “me” w them is sad and lonely and unmotivated?

        I still am working on this, obviously… I haven’t reached the end of the “mourning period”. Lol. Not funny. But hopefully… I will sometime. Thanks again for all your amazing posts chock full of advice and real relationship… Realities🙂

  9. kim says:

    my father suddenly passed away 8 months ago and since then i have being dealing with depression alone. my finace doesnt show empathy. we have fought several times about this and he asks what he should i do. i tell him. he never does it. so i never open up to him. then he gets mad that i dont. i told him i was having a panic attack last night i was calm and i asked him to come sit with me until it passed bc i feel like i could die the pain is so bad and i told him he started talking about bringing plants in from being too cold. he doesnt want to honor or see my pain for what it is. i feel like if he would of supported me more months ago i wouldnt be to wear i am at now. i dont want a relationship to end but i resent him for not being a friend during the worse time in my life. i lost trust. he has been drunk a few times and has said horrible things like get over it, or my father didnt do us any favors by being so kind to us, or in the very very beginning he told me thought it was all a act. i feel so terribly lost and sad. i am now in the dark place

    • rhodasommer says:

      often the most important struggles of our life, ultimately we are alone with. There is a good book for grief “I wasn’t ready to say Goodbye” which might be of help. You might want to consider a group for those struggling with grief who would be more understanding. You also might want to get an appointment for counseling. Your boyfriend does not sound like someone who has experienced profound grief. You need support from others. Rhoda

  10. Sarah says:

    I have been with my partner 5 years now and been struggling with his lack of empathy and his coldness. I am a very emotional caring person and need emotional support to help me through my tough times. I just don’t know what to do anymore I’m at a point where I feel like I’m trapped with no way out. I can be crying my heart out explaining how I feel and he will call me “stupid” “idiot” crying is for babies and roll over and go go sleep😦 sex is “his” way we never make love or are close – I ask him for a hug but he will tell me to get lost. He’s not interested in anything I say or am feeling he just accuses me of moaning at him. Literally if i attempt to tell him any of how i feel the name calling starts and he walks off and wont listen. in 5 years ive never seen him cry or get upset and he NEVER says sorry. We have a 3 year old and I feel I need to leave him as its getting so bad it’s making me depressed and ill. But we have a child? I can’t talk to him as ^^^ happens. He won’t seek help, – I feel so hopeless.

    • rhodasommer says:

      You are in a very difficult situation. Is he willing to go to couple’s counseling?It sounds like you need the help of a therapist to sort this out…..if not in couples then for yourself individually. Rhoda

  11. Katie says:

    I can totally relate to this post. Most of the time my partner seems incapable of expressing any emotion other than anger. He denies having feelings, and I will ask him, “how can you be in a relationship for 2 years if you have no feelings”. His responses include:
    -You forced me into it
    -For the sex
    -It seemed like a fun idea
    -I told you I don’t like relationships so what more do you expect?

    Most of the time we get along really well. We share a lot of interests and a sense of humour. The problems come when I try to communicate my feelings or discuss anything important with him. I have excused a lot of his behaviour in the past because I know that he has a lot of trauma from his childhood that he hasn’t dealt with. But I don’t know at what point I should give up. I used to repress any thoughts of breaking up with him, but now I face them head on and am beginning to think it might be the only option.

    -He often criticizes or devalues things that are important to me or my intelligence. I think this is because he feels threatened that I have a university education and he doesn’t.
    -If I talk about the issues going on with members of my family he is very insensitive and will get extremely angry and even threatened to break up with me because of my brother. I pointed out that he was a hypocrite because I had put up with a lot from him, yet he would break up with me because of my family. He just said “Well you didn’t have to put up with that stuff… I’m surprised that you did.”
    -I will often get upset when we are arguing because of the things he says (being incapable of love etc.) and because he can’t seems to be rational about things. If I start crying he seems completely confused and will get angry at me because I am “trying to manipulate him and make him feel bad”. He never apologizes for anything and will ignore me until I feel like I’ve done something wrong. I am always the one to restore the peace. I now avoid talking to him about things because I know I will never get what I need in terms of understanding, support or validation from him.
    -He is overly concerned about his appearance or other’s thinking highly of him. He has a crappy job that is way below his abilities, but is very defensive to any mention of getting a better job/qualifications. For some reason his parents and grandparents seem to idolise him, even though his sisters have worked a lot harder to achieve things. He recently bought a brand new sports car that he cannot afford. I would have thought moving out of his parent’s house would have been a bigger priority. I feel like he needs to make himself look good to others because of deep-seated insecurities that he won’t admit to.
    -He never spends any money on me (he didn’t even buy me a christmas present), and makes me feel extremely guilty on the rare occasion that he does shout me something. I don’t expect much, but on the other hand, I spend as much money as I need to on really thoughtful gifts and am always out of pocket when we have spent time living together (house sitting and when my parents are away) because I spend all my money on food shopping, even though he eats 5 times as much as me. I have tried to broach the subject of him contributing to food, but he either ignores me or says he has no money. He has a full time job. I am a full time student.
    -He hates the fact that I don’t have a job at the moment and often criticizes me for it. He can’t comprehend that I had to quit my job last year because I was going through a really hard time with my family (2 deaths within 6 months) and falling really behind with uni. I have recently started looking for another job and I was telling him about the jobs I applied for and the positive feedback I got. His response was “ok”. When I told him it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more encouraging he said “I don’t have to be excited”.
    -Whenever I try to tell him anything about my day or anything else he will interrupt me halfway through with something about him. I only just realised recently that every story I ever tell him only gets half finished.
    -He has very bad social skills. He is very closed when people ask him questions and he never contributes to conversations or shows any interest in other people. I don’t think he realises how this comes across to people. He thinks he is very charming and that people like him, but the opposite is true. A lot of people don’t like him.

    I could go on forever about this stuff. Basically, I have been learning about personality disorders in my psychology class and I think he is very narcissistic. When he says that he doesn’t have emotions, it never occurred to me that this might actually be true.

    I don’t know what to do because I want to help, but at the same time I know I deserve better than this. The problem is that I am not happy with things the way they are, but I can see them being better. He has already changed a great deal since we got together. He is nowhere near as angry and he quit drinking because it turns him into a horrible person and I told him I would have to break up with him if things didn’t change. This suggests to me that he must care about me to some extent, but he is afraid of feeling things or being vulnerable.
    I have also seen a really lovely side to him on some very rare occasions (he had taken MDMA). I’m not sure if it was just the drugs or whether he just wasn’t as inhibited, but it seems like he’s telling the truth at the time. He told me he loved me for the first time in one of these situations, and was really embarrassed about it. He has apologized for everything bad and admitted the reasons behind this stuff. He has told me some really bad stuff from his childhood. He has even talked about marrying me (when usually this is out of the question). When I see this side of him it makes me hopeful that it is in there somewhere, it just needs someone persistent to bring it out!

    As I mentioned, we had an argument the other week where he threatened to break up with me (because my brother is so out of control). Because I was now at the point where I was no longer trying to avoid a breakup at all costs, I let him have it. I told him that how dare he threaten me like that after all I had put up with from him. I told him that if he wanted to break up that was fine, but he needed a better reason than my brother. I told him everything I’d been thinking about him, about me, about our relationship that I had been keeping my mouth shut about to avoid ‘rocking the boat’.
    Now usually, at the first sign of threat to his pride, he would be on the defensive. Aggressive, turning things around on me or running away. But this time he just sat there and listened. He didn’t say a thing. He admitted that he was a crap boyfriend and that I did deserve better. He admitted that if we broke up he would probably regret it. I told him that I though he was afraid to feel anything but anger, anything that might make him vulnerable. And I told him that he is insecure. He denied this, but then I said that I thought we were a lot alike in our anxieties and we just react to them differently. I said that’s probably why we are together. I said there’s a reason he has the job he has, despite being capable of so much more. He wasn’t saying anything and when I looked up I saw that he was on the verge of tears. This is the first time I have ever seen him cry. I was actually shocked. I could see that he was trying so hard to keep it together. I told him “it’s okay to be upset” and he said “no it’s not”. I gave him a hug, even though we were mid-fight.

    I couldn’t get anything else out of him, so I decided to leave it there for now. Something really significant had happened, but I didn’t want to push it. I could tell he wanted to be left alone. I told him I wanted to talk about it later though, when he had had time to think about what I said. The next day he was completely happy and nice again, but still hasn’t brought any of the stuff we talked about up again.

    So now I don’t know what to do. Do I stick with it, hoping that things will keep creeping along in the right direction? Or do I call it quits? I think that he needs someone like me. Someone compassionate enough to put up with the bad times in order to allow him to change and feel safe. But on the other hand, I have to think about what I need as well. I need emotional support.

    Sorry to go on, I’m just so confused!

    • rhodasommer says:

      On June 5th I wrote about lopsided relationships, a post you might want to read. Your comment is chock full of observations about him & not so much about you. It might be time to figure out your part in this……..Rhoda

  12. Marina says:

    I’m a year and a half into a relationship with a man I believe lacks empathy. He’s not abusive, or particularly mean to me, he just fundamentally lack the abitility to see things through the eyes of someone else and it really bothers me. For example, his brother is suffering with depression and he feels contempt for his brother because of it. He tries (in vain) to get me not to give money to the homeless, and actually get irritated if I do, claiming “they don’t deserve it”. As I’ve said before, he’s not abusive, but I find a lot of his point of views on things in life to be really disturbing and I’m not sure where to go from here. I’m not even sure how to bring it up with him since he’s thoroughly convinced he’s always right, and has absolutely no personality flaws. I

    • rhodasommer says:

      Black/White thinking & feeling incorporate self righteousness. This makes honest dialogue where two people can meet in the middle of two points of view more difficult. A long term relationship is far more difficult without dialogue. My website has a section on black/white thinking & feeling on the divorce page for further learning. Good luck! Rhoda

  13. Corinne says:

    I!m so glad I found your blog. Coming up on a 40th wedding anniversary I have just found out my retired chemist husband has extreme male brain. A total lack of empathy. I am a retired social worker and am the complete opposite so maybe that is why we are still together. He was being treated for what his MD thought was ADD and the medicines made him worse! We are now in marriage counseling and he is seeing a psychologist. I hope he can learn empathy because I also have a chronic disease and believe the stress of dealing with the undiagnosed lack of empathy has taken its toll on me. Are there any tools I can use to help him learn empathy? We leave today on a dream Mediterranean cruise but my real dream is to continue to be married.

    • rhodasommer says:

      I would suggest that you print out the feeling word vocabulary list on the emotions page of my website & ask him to practice with it 3/4 times a week, selecting the words that fit how he feels that day. Rhoda

  14. Holly McHugh-Mai says:

    Hi-this is a second marraige for us both. I am a compassionate RN Lactation consultant, my husband is a financial advisor. We have been married for 17 years, and for a majority it has not been a very happy marriage. We have gone to counselling in the past and it has helped somewhat, the last time was in around 2008. We joined a Unity church in 2009, and it was such a big help. But the last two years have not been great-no hitting, drugs stuff like that, just going through the motions. I have had some health challenges (back pain from nursing, migranes, severe sleep apnea, weight gain, menopause, vertigo/swaying, 2 benign lumps in my breasts), my husband does not seem to understand, or empathize with what I go through. He also tends to tell me that I am complaining if i talk about any of my health issues. Recently, I became very ill with a virus and oral thrush at the end of a European vacation which involved seeing several French MD/ER it was scary, I could hardly swallow, and was very painful. When I returned home I became dizziness and have had epsisodes of very low blood pressure, and bloodwork revealed that I am prediabetic.

    An example of my husbands lack of empathy/ concern-at the dinner table I began to cry while eating-I cannot taste/smell any of the food I am eating due to the oral thrush & meds which I have been taking for 3 weeks. No comforting words, no hug, only some patronizing words-“focus on the opportunity to lose some weight” ( I am a size 12 about 20-30 lbs overweight-not morbidly obese).

    My husband’s idea of intimacy is having sexual relations, I am so dpressed, cried all day Monday and his idea of comfort is to touch my body in a sexual way! I have been coping with this for 17 years, and for the most part have accepted that that is who he is. To compound issues, being empty nesters adds to my sadness and lonliness. Thank heavens I have had my doggy for the last 1.5 years to help.

    I understand that I can only depend on myself for my happiness, and am taking steps to nurture myself :accupuncture, walking daily, massage, eating healthier, signed up for myfitnesspal, meeting with a nutritionist next week. I understand that I can only depend on myself for my happiness, and am taking steps to nurture myself. These steps have definitely made me feel better the last couple of days.

    I understand why my husband is the way he is-he moved to the US from Vietnam when he was only 4 yrs old back in 1967. He grew up very poor and his mother often worked long hours/ several jobs just to survive. He was on his own alot. i believe his mother did the best she could, but she was not there alot and is not a very demonstrative person. His father had several wives and was not in the picture, he had minimal contact with him as an adult.

    What if anything can I do to encourage or demonstrate to my husband how to become a more caring, compassionate person who will listen to me? Thank you, Holly

  15. Gillian says:

    I have been struggling for almost a year as to what he issue was in my relationship with my boyfriend. I have been continually trying to get “deep” with him and have it reciprocated with not much success. This article and other peoples stories make me realize I am not alone in being in love with a man who lacks empathy. It is painful to realize and accept, but empowering to read this. Thank you for opening my eyes.

  16. Mira says:

    I am in a relationship last 3.5 yrs. I love him, but I have to get out of this relationship. First thing he drinks too much,and empathy he doesn’t even have a bit of that…We don’t have anything in common, I am a very emotional,caring,loving, and non judgmental,destructive
    so basically this has been a very painful time, now we are separated,everyone around me says he is not good for me, my logic and my heart is fighting…he is not fulfilling any of my needs,when I need him he doesn’t care..ok he has a good heart so a lot of people do right?

    This will sound crazy to you or other readers maybe first thing you would say “hey what is your problem,what are you still doing with this guy?”
    I broke up with him twice, and emotionally he made me feel guilty and we got back together…
    and he is not fully happy with me either but he says he loves me so much,and my qualities etc. keep him around me..what ever he does for me he says it over and over..and also to other people as well..

    I did this for her,I paid for this…Just for her!!! and he likes to talk about me negatively and gossips to his family and friends..How could a man he says he loves me and try to make me look bad and little in other peoples eyes..I want everybody to love him and respect him,even though he is not great but still I dont want people to have negative feelings about him…

    long story short he is a very uncaring,non emotional, only when he drinks he could get little warm..I tried to help him but he never sticks to any decision we made.
    he just wants to drink,live by the moments,have fun and don’t like to make a plan for future …
    not about marrying I meant,because he purposed me 3 times I turned him down..
    I don’t know what to think anymore..I know I will never be happy with this guy..
    Actually this article and the other people’s experience about empathy really shook me up, thank you so much everyone:))

    • Holly McHugh-Mai says:

      Mira-I would suggest that you find another relationship- this guys drinking problem will only get worse and you won’t be able to “change” him. You have only invested 3.5 yrs-I have 19 years in my relationship and wish I didn’t. I don’t think someone who is lacking empathy is going to “get it”. Find someone else who will treat you with respect, kindness, compassion-you deserve it. I think my problem is that 20 years ago-I didn’t feel that I deserved it, and so I attracted a person who lacked empathy.

    • rhodasommer says:

      Words are easy, it’s actions that matter. You have to look at yourself & your part in being with someone “I will never be happy with”. If drinking is more important than solving problems together you may be with an alcoholic. You need to learn about your possible issues with codependency. The problem is always about 2 people not just 1. Rhoda

  17. Caroline Dunhill says:

    I have been with my boyfriend for 2.5 years there is something no has mentioned..Mummy boy connected to narcissistic. Yes he is a the biggest mummy boy I have ever met he is 43 and will not live with me, pampered by his mother, never has paid for gas electric or anything. Mummy does everything for him, washing ironing cooking making his bed, like he is her husband not her son, and she depends on him like a wife. YES he is a NARISSISTIC, no empathy failure to recognise others needs and feelings, believe he is special more important than anyone, thinks he is the most attractive person alive. expectations of constant praise and admiration, and thinks everybody envy him and arrogance. This has been the most difficult mentally stressing relationship I have ever had, everything has to be done his way or no way, that’s the only way for him to control you, if I say no to anything that he wants to do I have wounded his narcissistic he runs away does no speck to me text or phone, could be up to 3-6 weeks or if I am angry with him. Then he waits till he thinks I have calm down and thinks I have forgotten about what he has done to me, then he walks back into my life as if he has not done a thing wrong and will not explain or discuss it. There is no closure to any situation, that is the hardest thing mentally to cope with. Then you chase for answers you will never get WHY has he treated me like that, I wont to no. He has no feeling, how can he answer, he can not. All he will do is constantly mess your head up, confuse you with his mind games. If he has no feeling (empathy) he can not love, you or anybody else ever, he will have failed relationships one after another. Every relationship he has the women will leave him. Yes it is very hard to get anyway from someone with no empathy because they are messing with your head and don’t care how they make you feel, there is no future I,m running as fast as I can, before he drives me insane.

  18. Basia says:

    I just left a 13 month relationship with a grandiose narc. As others I too had a very romantic beginning, we fell in love very quick and moved in together after a month. I was studying full time and he said that he wanted me to keep on studying and he would give me a wage of the same amount I was getting from the government which was $250 a week. He also gave me a credit card so that I can purchase petrol, facials, massages and groceries. I was even allowed to purchase clothes. He wanted me to be involved in his business (he has loads of money) which I did part time. I’ll never forget the first time I went to his factory and I heard him swear and yell at his staff, I remember going to my mums and I told her and how I’m lucky he doesn’t talk to me that way. After two months I fell off a sidecar that he races and broke me arm, I had little to no experience but I was to blame. I remember he was pissed off that the hospital was two hours away and that his other race (solo bike race) was to start soon. He told me he wont visit me in the evening after the races cause he’s already been, I said that’s ok cause I’ll probably sleep anyhow. When he showed up the next day it was my birthday and he didn’t even say ‘happy birthday’. He yelled at the drs and nurses to get me out of there cause I was not to be operated on in that hospital cause it was in another state and he had to get back to work and he would drop me off at a hospital close to my mums home. The ride home was long and very painful. My arm had broken into a number of pieces and actually broken the skin and stuck out. That was a huge reg flag the lack of empathy, I was in a lot of pain and bump in the van I could feel, but I was not to winge as I would be told to toughen up. I had a broken arm no money and I was financially dependent on him. The $250 a week stopped and he would only pay me when he felt like it, I could never ask him cause he was often yell at me that all I want is his money. He would check the credit card online every day and sometimes question what it was that I bought. So I stopped getting facials, massages and only petrol and groceries. I wanted to sleep all day and some days I did. But then just before he got home I would quickly go shop and prepare dinner. I would sometimes prepare really nice dishes from online and he could barely say thanks let alone it was nice. He would never eat left overs so every day would have to be freshly made. Every day I had to buy fresh bread and he had to have his cheese and ice cream in ready supply. I ended up not doing anything right, I couldn’t question him, I was often called stupid, pea brain, fat, dump. When I heard the key in the door I would run to the door and greet him like he was the prince or something. Some days I would try to kiss him and he would say I’ve got to go to the toilet or I’m busy. If I was to tell him about my day or a story his reply would be do I really have to listen to this, or I’m watching Mash or even a bloody commercial was more important than me.If I called him during the day his reply would be I’m a busy man, yet I know he sits there most of the day and play computer games or looks at couples and singles to swing with. Everyone around him were stupid, he would often quote that he is a very highly intelligent person. He would often tell me to get out of his house or even worse fuk off over nothing. I couldn’t have an opinion. But if I would say your great your such a great business man, your intelligent then I would be in his good books. He stayed back every working night after work to drink with his mates, and would like me at times to attend to show me off like a trophy but I was not to say much at all, just sit. At these drinking sessions he would degrade women make sexist jokes and would say stuff like show us your tits babe, show the guys….I never did I just smiled and took it. Like I said he had money had promised to marry me and look after me and have a lavish life style but on his terms. I often tried to get a job but I was so depressed, lonely, confused and stressed I just could even right a covering letter. I couldn’t initiate sex it was all up to him. He wanted to try swinging and had to go along with it so I could stay in the relationship. I once said I don’t want to do this anymore and he said that I have signed my own death warrant. He wanted me to have sex with at least 6 guys and I left him before that become a reality. All the swinging couples we met I would somehow always get out of having sex he didn’t even notice cause he was too busy, I would whisper that I’m doing this cause I’m made to and if we pretend please cause I’ll be bashed and they would all agree and my bf often wondered why they would never respond for a second meeting… I don’t know why I would miss a horrid person like this but I do and I figure it could be the financial aspect. Once I left and told him we need space he hasn’t text or called and neither have I, I have come close to calling to see how he is, but I’m sure his onto his next victim. I staying strong by reading blogs like this. I am applying for dozens of jobs and I had an interview already and have another coming up. I deleted him on FB and I don’t look at photos and as soon as I think of him I try to think of other things. Its not easy but one door closes and another great door will open. One day I will write a book cause in our short time there were so many red flags and instances that need to be written for others to read and learn. I don’t have the anxiety any more but sometimes I wake to find my heart racing but that will cease soon. Once I find a job I’ll be happy to have my days filled.

  19. Amy says:

    If someone lacks empathy, they won’t care when you explain how you feel. They may not even understand it. They may get bored listening. It’s like that saying, “Excuse me. I think you’re mistaken me for someone who cares.”

    You will only get through if they DO care and just missed the clue.

    My soon-to-be-ex, at the time I was getting close to making the decision to leave, wanted bullet points where he could comply to what I wanted, but he didn’t comprehend overall what I was talking about. He is incapable of seeing anyone’s point of view except his own. He finally did say _o_n_c_e_ that he was sorry, but couldn’t maintain sincerity. He made himself say it (astonishing, for him!) but couldn’t manage to actually FEEL sorry.

  20. Pam.B. says:

    I think I need clarity some things to determine if my husband is a narcissist and lacks empathy or if it is me with the issue.

    He was in the Air Force for 20 years – retired – stressful position. I mention this because I wonder if it had an impact on who he is today. We have been together for 15 years and married for 7. We are in our late 50’s.

    When we met in 2001 in a bar, the first question I asked (I will call him Tom) and his buddy, who was sitting at the table with him, was “are you married or do you have a girlfriend”. Both he and his buddy answered “no”. I noticed throughout the evening that Tom had been dancing with a woman off and on at another table. So I assumed that they were telling the truth.

    Bottom line, at the end of evening he gave me his email address. He lived about 2 hours from me. A week or so later I sent a short email to him saying I trusted him and gave him my phone number. He called a week or so later when he was stuck on a runway in a plane (he travels a lot). We had a great conversation for 45 minutes and that began our relationship. We really did connect.

    Now, I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, and I have been pretty naive all my life – trusting people – and then find out later I’ve been an idiot. Slow learner. Anyway, he would call me several times a day and visit a couple of times a month. I knew he had children (one in college and one in high school) – I assumed at that point he was divorced since he already told me he was not married/no girlfriend. Although I was curious as to why he would not introduce me – but back then I was so insecure and passive….blah, blah, blah…makes me sick I was so weak and thought so little of myself.

    We took trips together and hung out with him work buddies. Really? They had no idea that I didn’t know he was married. What an idiot I must have looked like to them. Time when by and I started noticing a pattern. He would call me after he got off work – not in the evenings (I learned later he called me on his way home to his wife/family). One day I asked him about it and pushed him hard about “are you married” “do you have a girlfriend” (I asked this loudly!)

    His response was “we will talk about it later”. He admitted it to me finally. Married. It took days for it to sink in – by this time we had been dating for many months and I was in love. He eventually told me the marriage was dead and he would be leaving her regardless of me in his life. I believed we had something special and I “hung in there” for him – for us. Stupid girl.

    I suffered emotionally because of what I was doing – it was wrong. However, he made me feel like we had a future. I tried to end it several times, but it never lasted – love make you do stupid things. I did make a declaration one day that “I am not doing this anymore”. And I meant it this time. I was done! He begged for me to give him 2 more weeks. I said “no”. Later he called me and said he told her he wanted a divorce and followed through with it.

    I moved to his location in 2004. We married in 2009 after I told him I would no longer be his “live-in”. During the years we lived together, of course, his adult children would not bond with me. Even though Tom said I was not the reason for the divorce, they, I’m sure, did. And I was, let’s be honest. So, I’m left with that emotional strain with them. I have tried to bond over the years and finally stopped. His kids and I are cordial but there is no “family” feeling with them. So I don’t have that in my marriage. Sad, because now there are grandchildren. In 2011 I lost my father. I was devastated. This, I believe, was the beginning of me waking up and taking a real look at my life and what I had done to myself with the choices I had made.

    In a short amount of time I had many stressful events happen, I lost my father (high stress), my mother had to go into a nursing home just prior to my father passing (major stress) (she is still there bedridden with Alzheimer’s), a month after my father passed, had to attend Tom’s daughter’s wedding and meet his ex for the first time (immense stress), later we had a car accident (car totaled)(stress), I lost an uncle (stress), lost a good’s friend’s husband (stress), lost an aunt (stress), lost a pet (stress)….so I finally became so overwhelmed and experienced emotional and physical exhaustion! To this day I believe I live with PTSD from all these events happening in such a short time.

    To top it off, being sick with depression/anxiety, obviously I could not “give” to him at the level he was used to. So, the kicker is, just when I began to heal somewhat and start coming out of the depression I found a receipt where he had been sending money to someone. When I asked him about it, he lied and said it was work related. I pushed and pushed and pushed him about it because his explanation did not make sense. Finally, he admitted that he was “helping” a 29 year old bartender in another city – she had an abusive boyfriend and children, etc. and I was to ask no more questions about it. What? He lays that bombshell and I’m not entitled to ask questions! The amount he sent her in 2 months was about $6000. He swears there was nothing more to it than helping someone. I know…and I’m not stupid.

    As a side note, he has never let me see his bank account. After 4 months of knowing this about him and his admission, I told him he either presents banks statements to me or I want a divorce. He finally did and it was clean. He is not sending anymore money and has ended contact and says he feel stupid he did it. He has taken steps to repair my trust, but I’m not there yet.

    So, now that the background of my experience is known, the reason I question my husband not having empathy is because during all of these events, he was present in the house, continued working as normal, and watched me slide into severe anxiety and depression and would never initiate a question about it. I would cry and try to talk to him, but he just wanted me to take a pill and get over it. I did not go on medication because I knew deep inside I had the power to heal, my body had the power to heal, I just needed to be nurtured. At the time I knew I needed help, but more importantly, I just needed him to talk to me and I didn’t know how to ask him for that because I was in such a dark place. Now, that I’m healing, I have really taken a deep look at him and his inability to emotionally support me during all of this.

    It is to the point now, that our marriage is in serious trouble (more stress) because I have started to nurture myself and become aware that I have needs. I have always been the giver – make sure the man is getting what he needs – without it being reciprocal. That, I have realized, is my problem and now that I’m aware of it, I’m addressing it. I have been needy for a man in my life – I think always…I wanted the picked fence…and now know that does not exist. I am becoming stronger, but still need emotional support as I heal. I was married young and he passed away, then I rebounded with a verbally/emotionally abusive man. I have been weak!!!

    So as I am transitioning (and getting my voice!), by addressing my needs and asking for him to meet them, there is more discord in our relationship than ever. He short to get angry. When I try to discuss marital things in a calm, objective manner he always get defensive and turns it around to be all about him and his needs and an argument ensues and then we just stop talking without resolve. Our communication has always been difficult.


    During my darkest hour, he betrayed my trust with his lies/cheating – he did this to make himself feel better rather than address our marriage issues. Turned outside the marriage. I understand it was an escape?? Self-serving too. I am still wondering how he could have done this to me. I am not without fault, this I know. But I believe in working through issues…not walking around with blinders.

    Sorry this is so long, but it was necessary to present to full picture.

    So, my question is…is my husband a narcissist and incapable of emotionally supporting me? Is this marriage doomed? And why do I stay?

  21. rhodasommer says:

    I notice that you do not mention either getting individual therapy or couples. I can not diagnose someone from a description. Denial is the most powerful force in the universe and you have individual work to do before you decide answers for your marriage. He did not work things out with his previous wife either. Sometimes Love is not enough of a reason to pursue a future with someone.

    • Pam B. says:

      I asked him if he would go to counseling with me for our issues in our marriage and he said absolutely not. When I asked why he replied that he didn’t want to share his personal life with a stranger. He is very private. I have done more research since I wrote the original comment and I am inclined to believe that he has narcissistic tendencies (not necessarily NPD) and I am codependent- emotionally needy due to lack of nurturing in my childhood. From what I have learned this is a common match. So I am going to work on my issues knowing I may never get emotional support from him. The more healthy I become I believe it will become clear what path I should follow.

    • Pam B. says:

      I want you to know that your two word response made me feel emotional support! Thank you. It is comforting to know I’m not crazy thinking it was just me. I own my responsibility to get my needs met and to get psychological support, but also knowing his personality type is difficult makes me feel fustifed to follow a healthy path even if that means starting life over at this age! I will not make that decision until I understand fully my own issues. Can you recommend a source for codependent women who want to change? Thank you so much. It means a lot that someone cares.

  22. rhodasommer says:

    No I don’t. I tell people to look at websites, & see if anything real comes across to you. Not syrupy marketing but something of substance. If you look at my website I offer a lot for free. Something will click…..Rhoda

  23. BB says:

    I’m worried by BF lacks empathy. He patrionises me, but says he doesn’t mean to. When I try to explain that he is being patrionising / hurtful he says that he is just trying to get his point of view across, and that sometimes it’s difficult talking to me’ because I might get upset. I explain why I get upset (i.e. he’s patrionised me / made me feel back), but if I cry / get upset his reaction is not to comfort but to get defensive and start an argument. He says it’s because he wants to stop me being upset, and the only way he can think to do that is by proving he hasn’t done anything wrong, that I’m in the wrong or have misinterpretted what he’s said.

    And always these ‘issues’ he has (i.e. recently it was that make too much mess when making dinner – despite the fact that had already cleared up just after I had cooked, but then told me off for making the mess in the first place and not cleaning it, although he had already done it and not given me the chance to clean up as I had just finished cooking *argh*) come at a time when things are going well. It’s like he looks for things to criticize.

    He says he finds it difficult to empathise or see things from my point of view. He says that my emotional response is sometimes excessive to his ‘crime’ (he actually used that word), and cannot factor in how I might or might not be feeling.

    He tends to dwell on himself…i.e. will talk about his day, then as an afterthought (but not always) ask me about mine. He isn’t very emotional outside of sex i.e. I’ve never had a Christmas / birthday cards, even the odd text message he may send me are all very emotionless like ‘how are you?’ etc.

    We’ve been together 18 months, but have already broken up once when I found out he had been been looking up contact details for local call girls in his area (he said he is just into masturbating over images of local hookers and he didn’t meet up with them). Long story short I took him back, but again, he couldn’t understand why I was so upset at the time.

    He says he is trying to empathise and be ‘normal’ but , but I wonder if I can continue with this. I’m tired of trying to explain myself, or get him to see my point of view when he can’t. I’m tired of being made to feel like I’m excessively emotional, when I’m not. I’m a very strong, intelligent, independent woman with a high paid job and career.

    However, I’m starting to doubt myself. Are my expectations too high – do I expect too much from him? Am I the over emotional one? Is there something lacking in him?

  24. rhodasommer says:

    I believe you know what you need to do. A relationship minimum would be someone who is interested in change & wants to learn/respect/include your point of view. You might listen to my podcast: What Healthy Couples Know that You Don’t. Rhoda

    • BB says:

      Thank you Rhoda, for taking the time to reply to me. Since my post the relationship has ended. It was my decision. He was caught out once again hiding the fact that he had gone to a strip club and it was the last straw for me.

      I had a moment of clarity – I knew he would never change. I realised in that moment that I had been living in hope, not the reality of what he was. So I told him exactly what I thought of his behavior. He said he’d change, but again, I had heard those words too often in the past. I listed every hurtful thing he had done to me, how I couldn’t put up with him never quite seeing my point of view, or being able to empathise with how I felt. I told him I didn’t trust him – not with other women, but that I didn’t trust him to make the best decision for me and the relationship. I told him that if a pattern of behavior is hurtful to someone and you care for that person, most normal people modify that behavior – not continue it at the earliest opportunity.

      His reaction? Just put his hands up, said he was over the relationship, that he clearly doesn’t make me feel happy, and he’s out. He needs someone who trusts him implicitly (despite his constant testing and breaking of that trust).

      When I finally let rip I think he realised I wasn’t just going to accept his behaviour anymore. That he had no defense so it was much easier to leave than it was to man up and try and fix things. Two days before he was telling me how I was the love of his life…and then he’s out the door.

      Am I surprised? No.

      (It’s probably also worth noting this happened a week after he had his residency accepted for the country we emigrated to last year, via my skilled work points – as an individual he did not have a skilled trade and therefore not enough points to live and work in the country we are in on his own – so he got what he wanted from me before the relationship got ‘too much’)

      How do I feel? Extremely sad that I took a gamble on him and it didn’t pay off. I feel hurt by his reactions, but…

      … I also feel that a huge weight has been lifted. I am now my own person, and really, how can I mourn a love that was never really truly there? Over the years he had talked the talk, but at the end of the day, his actions betrayed his true lack of feeling.

      But at the same time, I can’t mourn the loss of a love that was half-hearted on his part, and probably never really there.

      Reading your blog post and the comments of all the other ladies on here who have been through similar situations have really helped me get to this stage, so thank you so much.

      Wish everyone strength, hope and happiness.

      • natty says:

        I wish i could do what you’ve done. Am with a man for more than two years. I have showed him care, support him in all possible way even got him a job and lavish his family with gifts. But I never felt reciprocated. I got depressed last year when I found out about another woman. I asked him to choose several times between me and that girl, he keep coming back to me after 2 weeks of break up. Until I decided to let him go and be with his girl. After a month, he contacted me and promised to leave the girl because he realised its me he loves. I accepted him again. True that he left that girl , and right now we are together. I told him he needs to learn to be affectionate, that at least he should hug me or kiss me in the morning. He is somehow responding when prompted. He wouldn’t exhibit caring affection, its all about him when we go to grocery or shop, all about what he wants and needs. All I want is he show concern for my welfare since I have been caring for his. Some men at work also shows interest on me and I told him about it. He didn’t care and even said “its okay that I go dating” because he is not a jealous type. I was hurt that he seemed not to care. He said he loves me but I can’t truly see it. I believe that he comes in the house simply because I can fulfill his needs. This is really taking a lot of my energy!!!


    Hello. Rhoda.
    I have been with my boyfriend for two year. The first year I packed him in about 5 or 6 times.. The reason for this was I felt no love or care from him but I went back with him each time because my last boyfriend before him cheated on me so many times but put me in a pedal stool. I loved him and was so hurt when I Court him with a 27 year old ( he was 52 )
    My boyfriend now says he could do that tell me nice things ( he takes the mock of a grease man and puts the voice saying ‘ you are beautiful come on to my boat I think you are for me ‘……
    So what he is trying to get into my head and successful done so , is that a man can give you all the love and not mean it . As for him he is deep and that means it’s true love …
    The second year I never packed him in . He still shows no love . He don’t hold my hand . Hugs or no long kiss at door when he goes home. Just a peck like a brother would give you.
    He sees me once a week on a sat night stays over until Sunday till about 1 . Sometimes we don’t have sex , when we do its always slow .
    I have only seen his son once , that was at the beginning . I never go to his house or see any of his family . He lives two bus rides away and I don’t drive he does.
    My mom died 14th Aug 2016 .. my relationship with my mom was a bad one she was definitely a narcissistic mother . I hadn’t seen her for two years .her wish not mine when she died it hurt like hell . I cried and at to have time off work I went to the funeral it was one of the worse days of my life do far. My boyfriend didn’t come . I had a lot of people saying why I’d he not by yr side.. I couldn’t answer .
    Next day I texted him could he come and see me that night . He came on the night after work . I told him I had a row with my sister about him not coming . All he said was don’t turn this around on me .. I didn’t know your mom so why would I go .. I told him he should if been by my side to support me. Oh shut up. You coped . You didn’t even get on . He looked sad . He now is saying yo me I should put it behind me .. its over
    .. He don’t understand that I never got love from my mom and now I’m getting the sender from him
    . I don’t know what to do .. I really can’t hurt him .. though I no he hurts me .. Please can you help me Gill.

  26. rhodasommer says:

    I suspect you have not learned to love yourself. From what you shared you may have begun setting yourself up to be a victim. I suggest you read Harriet Braikers book “Who’s Pulling Your Strings?” about being manipulated. Your sister is right he should have been there for you.

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