Balancing Your Head and Heart: What to Do If You Are a Sympathizer

“Our nervous systems are constructed to be captured by the nervous systems of others, so that we can experience others as if from within their skin.” – Daniel Stern

Are you a natural sympathizer? If you answered yes, you likely find yourself rushing to the aid of your spouse, or others, when they are in need. Or, at least when you think they are in need. But are they?

People with sympathetic personalities are much more inclined to let their feelings guide them than others. Their hearts take precedence over their heads. In certain situations, this is a very valuable trait to have! It’s not necessarily a bad thing. When people are truly in need, a natural sympathizer is just what the doctor ordered.

However, when it comes to a relationship you need to be sure your sympathy is warranted. Otherwise, you may end up smothering your partner. Today, we are discussing ways you can balance your head and your heart, and when it’s best to dive into action.

Activate Your Emotional Radar

The challenge for sympathizers is to stop and gain an objective perspective first. When a situation arises where you feel you need to be a helper, pause for a moment and evaluate the whole situation by tuning into your spouse’s emotions. This action is known as activating your emotional radar.

Imagine this scenario: you grew up as an only child and your parents went out of their way to cherish and help you, in turn you feel this is what your spouse wants as well. You likely will make the erroneous assumption that “what’s good for me is good for you!” Soon, you find yourself bringing your spouse snacks, whether they say they are hungry or not. You set out clothes in the morning for your spouse to “help” with their morning routine. You “baby” your spouse and tend to their every need.

But is this what your spouse wants? Perhaps your spouse thinks this is a waste of food when you bring snacks when they aren’t hungry. And possibly your actions may seem, to put it bluntly, down-right annoying rather than helpful.

They key here is to stop and evaluate before you rush in to help where it’s not necessary. Tune into your spouse’s underlying emotions. You need to activate your emotional radar and determine if the person you are helping wants your help.

Trade Places With Your Spouse

Trading Places with your spouse is key, and goes hand in hand with activating your emotional radar. We don’t literally mean trade places, but imagine yourself in their shoes. You likely know your spouse very well, and know their inner emotions as well. Use this to your advantage! Before you rush in to help, put yourself in their position and in their shoes, and determine if they want you to help.

Sympathizers feel very deeply, and often perceive their partner’s pain to be their own. Your own anxiety can become overpowering until you begin to meet needs that don’t exist. Your goal as a sympathizer is to lean into your analytical capacities by pressing your emotional “pause” button and checking your partner’s feelings before you make emotional assumptions.

In many situations being a sympathizer is warranted, however, there are also many situations when it is not. Don’t let your heart take over your head. With time, you will learn when sympathizing is truly needed, and when it is not.

If you want to dive deeper, check out our book Trading Places. We’d love to hear from you in the comments on how you keep your sympathetic balance in check!


  • Deanna says:

    Great stuff! Truly Enlightened 🙂

  • Suzanne Luna says:

    My loving husband does this- he’s tall and strong, and I’m 4’11” and 110lbs- so I think he feels that I need protecting. However, I was a gymnast, a single mom, a fighter, a personal trainer, a jump-in-the-puddles kind of girl. My hubby tries to protect me from things I don’t want to be protected from, like picking up something heavy (but manageable), or keeping me out of the water when I’m already wearing rain boots. Sometimes I feel my spirit gets squashed when he does this. Sometimes I want to put down the umbrella and turn my face up to the rain. I know he means well, and he does it because he loves me, but I don’t think he’s considering what I want or need.

    • LeVar says:

      I completely understand your position. Have you considered that maybe your husband is a gentleman? As a man and one who practices chivalry, these are all the things I would do as a gentleman for my wife. Just a thought.

      • Suzanne says:

        I have, and he is- that’s why I said my loving husband. He’s wonderful.

        • LeVar says:

          That’s awesome. I’m sure he would completely understand your position when phrased as you did so above. It would take coming to a mutual understanding without taking away from the core of each other. If he feels that’s his ministry to you and he’s unable to do that, he may feel similarly as you do when he does those acts of kindness. Pray for wisdom; as I’m sure you have. The Lord will guide you.

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