Document Type



Author's Final Manuscript

Publication Title

Journal of Family Psychology



Publication Date



This study examined links between two distinct facets of empathy – empathic accuracy and perceived empathic effort – and one’s own and one’s partner’s relationship satisfaction. Using a video recall procedure, participants (N = 156 couples in committed relationships) reported on their own emotions and their perceptions of partners’ emotions and partners’ empathic intentions during moments of high affect in laboratory-based discussions of upsetting events. Partners’ data were correlated as a measure of how accurately they were able to read what the other was feeling and to what degree they felt the other was trying to be empathic at those moments. The perception of empathic effort by one’s partner was more strongly linked with both men’s and women’s relationship satisfaction than empathic accuracy. Men’s relationship satisfaction was related to the ability to read their partners’ positive emotions accurately, whereas women’s relationship satisfaction was related to their partners’ ability to read women’s negative emotions accurately. Women’s ability to read their husbands’ negative emotions was positively linked to both men’s and women’s relationship satisfaction. Findings suggest that the perception of a partner’s empathic effort – as distinct from empathic accuracy – is uniquely informative in understanding how partners may derive relationship satisfaction from empathic processes. When working with couples in treatment, heightening partners’ perceptions of each other’s empathic effort, and helping partners learn to demonstrate effort, may represent particularly powerful opportunities for improving satisfaction in relationships.



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