The Burden of empathy: Partners’ response to divergence of interests in daily life

F. Righetti, J. Gere, W. Hofmann, M.L. Visserman, P.A.M. van Lange

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Empathy has often been discussed as a beneficial process from which favorable individual and interpersonal experiences may be derived. The present work investigates whether empathy may sometimes be a burden rather than a benefit, under certain interpersonal circumstances. Specifically, we hypothesized that encountering situations of divergence of interests with a partner may cause discomfort, and that empathizing with one’s partner would exacerbate this discomfort, resulting in higher levels of negative mood and stress that can affect relationship satisfaction. We tested these hypotheses using innovative experience sampling methodology in which both partners reported on their experiences in their natural environments. In support, we found that when people encountered divergence of interests with one’s partner, as compared with when they did not, they experienced higher negative mood and stress and, consequently, lower relationship satisfaction. These effects were intensified, rather than reduced, by empathy. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)684-690
Number of pages7
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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