The Empathy Gap

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WARNING: Dilettantish, exceptionally amateur psychology follows, please look away if you are not empathetic (!)

Looking around the internet while researching this there are several articles discussing the empathy gap between couples. For instance, when one partner doesn’t give the appropriate response the other partner expects when something happens, be it a cut finger, slip, being fired, etc. etc. Empathy with the partner declines when one or both of the partners are not interested in the relationship anymore. This is logical – another way of putting it would be to say they are not in love anymore.

But what happens afterwards?

Again, it is quite logical there are two outcomes: You either get on with your ex or you don’t. Unfortunately for those in the latter category if there are children involved you have a problem.

For me it was a case of “Her way or the highway”, preferably disappearing in a puff of smoke never to be seen again would have suited her quite well. But we have children, and I wanted to keep in touch with them.

The empathy gap, in this case, means she has no feelings for me, not even as a human being. My ex tried to destroy me both financially and emotionally. Something that someone only does when there is no emotional connection left whatsoever.

All I wanted, and this, of course, can be demonstrated by the two metres of files I have at home from lawyers, courts etc. is a quick resolution to our affairs, and access to the children, moving over to less physical contact as they became older, as they have their own lives to live.

To illustrate how deep this gap was, a couple of years ago I had a pain in my chest that would not go away. I went to the local A&E and left in a well-appointed van with a blue light at great speed. I was due to pick the boys up the next day, it was late and my phone (battery) would not last the night. So I asked my girlfriend (now wonderful wife) to ring and ask my ex for the boys to ring me. I was afraid – so afraid that I tried not to go to sleep that night.

The boys did not ring. I didn’t try, as the only number I have is the step-fathers mobile. And he never lets me through, and after a while, the humiliation became too great for me.

There is also something else to mention. Because of several generations of no or just one child, my children are my only living blood relatives. Yes, she didn’t let me speak to them even then. This is illustrative of a  complete lack of empathy for another human being.

And her excuse?  Years later at a meeting with social services, I mentioned this, and she said her doctor husband (anaesthetist not a cardiologist) had talked to my girlfriend during that phone call, and determined what I had wasn’t serious! Bear in mind I had a catheter looking around my heart a day later!

People can be capable of the most hurtful things when they don’t even regard you as a fellow human being. Be careful if you see this in your (ex-)partner.

And what about the children? They see the lack of empathy towards the non-residential parent and change their attitude and behaviour towards him or her. A lack of respect starts to take hold, they do not take him/her seriously anymore and finally, they start to be insulting.

I have survived this empathy gap – I was not destroyed through her actions. But the children – our children – have learnt a lesson they should not have learnt at their tender age – How to treat anybody, even a parent like dirt – to have no empathy with them whatsoever. Is this what we as parents should be teaching our children?

© 2017 lostdad – All rights reserved


  1. The empathy gap is a good way of explaining this. I also experienced the same relationship dynamics and my three young children whether they are aware or not are now being taught to not have any empathy for me. Such behaviours from the parent are inmy opinion indicators for some undiagnosed personality disorder. My heart goes out to you.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I think you might be right there. Once while I was waiting in MacDonalds to meet the court appointed arbitrator to come and tell me that my children did not want to come I read an interesting article in the Guardian (of all papers!) about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I am not in the field, but several of the attributes listing in the article did correspond to her behaviour during and after our marriage.



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