Compassion and empathy, is the 6th practice described in my ebook, Transform Your Relationship: Core Practices To Create A Healthy Marriage. Today, I want to focus on compassion.
Without the practice and presence of compassion in an intimate relationship, it becomes even harder to navigate emotionally charged situations. If we are not compassionate, we will avoid cultivating deep understanding of ourselves and our partner because we will look at things more critically and judgmentally.
In order to understand compassion, we must understand its shadow side: judgment, both self-judgment or judgment toward others. We cannot be compassionate when we are judging.
Tara Brach has talked about the act of judging in this way:
We often distance ourselves from emotional pain—our vulnerability, anger, jealousy, fear—by covering it over with self-judgment…Whenever we’re trapped in self-judgment, our first and wisest step towards freedom is to develop compassion for ourselves…Rather than pushing them (our emotions) away, we free ourselves by holding our hurting places with the unconditional tenderness of compassion.
Judging, either ourselves or others, is a way to control where we feel challenged or limited. It is a way to control the parts of ourselves or others that we don’t like. The more we judge, the more we feel reassured that we won’t let those unattractive parts, of self or other, take over.
In essence, self- judging, is born of our own emotional pain and/or fears that we have fallen short in some way.
And judging others is born out of our own fear and misunderstanding; thinking in terms of those different from ourselves as ” me vs. you” or “us vs. them”.
We are in judging mind so much (which means we are cut-off from the potential to be compassionate) that we no longer even recognize it.
Judging mind becomes the lens through which we view ourselves and our world. Harsh assumptions, quick conclusions, and criticism abound when we are in judging mind.
If we learn how to be aware of, acknowledge, and name our judgment, we then are positioned to open ourselves to a more compassionate response.
I know this is a lot harder to do than it is to write about or talk about, which is why this is called a “practice”. It is not about perfection or even judging ourselves in this process, it is about creating spaces of tenderness that ultimately expand into spaces of love and healing.
So in order to cultivate compassion for self and other we must first awaken to the judging, critical voice that dominates so much of our day.
Then we must learn how to extend the gentle, tender touch of compassion to ourselves and others by allowing whatever is presenting itself to just be.
Allowing does not mean liking or accepting injustice or abuse or disrespect or unkindness. It simply means recognizing, naming, and being aware that harmful actions and thoughts exist.
Harmful behaviors are driven by ignorance—by fear, greed or hatred. When we realize this, instead of casting blame we are freer to respond with understanding and forgiveness. But, releasing blame and accepting our experience does not mean we become passive observers. When we allow ourselves to feel the reality of suffering, a deep caring arises.
Compassionate responses in marriage require being aware of our own pain and vulnerability as well as being aware of our partner’s pain and vulnerability.
Again, being awake to, and then naming the experience within us or in front of us without judgment, enables us to open our hearts and feel our own vulnerable places or witness the vulnerable places of our partner.
If we stay in blame and criticism our heart remains closed.
A key ingredient here is the practice of curiosity. Without curiosity we make assumptions and draw conclusions which lead to missed opportunities to truly understand ourselves or our partner. And we miss opportunities to deeply connect to ourselves and our partner.
So next time your partner distresses you in some way, stop and ask them what they are feeling or experiencing underneath the surface words or actions.
Invite them to open up to you about their internal experience and vulnerabilities. Once they do, you will have the opportunity to extend a gentle, loving response of compassion toward them.
This does not mean you allow disrespect or hurtful words or actions. But rather you create a space to understand. In this understanding, you will then be free to offer a compassionate, loving response while simultaneously creating boundaries for yourself, if needed.
The next time you feel you have fallen short as a partner, stop and ask yourself what feelings and experiences are underneath your words or actions. And extend self-compassion to the vulnerability you discover within yourself. Share what you discover with your partner and ask for their support and understanding.
Tara Brach says it best, “When we let go of blame, we open to the compassion that can genuinely transform ourselves and our world.”
It is my hope that you give yourself and your partner this gift of compassion and begin today to creating healing transformation.
Peace in the journey,