Compassion in Relationships

"Sergio Garcia's Shoe"
by Mimi Stuart ©

In Their Shoes

Compassion is at the very heart of good communication and meaningful relationships. Being compassionate entails imagining being in someone else’s shoes and desiring to ease their suffering. Suffering is the sorrow of having lost someone or something of meaning to us. Paradoxically, suffering is intimately linked with joy, for inherent in every moment of joy lies the potential of loss. Since the hours of joy are fleeting, they are tinged with the shadow of sadness.

On the other hand, suffering also may retain some of the joy we once experienced, just as Blues music expresses suffering so beautifully. Witnessing suffering may bring meaning to the pain and can help move a person to the other side of suffering.

Not Agreement

To be compassionate does not require fixing problems or agreeing with others. It only calls for giving someone your full attention and presence. If your partner feels that you’ve ignored him, you can feel compassion for his state of mind even if you don’t agree with his perception. Compassion doesn’t require listening to endless gripes and complaints, which can be exhausting and unproductive.

Anger

Should you have compassion for someone who is angry at you? Absolutely, even though it may not be easy! Once you look behind the anger, you may find fear and unmet desire. For example, if your partner is angry because you’re absorbed in your own activities, becoming defensive simply continues the cycle of anger and you may remain unaware that he or she feels somewhat abandoned and is unable to admit it. Once you truly see the hurt or fear driving the anger, there’s a good chance of communicating effectively about what really matters to each person.

Compassion for oneself

We need to be compassionate toward ourselves. Understanding the dynamic that leads us to lose our temper, for example, is more effective than harsh self-criticism. Looking for the fear or hurt beneath our temper allows us to find a better way to address it. Ruthless self-condemnation, on the other hand, simply buries the hurt or unmet need deeper until the situation is ripe for another explosion.

Compassion does not equal tolerating abuse

Compassion recognizes the humanity in all people, and accepts that all of us have our weaknesses. Yet, compassion does not mean condoning or tolerating abusive behavior. You can have compassion for someone who has hurt you or others, while still holding them accountable for their actions. If your spouse has had an affair, for example, although you might try to understand how that situation developed, you don’t need to accept the behavior. In fact, you should probably protect yourself from further harm.

Compassion Blockers:

1. Communication without compassion imprisons us in a world of judgment. Judgment uses language that implies wrongness or badness. “You’re lazy.” “She’s selfish.” “He’s narcissistic.” Blame, insults, and labels don’t enhance life, they alienate it. It’s tempting to judge things as good or evil, right or wrong, or black or white, but we do so out of fear or contempt. Nobody’s needs, least of all our own, will be met that way.

2. Compassion can be blocked by using comparison as a form of judgment. Compare your own musical accomplishment to that of Mozart and you’ll feel thoroughly demoralized rather than inspired. However, our personal joy in music cannot be compared to anyone else’s, including Mozart.

3. The most dangerous barrier to compassion is the denial of responsibility for our actions. We all remember the Nazi system of invoking higher authority, which authorized normal people to commit horrendous crimes against humanity. When we deny responsibility for our actions, we enter dangerous territory and distance ourselves from our humanity.

Even if we may be tempted to say, “she makes me unhappy or he makes me angry,” we need to take responsibility for our expectations, feelings, and actions. We can handle disappointments with understanding and compassion, and at the same time adjust our future expectations of those who continue to disappoint us.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Read “We always argue.”

15 thoughts on “Compassion in Relationships

  1. N/A

    Hi
    Me and my mate have been together for three years but he always gets mad at me for not doing holding him accountable for the his actions but ehen i do hold him accountable for them he got even mader and yells at me calling me names telling me “you can say goodbye to any compassion i once felt for you” all i did was do what he wanted me to do i dont know what im supposed to do i hold him accountable and gets mad i dont hold him accountable he gets mad and he tells me he wont talk to me tell i figure out what i did but i didnt do anything

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi,

      It sounds as though you are walking on eggshells and cannot win. He seems to have all the power in the relationship. What are you supposed to hold him accountable for? It’s as though he is putting you in the position of mother or parent, and then berates you like a bad child, and that is not a good position to be in if you want a long-term fulfilling and romantic relationship. When one person is like the parent, the other is either the obedient child or the rebellious child, it squashes desire in the relationship. I mean there might be small things that you can each remind each other about and be careful not to be like a parent to each other. But one person should not be responsible for the other person. Maybe check out some of my blogs with the search word “dependence” “control” or “fusion.”

      I worry most of all that he is getting mad at you and saying dramatic things like “You can say goodbye to any compassion i once felt for you.” If it were me, I would say, “Let’s talk when you’re not angry. If this is really how you feel then I’m not interested in continuing this relationship. If this is just your anger talking, you need to control what you say to me. Saying this kind of thing is going to eat away at the relationship.”

      If he says things like this on an ongoing basis, his contempt, and your growing lack of self-respect will destroy the relationship. It’s something you need to be serious about. Talk to him when you’re not in a fight. Also, make sure you continue outside friendships and activities with positive people and family.

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply
  2. George

    Hi Alison

    I do not know if you can help me in my situation, I am 61yrs old widower and dating a lovely compassionate woman at the age of 55, and she been divorced since 28yrs,
    I lost my wife after a 40 years of marriage, and I am trying to do anything to make this new relationship work out, we have been dating for 10 months and this relationship is up and down we shared a lot of happy moments, but lately she is saying that I am not compassionate, yes sometimes we do have disagreements and fight and get mad on each others, But I do apologize for my misbehavior or actions, but her answer is you do not mean your apology and I cannot trust you, so could you give me some good advise on how I can do the right things and the right way, I do care for this relationship to be a peaceful relationship, I do love and cherish this woman.

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,
      Before I can answer, it would be very helpful if you could give me a couple of examples of what you fight about, even if it seems insignificant. What do you say or do or how do you say it, before she says that you are not compassionate? Also, I wonder if you are doing most of the pursuing? It sounds as though perhaps you are so grateful to be in this relationship, that she is taking advantage of having more of the power in the relationship. But I’m not sure. A few more examples would be helpful.
      Thank you.
      Alison

      Reply
    2. George

      Thanks for your reply,
      When we started dating she introduced me to all of her family and friends, I did not due to the fact that I do not have family other than the four daughters that I do have three of them married and do also have 5 Grand children other than that all my friends and family from my late wife part stop communicating with me so I was left with family from my side which consist and aunt and her family, I did not introduce her to them in the beginning just to have the time to know her better and if this relationship is going for good, we always fight about this issue when ever we do have any disagreement on any thing she open’s all the old file, even though I apologize to her, but you mentioned something in your reply to me that she might have or taking advantage of me, it never occur to me before that might be the case, she believe that she knows everything and that what sometimes we get to fight she does not like me to say anything even when she drive through a red light or make a U turn in the middle of the road, or drive against traffic, just lately I come to know that she is ADD and I research a bit about it and found out that her behavior is linked somehow to that. I do not know if I did give you any info that help me in saving this relationship. Thank you

      Reply
      1. Alison Post author

        Hi.

        You said that you did not introduce her to your family and friends in the beginning. Does that mean that since then you have introduced her to them? If not, then I think she has a valid concern. It might seem that you are embarrassed of her. Perhaps you are worried how your family will react. I would recommend introducing her. You don’t have to make a big deal of it. She is simply someone you are dating. You might need to withstand the discomfort of dealing with your family’s judgment if you want to continue dating this woman after ten months.

        Now, if you have already introduced her to your family and friends, and she is still arguing with you about why it took you so long, that is a different story, and not a good sign. Relationships don’t work well when partners hold grudges and easily get into fights. It is important to say how you feel and to express your needs and desires and disappointments to your partner, but in an adult, neutral way, without being overly repetitive. It’s important to show compassion for the other person when you express disappointments etc, instead of negative judgment and hostility. Both of you should want to express your own needs, and ALSO be kind to the other person. It is not a one-way street.

        So for instance, you could tell her “I don’t want to argue and fight, but I’d like you to know that I feel uncomfortable when you go through a red light. Life is too short to get into an argument when I point that out. I do plenty of things by mistake that you could point out to me, and I will try to respond without getting angry. But I would like you to respect my desire for safe driving. There is no need to feel personally offended. I simply don’t want to be scared while driving with you. Can you respect that?” If she drives against traffic, I would get out of the car. Do not let her bully you into putting yourself at risk. Never fear losing a relationship so much that you lose your sense of self-respect and self-protection.

        When you say that she does not like you to say anything, be careful not to start walking on eggshells. You will never please someone who is controlling. But what you can do is to learn to express yourself in a calm way, and NOT to react when she gets reactive. I really recommend getting a CD on nonviolent communication, or see what you can find on the internet, by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg on nonviolent communication, and have both of you listen to it and try it. IT’s really quite amazing when you only express your own feelings, needs, and desires, and keep things to the facts without judging the other person. It’s tricky, but very effective. I have a couple of articles on his method. Here is one, which comes with a video too: https://www.sowhatireallymeant.com/video/expressing-anger-effectively/

        I do not think that ADD is a good excuse for bad behavior. It’s great that you researched it, but it does not excuse her lashing out at you.

        Best of luck. Let me know if you have more specific questions.

        Reply
  3. Anonynous

    Dear Alison,

    Thank you for your advice. I started to write a more detailed letter, but after reading your post, it is best to make a succinct conveyance of ending the curtailed communication and meeting in person to resolve the issues.

    Best,

    Anonymous

    Reply
  4. Anonymous

    Dear Alison,

    Thank you for your response. At this point, with differences cast aside, I am willing to attempt nearly anything to arrive upon an amicable resolution: What is the best way to let those people know that I am willing to speak up [in a calm and diplomatic manner] and settle this unsettling issue once and for all? It’s going to be very difficult to reach them in person because their presences are quite elusive….
    Perhaps I was too harsh in terms of my previous verbal reference… they should be given the benefit of the doubt and a chance to fully express themselves. We should all be able to move forward tranquilly.

    Thank you again for your time and advice. I hope you and your family are enjoying Labor Day. Take care.

    Warm regards,

    Anonymous

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hello,
      Perhaps a brief letter would be best. That way you can be careful to say exactly what you want. Avoid attacking and avoid being too vulnerable, but ask if they would like to meet to resolve issues with you. If you like you could send me a sample letter and I can give you my input.
      Best,
      Alison

      Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Dear Alison,

    Thank you for your helpful advice and support. At this point, although I no longer harbor hostility or anger towards them, I will definitely report them to the police if they continue to tamper with me! So, therefore, reconciliation just doesn’t seem like a feasible solution anymore… It seems as though they will always be vicious/vindictive hypocrites and it would be downright detrimental for me to continue to associate with such kind of people!

    I certainly do have other aspects of my life to focus on, and they shall potently lead me to people who are naturally inclined to appreciate humanity and strive to symbiotically serve mankind!!

    Thank you for your time.

    Best,

    Anonymous

    Reply
  6. Alison Post author

    Yes I will delete those posts.

    Yes, there’s always a possibility for reconciliation. Just make sure you protect yourself emotionally and don’t expect too much. You can say say that you have felt very hurt and angry, but want to let that go, and that you are open to reconciliation, although you understand that that could take time.

    For your own sake, I would also focus on other things in your life.

    Good luck.

    Reply
  7. Anonymous

    I am with the love of my life, my girlfriend and best friend. We have gone through so much over the past 2 years and it’s a lot to get into. Short story is I was there, fell in love with her, while she was in a whirlwind, coming out of a separation (we had an affair together) and she found herself in the bottom of a bottle. I was there for a year and a half and tried to “fix” her. Needless to say, she ended up leaving and hooking up with another girl and was out of my life for 2 months. During those 2 months of complete and utter heartbreak, I slept with a man (ugh)…went totally against who I am and when she came back with open arms, a freed heart & was completely apologetic and fell in love with me, I tried to keep it from her b/c I knew that would be our demise. She found out about a month and a half ago & she’s still here and says she is still in love. I want to make her feel better, she says she feels alone b/c I’m not compassionate & I’m always defensive when we discuss what I did and I am. It hurts me that I did it, and then it hurts how bad I’ve hurt her. I want to be there & not be this way b/c I do love her and want to be with her…I need help! 🙁

    Reply
    1. Alison Post author

      Hi. I am a bit confused. You tried to help your girlfriend for a year and a half because she found herself in the bottom of a bottle (do you mean drinking a lot or depressed?) Either way, she left you after you had tried to help. You slept with someone after she left. Why do you feel guilty? Why are you so worried about hurting her after she left you to be with someone else? What about your hurt feelings? You said you experienced two months of “complete and utter heartbreak”!! Where’s your compassion for yourself?

      She says that you are not compassionate toward her. Yet you’re the one who is worried about hurting her. It seems to me that you are overly compassionate toward others while neglecting your own feelings and needs. You seem not to be willing to express them and to have higher expectations of others’ behavior toward you.

      The fact that you are defensive makes me wonder whether you are taking too much responsibility for other people’s happiness. There was no need to hide the fact that you were with someone after she left. Have some compassion for yourself (whether or not you regret the incident.) There was also no obligation that you tell her that you were with someone after she left. So there’s no need to feel guilty about what you did and no need to feel guilty about not telling her.

      I certainly don’t understand why you thought her knowing about it would be your demise. It sounds as though you are giving other people too much power, not expecting enough from others, and taking on too much responsibility for fixing others and accommodating their desires. While it isn’t good to hurt others purposely, the fact that they are hurt without adequate justification should not cause you to walk on eggshells, particularly when they have left you. So, as I said, you shouldn’t feel guilty for being with someone after your girlfriend left you.

      Yes, it’s important to be compassionate, but you do not need to fix people. In fact, when you try to fix people, they tend to view you as a parent and lose desire and attraction to you.

      So, my recommendations to you are the following:

      1. to become more aware of how you try to please people while ignoring your own feelings. Learn to respect and accommodate your own feelings and desires at least as much as you do others’.

      2. to stop trying to fix others. It doesn’t work. And while they may depend on you and need you, they will not desire you and really enjoy being with you. If you become the fixer, then you will only attract people when they are in trouble and need support. It’s more sustainable and enjoyable to be with people who can stand on their own two feet, so you can have a mutually equal and reciprocal relationship. Of course, everyone needs support once in a while. But beware of those who need it most of the time. It doesn’t bode well.

      3. to take back your own power. The end of your letter suggests that you want to accommodate her in order to be with her. Accommodating irrational people leads to a downward spiral. Avoid being defensive about something that you did that was not wrong. Don’t fear pointing out that she left you, and you were free to do what you wanted. By the way, I wonder why you trust that she will stay this time?

      Good luck.

      Alison

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 × 1 =