I’ve been thinking a lot about one of the questions that was raised in my talk: “Not So Happily Ever After: 10 Keys to Getting the Relationship You Want.” It’s on the topic of Compassion. The audience member was acknowledging how kind and compassionate she can be towards other people (co-workers, distant friends, even strangers) and hard it is to show compassion to the people closest to us.
I could really relate to what she offered.
Sometimes, it is really hard to be compassionate towards our partners. Being around and living with someone day in and day out can create lots of hurt feelings, frustrations and resentment that make it nearly impossible to be kind and truly forgiving.
I’ll admit, I don’t remember exactly how I responded in the call, but the question continues to be on my heart. It’s an area that I, along with many of my clients, struggle with and is a place where I am constantly growing.
Listen, I could probably go on about this topic for pages and pages. It’s so important, I’ve dedicated an entire module to this concept in the Getting to Happily Program. But for now, I wanted to share 4 really important things I’ve learned so far.
1. Showing compassion, just like forgiveness, is a process, not an event.
Because showing compassion is ongoing, it requires a committed decision – one that you choose over and over again. There are some days you’ll get it right, and some days you won’t. Like any habit, it takes practice. So each day, look for small opportunities to show compassion. You know, look for those small annoyances that you can usually get over pretty quickly and choose compassion. Maybe he left a sink full of dirty dishes, maybe he stayed later at work than you expected, maybe he didn’t follow through on something. You can come up with your own example. The point here is to start the process of training yourself to be compassionate. It’s kind of like trying on a dress you are not really sure about. It caught your attention and looks so-so on the hanger, but you won’t really know if it works for you until you put it on. So today, try on compassion.
2. Showing compassion requires you examine your own mistakes.
One of the reasons it’s hard to show compassion to our partners is because they have disappointed us or let us down in some way. But one of the first steps in getting over our own hurt and upset is to put ourselves in their shoes and really understand how they might feel. It helps to identify a time where you have disappointed or let your partner down. I’m not suggesting you compare apples to oranges, but really think about a time when you disappointed him. How did you feel? I’ll take a guess and assume you felt pretty badly. It’s tough to disappoint someone you care about. And sometimes, what’s tougher is knowing that you disappointed yourself. Another helpful question is, how did you want him to respond to you in that moment? Usually, the last thing you want to hear is about how wrong you were, how much you messed up, how you should have done something different. You have already had that conversation with yourself a thousand times and you don’t need the reminder. Chances are he feels the same way, even if he’s not showing it. For some people, apologizing or expressing remorse is really, really hard. They rather sweep it under the rug and turn it on you, instead of looking at themselves. That’s a coping mechanism, and sometimes, that’s all a person may know to do. I can almost guarantee that they feel bad about doing anything that leads you to be upset or angry in any way. Maybe there was a time where you also felt bad and didn’t show it. The takeaway here is that we all fall short at some point or another. And if you can tap into times where you have messed up and really wanted him to show you grace and compassion, it will make the process a little easier for you to do the same.
3. To show compassion, you have to stop taking things personally.
One of the biggest blocks to being compassionate are our own thoughts and the story we tell ourselves about a situation. When our partner does something we don’t like, or fails to do something we expect, we take it as a personal offence. “Well, he just doesn’t care about me, or he doesn’t want to help me, or what I need is not important to him.” We’re so good at creating these dramatic stories were he is the villain and we are the wronged party. Realizing that everything is not all about you is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. Usually, and by that I mean 99% of the time, people’s actions or lack of action have to do with them, their own experiences, their own assumptions and expectations. Maybe he grew up thinking a certain way, maybe it’s his was of hiding his own shame and fear, maybe he feels inadequate. Who knows what’s really going on, but I can tell you what’s NOT going on. It’s NOT an intentional effort to disregard you or make you upset. But that’s what we tell ourselves, right? The sooner you can truly believe that you partner’s behavior has nothing to do with you, the more open you will be to compassion. Even if they are pointing the finger at you, it’s really about them. Do. Not. Take. It. Personally. Period.
4. To show compassion to others, you must show compassion to yourself.
It’s hard to show compassion when expectations are not met. And people who have the hardest time showing compassion usually have the highest expectations of others, and more importantly, of themselves. As women we are often driven by the image of perfection. We have to look a certain way, we have to own certain things by certain designers, we have to do this but we can’t do that…the list goes on and on. We are incredibly hard and unforgiving of ourselves. One key I find to unlocking our capacity to show compassion is to find the places on our relationship where we need to forgive and show compassion to ourselves. If we can accept the beauty of our humanity and embrace the wonderful opportunities in each mistake we make, how much easier will it be to do the same for someone who is so much a part of who we are as a person. I often say that the people we are in the most intimate relationship with are mirrors of ourselves. They reflect back to us the places where we need to learn, love and grow the most. So find that place of self-blame and shame in your relationship. Look at it will acceptance and appreciation, for it has contributed to the amazing person you are right now. You cannot go back and do it differently. You can only move forward with openness to the full and glorious process of compassion.
Questions or comments? I’m all ears!
Also, if you found this helpful, please share it with someone who could also benefit!
Yours in relating well,