Tag Archives: Compassion

Thriving Through Tough Times

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 12.08.47 PMYour partner is going through a rough patch. You suspect they may be slipping into a bit of a depression. Maybe a chronic injury is preventing much-needed regular exercise. Maybe they’ve been skipped over for a promotion again and now feel both undervalued and trapped.

You love this person – in theory. But you don’t feel those loving feelings right now, and its been a while. You’ve checked your relationship tool kit and tried a bunch of stuff.

You’ve met with those Parts of you who feel triggered by depression and/or work-place inertia so you could listen to your partner non-reactively. You recognize your partner might be stuck in a Part of him or herself which is young and vulnerable and right now this is just how your partner is facing the world.

But none of this is helping your background ticker-tape-script of frustration, resentment, and exhaustion. There’s this nagging “I could do better! I deserve more! Is this it?”

What happens now in a relationship is often what sets a mediocre or doomed relationship apart from a great and robust relationship.

  • How do we thrive through tough times?
  • What allows a relationship to survive after those fuzzy “in love” feelings fade?
  • What’s the antidote when resentment and disappointment creep in?
  • How can we dwell in the presence of another human being for years and manage to not allow familiarity to breed contempt?

Two things.

  • Empathy – for your partner
  • Compassion – for yourself.

What do I mean by empathy for the other?

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 10.08.29 AMIt’s the social and emotional glue that connects us to one another. It allows us to see things from the other chap’s point of view by going within ourselves to cross-reference our own experiences and feelings.

We can imagine the joy of another by remembering our own joy. We can imagine the sadness of another by remembering our own sadness. We feel into ourselves in order to extend outward.

The limit to empathy might be, of course, our inability to cross-reference every human condition.

If your partner is injured, or flat-lined at work, it’s very possible you can dig into your own life-story and remember how you felt when you were prevented from exercising or overlooked at work. You can allow an upwelling of understanding through shared experience. Thus reminded, thus equipped with a memory for who you were under these same burdens, you can also remember what helped you.

Probably you responded well to patience, understanding, kindness. And, if you came through those tough times, you have a sense that ‘this too shall pass.”

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 12.20.11 PMSo, the extent to which you can dig back into your own experience and resonate with your partner allows you to stay the course. You’d hate to have been ridiculed, chivvied, belittled or worse – abandoned – at a time such as this.

It’s the good old Golden Rule ~ “Do unto others as you would be done by.”

What do I mean by compassion for oneself?

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 10.10.23 AMThis is the astonishingly transcendent ability we humans have to stand beside, to be with, in the face of the unknown.

You may not be able to tap into your own experience of someone else’s difficult situation, but you are willing to stand beside them: with feeling; with caring; with an outpouring of human-to-human connection.

And (or, but) the magic of compassion is that “It has to begin with me”: With compassion for Self.

Right there inside your wonderful complex inner world of opinion and judgment, right there where your background ticker-tape-script of frustration, resentment, and exhaustion deliver the nagging sense of “I could do better! I deserve more! Is this it?” you get to STOP . . .

and stand beside your Self with love. With a hug. With a sort of “welcome to the deliciously imperfect human condition – isn’t it amazing! Aren’t I amazing, to be standing here right now noticing my judgments. Noticing my partner’s frailty. Maybe there never was a memo that life should be easy. Maybe simply being present to this particular version of imperfection is perfect.”

Screen shot 2015-06-03 at 12.26.50 PMFrom this place of deep compassion for yourself, you can respond using the lesser known Platinum rule ~

Do unto others as they would be done by

Untethered from your experiences of what might be their pain, you are free to simply BE. It’s a form of radical acceptance.

Here are 2 quotes from one of my favorite mentors ~ and John Gottmans’ pick for the best living couples therapist ~ Dan Wile.

  • Despite what you might have been told, you can expect your relationship to solve your problems, fill gaps in your personality, and help you love yourself.
  • When choosing a long-term partner, you will inevitably be choosing a particular set of unsolvable problems that you’ll be grappling with for the next ten, twenty or fifty years.

So, before we dive more deeply over the next 3 weeks into whether and how empathy and compassion can be taught, I’m inviting you to simply experience your response to this Rumi meditation.

Screen shot 2015-06-02 at 3.51.43 PM


This is the latest article in a year-long series on the “12-most-important-relationship-skills-no-one-ever-taught-me-in-school-but-I-sure-wish-they-had.”

Click the box for the full list.  Top 12 Relationship Skills

If you are interested in reading this blog in sequence, below are links to the series to date, beginning with the first posting at the top.



SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”

SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.

 SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity


SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation

SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self

SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut

  • Thriving Through Tough Times

Thanks to Ernest Howard Shepard for the wonderful Winnie The Pooh illustrations. 

How Relationships Offer Us Everyday Transformation

Invited to contribute an article to my friend’s Doors of Transformation on-line magazine. You can link to it here http://thedoorsoftransformation.com/how-relationships-off-us-transformation/, or just read it below.


“The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”

Carl Jung

Once upon a time two travelers decided to leave the village and try their luck in a new environment.

Both were keen to visit a nearby town of interest so, seeking some advance information, they consulted the renowned sage of the area with their shared question:

“Tell us Oh Sage – what sort of community do you have there? What are the people like?”

“Of course I will tell you. But first, tell me if you will, can you describe the community you have just left? How did you find the people there? Why do you wish to leave them and venture afar now?”

The first traveler jumped in with a sigh. “Oh Sage – I have had a dreadful time of it which is why I am leaving – to seek my fortune amongst better folks. The people in the old town are mean spirited, cold hearted, not inclusive nor kind nor curious. They seem to look at me with nothing but contempt and judgment. I am desperate to put some distance between myself and that place!”

 “Oh, I am so sorry!” said the Sage. “You will most certainly be disappointed here for they are all just like that!”

With a stamp of frustration the traveler turned and left in the opposite direction.

The second traveler was looking on in amazement. “Oh Sage!” he burst forth,

“but I have had such fortune there!  I have laughed and loved and learned so much! I have been feasted and included in the day to day of many lives! I only leave now for sheer joy to see if the world is full of wonderful souls or whether these people are uniquely delightful!”

“Oh, I am so happy!” said the Sage. “You will most certainly not be disappointed here for they are all just like that!”

To the extent we are that first traveler, what can we learn from the second?

As Jung notes – when we allow ourselves to be touched by another we may be transformed. But in what way? Clearly all villages have their fill of fiends, fear mongers and frauds as well as sweethearts, sages and saints.

Why do some folks become cynical, disillusioned and hopeless while others seem to overflow with so much warmth, goodwill and kindness that these inner qualities transform any external situation – like a beam of light transforms the darkness?

The key, it seems to me, is to take control of the only things you can – your own heart and your own mind. Every encounter invites you to deepen your ability to be the second traveler.

“Ye s yes!” you say (with perhaps a hint of frustration).

“But you’ve not met my uncaring boss, nor my grouchy spouse, nor my defiant rude child; nor my back-stabbing friend, nor my narcissistic mother, nor my garrulous neighbor.  Sometimes my day is one long dodge and weave session through land mines of other peoples’ emotional sludge!”

OK – fair enough. This is probably what the first traveler saw when he took stock of his unsatisfying day-to-day interactions. It may never have occurred to you to consider transforming these encounters.  If you are like most of us, it would be more apt to say you alternate between tolerating, ignoring, getting angry with, giving helpful feedback to or having a drink to numb your feelings about  – your boss, spouse, child, friend, mum and neighbor.  

These are coping strategies – but you’re reading a magazine about transformation so clearly you want more.

Let’s go back to the key being your own heart and mind. Two of your most powerful muscles – OK technically the brain is an organ not a muscle, but it operates like a muscle to the extent it responds to exercise (try telling that to your kidneys). With your heart you can choose a different feeling. With your mind you can choose a different response.

Here are three ideas that will allow you to cultivate a “second traveler” mind set:

1.     Choose to see the other as a mirror ~ Notice the judgments you have about someone else and ask yourself, “To what extent am I like this? Where in my life am I uncaring, grouchy, defiant, back-stabbing, narcissistic and boringly talkative?” And in your heart, thank this person for showing you so perfectly that which you could choose to improve upon in your own life.

2.      Choose kindness ~ When someone is generating symptoms (I see unhelpful behaviors as symptoms of unmet needs) consider asking the person about it. If your boss seems uncaring, might she be under huge pressure? Could you ask how she is? Might your spouse need some understanding? Your child some slack?

3.     Choose compassion ~  A deeper blend of the two above, you could practice a form of Tonglen meditation,. First note your judgment. “My spouse is grouchy.” Next connect to the suffering behind the grouchy. What might your spouse be feeling that is generating the symptom of “grouchy”? Maybe exhaustion, overwhelm, fear, irritation? Thirdly, quietly allow yourself to connect with that pain and breathe it in. A long, deep, slow in-breath sucking up all that sadness. Then, breathe out what you want for your spouse: peace, joy, happiness, solace. Send to them waves of good things. And let it be.

Over time, this will transform you into a second traveler. One who sees it all, learns from the judgments, offers kindness to the sad and connects with the universality of all through a deep breath of love.