Your 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?
- Empathy – for your partner
- Compassion – for yourself.
What do I mean by empathy for the other?
It’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.”
So, 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?
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.”
“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.
FIRST TIME HERE?
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.”
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.
SKILLS FOR UNDERSTANDING
SKILL ONE ~ Recognize (and get to know) the many “yous.”
SKILL TWO ~ Learn how to be pro-active: choose how y’all show up.
- Report The News – Don’t Act it Out
- Happy Families
- Self Leadership
- When Does A Relationship Need Help?
SKILL THREE ~ Accept (and get curious about) other peoples’ complexity
- 5 Non verbal Cues You Need To Know
- How To Change Someone Else
- 2 Magic Ratios for Great relationships
- Is Understanding Overrated?
SKILLS FOR CONNECTING
SKILL FOUR ~ Master the Art of Conversation
- Five Conversations
- How To Never Be Boring
- The 5 Principles For Great Conversation
- The 7 Deadliest Fights & How To Fight Fair
SKILL FIVE ~ Learn How To Listen With Your Whole Self
- 5 Ways To Be A Better Listener
- Listening To Yourself
- Who’s Listening
- Beyond Emotion Coaching – Listening For Your Child’s Needs
SKILL SIX ~ Crack The Empathy Nut
- Thriving Through Tough Times
Thanks to Ernest Howard Shepard for the wonderful Winnie The Pooh illustrations.