Take the quiz to see how much compassionate love you show your partner: Compassionate Love Quiz
When I was in elementary school, I desperately wanted to go to summer camp. Specifically, I wanted to go to Big Lake Youth Camp. Every year, they would send us beautiful brochures filled with pictures of all the fun activities I could do if only I could go to camp. Every year, though, when I asked my parents, the answer was no. Because I knew that we were tight financially, I never made a big deal about it. I knew the answer would probably be no, but I still had to ask just in case. Finally, one year, my parents said yes. Well, sort of.
You see, my parents said yes, but they didn’t say yes to me. Our church asked for volunteers to sponsor a week of summer camp for children in the church whose families could not afford to send them, and my parents decided to sponsor a girl about my age. When I asked why they were sending her, and not me, they told me that she came from a tough family background, so she needed to go, but I didn’t. On one level, I understood. I was happy that she got to go to camp. On another level, though, I wished that my parents took my desire to go to camp more seriously. It felt like my parents cared more about someone else’s desires than they did about mine, and although it felt terribly selfish, I couldn’t help feeling hurt by that.
Why is it sometimes easier to be compassionate toward acquaintances and strangers than toward those who are closest to us? I’m sure my parents meant to do good by sending a child to camp, but they missed the hurt right in front of them. And they certainly aren’t alone in this mistake. We all lose our compassion for those closest to us at times, and especially toward our partners.
Why We Fail at Compassion
In my opinion, there are two main reasons that we fail to be as compassionate toward our partners as we should be.
1. We simply get used to having our partners around, and we forget to be intentional about paying attention to their needs and struggles.
2. We sometimes resist looking at things from our partner’s point of view because their wants or needs conflict with ours. Being compassionate toward our partners seems like it might lead to giving up what we want or need to take care of our partners, whereas if we refuse to see things from our partner’s point of view, we can pretend that our desires are more important or more reasonable than theirs.
Neither of these reasons for lacking compassion are healthy for relationships. The first one comes from complacency, while the second comes from selfishness. The next logical question, then, is why compassion is important.
Why Compassion is Important
Compassion toward our partners is important because it:
1. Helps us to maintain a positive attitude toward our partners. As we talked about last week, thinking gentle thoughts toward our partners can be a very positive thing for our relationships. It is difficult to think about someone unkindly while you are focused on understanding them and being sensitive toward their needs.
2. Reminds us that our partners are fellow humans, not problems to be solved. It’s easy to slip into the trap of seeing your partner’s actions only through the lens of how they create issues for you. Staying compassionate toward your partner helps you to remember that their wants and needs exist separately from their effect on you.
3. Helps facilitate communication. Communication is vitally important for a healthy relationship, and looking at things from the other person’s point of view is essential for positive communication. As Alison Poulson points out, being compassionate does not mean that you agree with the other person, or that you tolerate bad behavior. It simply means that you start from a place of trying to understand their thoughts and feelings. (Check out her article here – it also includes a helpful list of things that can get in the way when you are trying to be compassionate.)
4. Indicates that you have a mature relationship. According to Michelle Weiner-Davis, there are five stages of marriage. Each stage is part of the progression toward a more mature marriage. One of the hallmarks of the fourth stage is that each partner makes more of an effort to see the other person’s point of view instead of seeing each conflict as a battle between right (you) and wrong (your partner).
I eventually got to go to summer camp. Well, sort of. I never got to be a camper, but I worked at summer camps for four summers, including one summer at Big Lake. It wasn’t quite the same as being a camper, but I enjoyed being at camp just as much as I had imagined. Sadly, although it no longer hurts me in the same way, I still have the memory of having my feelings pushed aside for someone else. That memory motivates me to keep my husband’s needs and wants first instead of allowing other things to get in the way. If you want to join me in being more compassionate toward our partners, check out the links below for information on how to be more compassionate.