Thomas Browne, Sr.
In our last post, we talked about the character quality of compassion - what it is and some foundational truths. What does that have to do with marriage?
Developing Compassion in Marriage
Some experts believe that compassion is the most important emotion for developing intimate relationships and that it contributes far more to happiness than love does. When there is little compassion, a lot of love cannot compensate for the lack of compassion.
Why is compassion so important?
We know that it is part of the character of God. If we want to live as Christ, we will develop compassion in our character and in our marriage. As we study and understand the compassion that God has for each of us individually and for us as humans, we will see life as He does. We will be compassionate as He is compassionate. We will see people and circumstances as He sees them.
And we need to recognize when others display compassion towards us and others.
Compassion sensitizes us to the individuality and vulnerability of our loved ones. It makes me see that my spouse is a different person from me, with a separate set of experiences, a different temperament, different vulnerabilities, and, in some respects, different values.
In contrast, if I feel the intensity of love without compassion, I can’t see who my spouse for who he really is. He becomes merely a source of emotion for me rather than a separate person in his own right. When he makes me feel good, I think he is great. When he makes me feel bad, he becomes a demon. Love without compassion is possessive, controlling, rejecting, and dangerous.
Compassion, on the other hand, makes you protective, rather than controlling. The difference is critical. When I am protective, I want to help her achieve what is best for her. Most of all, I want her to feel okay about herself. When I'm controlling, I want her to feel bad for not doing what I want her to do.
The lack of compassion has some habits that are easy to recognize; each one can be redeemed and changed once it is recognized.
Red flags and their antidote
One way to spot a lack of compassion is when a person responds with defensiveness, especially if my spouse is accusing me of something, even working too much. When I get defensive, I am saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, you are wrong.”
The antidote to defensiveness is to recognize the hurt behind the accusation, sympathize with the hurt, and even seek to alleviate the hurt. I can take responsibility for anything I might have done to hurt the other person or to more fully explain what has happened, but not to accuse or attack back.
Criticism most often attacks the character of a person – you are so stupid, lazy, or fill-in-the-blank. Even when it attacks behavior, it will be destructive if it is filled with blames, if it devalues, if it focuses on what the person has done wrong rather than how to do it right, or if it implies that there is only one right way to do things.
A critical person was often criticized as a child. Criticism often leads to defensiveness and contempt.
The antidote of criticism is first of all to recognize that we all make mistakes but that we all have worth and value. I have to apply that to myself in light of my past hurts. Then I apply this principle to those that I am criticizing. Then I can begin to think of how my spouse or children feel when I criticize them.
A negative characteristic, which is said to predict divorce with more than 90% accuracy, is stonewalling. This characteristic is very indicative of a lack of compassion. Recognizing and changing this characteristic, while becoming more compassionate, can change the tone and atmosphere of the marriage.
Men tend to do this more than women. But stonewalling is when a husband refuses to consider his wife’s perspective. He does not show her that he values her opinion or that she has anything to say that is worth hearing. If he listens at all, he does it dismissively or contemptuously.
The antidote to stonewalling is listening to my spouse’s opinions and valuing what she says, showing it in a way that she can recognize my interest.
We often try to control our environment and the people around us when we have lived in a home that was out of control or when we feel anxiety.
We decide what our home needs to be like and how everyone needs to act to give us a sense of safety and security and peace. People who try to control those around them don’t realize that control drives people away instead of drawing them closer. The goal of control is then actually sabotaged by the demands or expectations of the one who is trying to control.
The reality is that we cannot control other people. Instead of control, seek cooperation for common goals.
All of us can improve in the area of compassion in marriage. Take this opportunity to take the step of expressing more compassion in marriage. This step will bring intimacy and oneness in your marriage.
Previous posts in the series "Character of Marriage":
Character of Marriage - Commitment
Character of Marriage - Commitment2
Character of Marriage - Commitment3
Character of Marriage - Commitment4