Character of Marriage - Compassion2

"By compassion we make others' misery our own, and so, by relieving them, we relieve ourselves also."
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 
  1. Defensiveness
    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.

  2. Criticism
    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.

  3. Stonewalling
    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.

  4. Control
    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. 
Ultimately, we must come to a place of knowing that God is the only one in control. The antidote for control is trusting God to take care of you, regardless of what others do or what happens. We have to care enough – compassion - about how others feel to help them achieve their desires and goals more than we work to get what we want.

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

Character of Marriage - Compassion

"Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too." Frederick Buechner

One might assume that marriage would contain compassion. Initially, probably, most do. As marriage continues and hurt comes through the front door, often compassion exits through the back door.

The person, whom we proclaim to love until death, suddenly becomes the person to whom we show the least compassion.

What is compassion? 

The word origin means literally “to suffer with.” The dictionary puts it this way “a feeling of distress and pity for the suffering or misfortune of another, often including the desire to alleviate it.” Compassion goes a step beyond sympathy. Compassion wants to do something to help. We see news articles on TV about great human suffering because of a natural disaster. People want to know what they can do to help.

Some people seem to lack compassion in most situations, including home life. Sometimes, it is because they don't know what to do, so they tune it out. Sometimes, it is more of the sense that no matter what they do it won't help or it won't matter. For some people, it is even a "one-up-manship." They think or say "You think you have it bad, listen to what happened to me.... Or you don't know what it means to suffer, you have it easy compared to my life/my hurt ...."

I believe that at his/her core, every man and woman has compassion in extreme situations. Would I give up something or risk danger if I knew a child was about to die and I was the only who could save him? Most people would take that risk to save a helpless child. But can I have compassion for my husband or my wife?

The Bible has a lot to say about compassion and mercy. In fact, compassion/mercy is a central theme throughout the Bible. The biblical word for compassion means: "that disposition that fuels acts of kindness and mercy. Compassion, a form of love, is aroused within us when we are confronted with those who suffer or are vulnerable." The biblical words for compassion or being compassionate are often translated “mercy” also.

Any description of God's heart towards us would include compassion and mercy.

2 Corinthians 1:3 calls Him "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort."

In Exodus 33:18, after Moses asked God to show him His glory, God says, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion."
After God came down in a cloud and passed in front of Moses, He said in Exodus 34:6 “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness." We see that description in Scripture over and over.

This quality of compassion is present not only in God the Father, but also in Jesus the Son.
  • Matthew 9:36 "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."
  • Matthew 14:14 "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick."
  • Matthew 15:32 "Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way.'"
  • Luke 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.
  • Jesus, telling the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:20 "So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."
 God says that we can be like Him in the area of compassion and mercy because He lives in us.
  • Zechariah 7:9 “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.'"
  • Ephesians 4:32 "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
  • Colossians 3:12 "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
  • 1 Peter 3:8 "Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble."
Compassion towards our fellow man and towards other believers includes compassion towards our spouse.

"Compassion will cure more sins than condemnation." Henry Ward Beecher

In the next post, we will talk about how the importance of compassion in marriage, how to develop and demonstrate compassion, and some red flags/antidotes for a lack of compassion in marriage.

Previous posts in the series:

Character of Marriage - Commitment4

The Character of Marriage through commitment includes being committed to my spouse. The obvious is the commitment I made in my vows, and that is part of it. [see part 1, part 2, and part 3 of the series]

Scott Stanley in his book The Power of Commitment would call the vow to my spouse a commitment of constraint. His proposed "commitment of dedication" would include another significant quality - the commitment to the very best for my spouse, creating a nurturing environment, a supportive relationship.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Romans 12:10

To be devoted to my spouse would include all levels of love – unconditional love, friendship love, physical love and affection.

Part of that commitment to the very best for your spouse is accepting that person just as they arenot trying to change that person. In fact, I would encourage my husband in his interests and abilities. I create an environment in my marriage that nurtures the gifts God has given him.

Ed has always been an outdoors person. In fact, as I am writing this post, he is working on arrows. Yes, arrows for archery deer hunting. I now know what "fletching" means.

When we got married, he was a great golfer, an avid fisherman, and hunter. I know women who complain about their husband doing those things, but I thought it was great. I have always encouraged him to pursue those activities.

I know that some men overdo those things and don’t spend time with their families; they don’t consider the needs of the family. I know some husbands don’t plan time with their wife, but it will not bring us closer together by nagging or complaining about it. I am not excusing men who abuse this area.

I love art and art museums. Ed knows that when we travel, I want to go to the local art museum or art show. He plans time into our trips for the art museums. He encourages me in my involvement as a volunteer at our local art museum.

When I try to restrict my spouse’s time or connection with other people or interests, it will ultimately be a divisive issue, driving us farther apart. Restricting my spouse is control, not commitment.

Committing to the best for that person also means that I put his needs and desires before my own. I serve him rather than expecting to be served. I treat that person with kindness and respect.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4) In the verses immediately following this passage, Jesus admonishes us to serve each other.

If I am going to make the commitment to my spouse a part of the character of my marriage, I can ask myself these questions:
  • Am I truly committed to the best for my spouse?
  • Do I create a nurturing home for the interests and abilities of my spouse?
  • Do I consider him/her better than me, more important than me?
  • Do I look to his/her interests before I seek what I want for myself?
  • Do I accept and encourage my spouse in his/her own personality?
Devotion to my spouse through nurturing and encouraging his abilities will take the quality of my marriage to a higher level. We can have a more intimate and respectful marriage.

Previous posts in the series:
Character of Marriage - Commitment
Character of Marriage - Commitment2
Character of Marriage - Commitment3

Character of Marriage - Commitment3

On the two previous posts. we talked about the character of marriage through commitment and the importance of commitment to God in regards to marriage.
Life is full of choices. When we make a commitment, we are saying “yes” to this choice and “no” to all other choices. The commitment to marriage and to one person, excludes all other choices. 

We may think that sounds limiting or restrictive to us. The reality is that those limitations bring greater freedom.

For example, when our kids were little, we had all kinds of things for them to do and play in the backyard. They could swing, play on a trapeze, in a sandbox, or in a fort or climb a tree or play games in the grass. When they went in the backyard to play, they had great freedom. But there was a fence that limited where they could go. Outside that fence, they were more limited in their freedom. They had to be with one of us, they couldn’t run freely, they couldn’t go into the street.

In the garden, Adam and Eve had great freedom– EXCEPT they had one limitation. Don’t eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. They chose to go outside of that one limitation. They thought that they would have more freedom, more fulfillment, and more pleasure. But the truth was – they had less. They were limited in their access to God. Their physical life had a limit. They were in bondage to sin.

Before the fall, they were “naked and not ashamed.” (Genesis 2:25) After the fall, they immediately started covering up and felt very much ashamed. The openness, vulnerability, and transparency became shame, fear, and blame.

There is a voice in the head of many people saying “you can have the most fulfilling life by keeping your options open and not giving up a thing.”

The paradox is that I can experience more freedom when I accept the limits of commitment. I no longer contemplate “maybe …. if.” In any part of life, if I live in the land of “maybe” or indecision in committing to a course of action, I will not move forward. And it is especially true in marriage.

What would it mean to be committed to the marriage, not just staying married?

A commitment to the marriage means that I am not just staying married but I am committed to a marriage that honors the Lord. This commitment to the marriage is certainly a commitment of dedication. I am devoted to making this marriage a picture of Christ and The Church to the world. I am going to love like He loves. I am going to forgive as He forgives.

I am not going to just stay married; I am going to do whatever I can on my part to make the marriage great.

My commitment does not limit my freedom; it changes my choices. By getting married, I have chosen to make this one person my priority. I have put the boundaries (fences) of marriage on my relationships with people of the opposite sex. Within the boundaries of marriage, I have greater opportunities for a profound level of freedom within them. It protects the kind of safety that is needed to have the best in marriage. It leads to greater freedom of oneness and openness. If I really want the security and freedom, I have to act on the commitment.

Some ways to invest in the betterment of my marriage could include:
  • Talking like friends
  • Doing something fun together
  • Leaving notes of appreciation
  • Working on a project important to both of us
  • Expressing your love in some new way
  • Taking a walk together
  • Planning a vacation together
  • Engage in a ministry activity together
"Marriage is not a love affair. A love affair is a totally different thing. A marriage is a commitment to that which you are. That person is literally your other half. And you and the other are one. A love affair isn’t that. That is a relationship of pleasure, and when it gets to be unpleasurable, it’s off. But a marriage is a life commitment, and a life commitment means the prime concern of your life. If marriage is not the prime concern, you are not married." Joseph Campbell

How am I demonstrating my commitment of dedication and devotion to my marriage right now? What would my spouse say?

We have talked about our commitment to God and to the marriage, the third area is being committed to your spouse.... our next post.

Character of Marriage - Commitment2

In the last post, we talked about the character of marriage displayed through the quality of commitment. We distinguished two different kinds of commitment in marriage - the commitment of constraint and the commitment of dedication. [also see Scott Stanley's book The Power of Commitment]

These two types of commitments for marriage fall into three categories, commitment to God, commitment to marriage, and commitment to my spouse.

Our most important commitment in life is our commitment to our Lord. We say “yes” to Him as the one true God and we say “no” to all other Gods. He does not give us the option to be inclusive in our faith. Our faith is exclusive in love and devotion to Him, no other gods. 

The first of the 10 commandments: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3

How would your commitment to God influence the quality or character of your marriage?

He says that when I make a commitment to my spouse at my wedding that I am giving my word before Him too.

When a man makes a vow to the LORD or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said. Numbers 30:2

As a Christian, I have declared that Jesus is Lord of my life. As my Lord, He says that I am to keep my word. My devotion to Him obligates me to keep my vow to anyone, most of all to my spouse.

Hopefully, I have a commitment of dedication (devotion) and constraint to Him. I am devoted to having an intimate relationship with Him. I am constrained from pursuing an ungodly lifestyle because of my love for Him.

But also, my commitment in marriage is a covenant. God says in Malachi 2:14 …. she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

In this covenant relationship, not only am I committed to my spouse but also to God. He is part of the covenant relationship. It is not a contract to be broken or re-written. It is not just a legal procedure. It is a commitment to God and to my spouse – a lifetime commitment to remain married to that person as long as both of us are still alive.

As part of the covenant relationship, God commits Himself to keeping my marriage together.

When God made the covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15), He let Abraham know that God was obligating Himself to keeping that covenant; it was not up to Abraham alone.

God gave us a new covenant through Jesus Christ. Again, He says that once we enter into that covenant relationship, He commits to us to keep that covenant. He demonstrates throughout the Bible that He is faithful, even when we are unfaithful.

He gives us that commitment to our marriage. He will make it possible to keep that marriage covenant if we are willing. He gives us the guidance, His presence, and His power to make a great marriage - one that glorifies Him and is a picture of Christ and the Church in this world.

I can pray and ask God to show me where my commitment level is to Him and what He wants for our marriage.

The next post will be about our commitment to marriage.
See our first post in the series: Character of Marriage - Commitment

The Character of Marriage - Commitment

Some of us are married to characters. Some wish the one to whom they are married had more character. Then there are those of us who cringe when others say our faces show lots of character - we know they really mean "wrinkles."

When we talk about the character of marriage, what do we mean?

The word character means those moral or ethical qualities. So the character of marriage includes those moral or ethical qualities that make a marriage – not just a good marriage but a great, enduring marriage.

“Character is that which reveals moral purpose, exposing the class of things man chooses or avoids." Aristotle
To us, the most important character quality in marriage is commitment. In the baseline survey done for the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, when asked why they got a divorce, the majority answered "a lack of commitment."
As we meet with couples, we look for a level of commitment. We ask them if they are ready to do whatever it takes to save their marriage. Even for couples who are not in a crisis, the commitment makes a difference in the quality of their marriage.
What is commitment? The dictionary says it is a pledge or a promise, an obligation.

The Power of Commitment: A Guide to Active, Lifelong LoveScott Stanley talks extensively about the topic in his book The Power of Commitment.
He defines two kinds of commitment:

1. Commitment of dedication – ex. “He is very committed to improving his golf game.” He is dedicated to getting better at golf. He does it because he loves it or has a drive to meet the challenge of mastering the game.

Dedication implies an internal state of devotion to a person or a project.

It includes the idea of moving forward, a motivating force, based on the thoughtful decisions you made to give your best effort.

2. Commitment of constraint – ex. “He has committed to play in the golf tournament. His team won’t be able to play without him.” 

Constraint entails a sense of obligation. It refers to factors that would be costs if the present course were abandoned.

The commitment of dedication is a force drawing you forward. The commitment of constraint is a force pushing you from behind.
What do you think a marriage would be like if you only had the commitment of constraint?
Couples who maintain and act on dedication are more connected, happier, and more open with each other. Those who lose dedication and have only constraints will either be together but miserable or come apart. The loss of dedication represents the loss of the will to try, the loss of the sense of “us,” and the loss of the actions that protect a marriage over time. A marriage without dedication is a marriage without passion or without life.  

Some examples of constraints are:
  • Social pressure – how will friends and/or family react?
  • Morality of divorce – how much do you believe that divorce is wrong?
  • Concern for the welfare of your children – do you believe your children will be harmed by the divorce?
  • Financial limitations and loss – how will you lifestyle change if you get a divorce
  • Termination procedures – how difficult are the steps to end the marriage?
  • Alternative quality – what kind of quality of life do you think you will have living apart from your mate?
What do you think a marriage would be like if you only had the commitment of dedication?

A marriage with dedication or devotion will almost always have a commitment of constraint also, but if it did not, the marriage might get better but there would be no commitment that it would last. The marriage might be very exciting and fun while it lasted, until one of the partners found someone else to be devoted to. There would always be that uncertainty whether it would last.

We have seen three commitments make a marriage great – commitment to God, to the marriage, and to the spouse. In the next post, we explain those three kinds of commitment.


I have sat in more than my share of waiting rooms during the last few years .... my own appointments, going with my mother, my stepfather, my aunt to the doctor. Plus we have a waiting room in our own ministry.

The mark of a good waiting room used to be whether they had new magazines. Some doctor's offices only had magazines that were over a year old. I still look at the date when I pick up a magazine in a waiting room.

But now the marks of a good waiting room - a flat screen TV or free wifi. I really do not like waiting anywhere, anytime, including waiting rooms. If I am in a waiting room, I prefer the wifi option to the TV; the TVs are either playing some health information or Fox News (yes, we are in a red state!). I don't mind Fox News sometimes, but waiting rooms are trying enough without watching people interrupt and yell at each other.

People don't usually have to spend much time in our waiting room. But it is always interesting to me to see what they are doing when I come out to get them, especially couples.

There are the "pacers" - too nervous to sit down. Then there are the "readers" - they have picked up a book out of our bookcase in the waiting room or one of our magazines.

Some people are just sitting staring straight ahead. I figure that it is the only time that they get to sit in a quiet room with soothing music playing in the background; they just want to relax for a few minutes.

Then we have the ones who are attached to their mobile devices - they are texting, checking facebook, or playing games (we have a sign that asks people not to talk on their phones).

Occasionally, we even have a couple who are talking with each other in the waiting room. We consider that a sign of progress.

I wonder how many of those behaviors translate into their interaction at home. How many of us are too busy interacting with people who aren't in the room and ignoring those that are in the room?

I was amused when a 20something told me that she was with a group of friends at someone's house and they were all playing games on their phones - either with another member of the group or someone else. She suggested to the group that since they were in the room together, they do something with each other in person, real life, real time. Hmmm.....

Facebook and Your MarriageWhat if, in marriage, we had a "no screen time" every night at our house - no TV, no computer, no phones, no handheld devices? Instead of facebook, we set aside time every night for face-to-face connection and interaction. One talks, the other listens. The other talks, one listens. Hmmm... maybe we could recapture that personal touch that we all long for.

"Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true." 
Charles Dickens (1812-1870)