Compassion vs. Hardhearted


Most marriages don’t die suddenly in a big explosion. Most die slowly from a lack of compassion.

Compassion is a basic, necessary quality of being human. When compassion is lacking, a hard heart and/or resentment take up residence.

Steven Stosny has done lots of work with people who become abusive, especially in marriage.

He says: “Compassion is sympathy for the hurt or distress of another. At heart it is a simple appreciation of the basic human frailty we all share, which is why the experience of compassion makes you feel more humane and less isolated.

To develop compassion, stop and think about the other person first when someone does something that seems hurtful or irritating. Think about what they may be feeling or experiencing. Why are they doing what they are doing?

If they sound harsh, what stress are they under, what is happening in their life?

Instead of reacting with an equally harsh tone, act with compassion. Instead of acting hurtful in return, reach out and see what is going on.

Another step towards compassion is to express sympathy when someone expresses a struggle or stress in their life. “I am sorry that you are hurting.” You may think that their situation shouldn’t warrant their reaction but compassion doesn’t judge or discount the feelings of another.

We don’t do as we have been done unto, we do as we would want others to do unto us.

Our ability to show compassion originates in the heart of God. His compassion towards us and others gives us an example and an imperative. His Spirit that lives in us gives us the power to be compassionate.


Compassion is a defining attribute of our Lord. He shows compassion with His grace and mercy.
  • The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Psalm 103:8
  • The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. Psalm 116:5 
  • For the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. Isaiah 49:13b
  • When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them. Matthew 9:36a
  • The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. James 5:11
As we understand and receive His compassion for us, we can pour it out to others through His Spirit in us.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32


Compassion is essential for the emotional bonds of marriage or any close relationship to form.

Once I have been hurt in a relationship, it is harder to practice compassion. I blame the other person for my hurt. Rather than trying to talk about the hurt, I withdraw or attack.

When I “one up” the conflict, compassion becomes more scarce. When hurt is left unattended, it grows into bitterness and resentment.

When I justify my resentment, contempt settles in. We are afraid to show compassion. Mutual contempt makes them both feel chronically criticized and attacked, although neither really wants to attack the other.

To live with an uncompassionate heart, I harden my heart. A lack of compassion is contrary to what it means to be human. So, I must justify the hard heart or it becomes too painful.

How do I turn this downward spiral around?

I have to start with forgiveness — releasing that person from punishment for the hurt they caused. I have to be willing to let the LORD deal with that person. I don’t require an explanation or apology to forgive.

Forgiveness happens within my heart, between me and God. I don’t have to express it to the other person. Forgiveness is possible because of the cross.

I can forgive because God forgave me. I can forgive because of the power of the Holy Spirit in me.

After forgiveness, I seek to see and understand the hurt or attitude in the actions or demeanor of the other person.

I care about what that person is feeling — even if they do not show that they care about me. I not only care, but I want to alleviate their suffering.


Compassion is often lacking because people confuse it with other qualities.
  • Pity - if I feel sorry for someone but I look at their suffering as a result of their own defects, I project pity not compassion.
  • Agreement - to feel sympathy and compassion with another person, does not mean that I agree with the decisions that they made to get to their point of suffering or the way they react to the obstacles in their life. 
  • Excusing bad behavior — having compassion does not mean that I let people take advantage of me or continue to involve me in bad behavior. Having love and compassion does not mean that I let others manipulate me or that I try to manipulate them with my emotions (including anger). 
Compassion is showing that you care about the hurt of another. I extend compassion to another as an equally valuable human being. I see their hurt and emotions as being valid whether I agree with them or not.

Even in the midst of conflict, I can show compassion through using a kind touch, an affectionate phrase or name, or identifying with how the other feels.

Kindness vs Harshness

He who plants kindness gathers love.

Words cannot express the magnitude of an act of kindness or the healing that comes with a kind word. Think of when your spouse or a friend or even a stranger gave you an unexpected compliment or a word of compassion or a gentle touch. Remember how it lifted your spirits or melted your heart?

As we walk through life, we have innumerable opportunities to show kindness to others. Kindness can come in a special word or in a kind action. Ideas associated with being kind are tender, gentle, gracious, and considerate.

Kindness is not an option in the Christian life or in marriage.

Be kind and com-passionate to one another. Ephesians 4:32a

God also says that we are to wear kindness as we would clothing.  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12

Kindness is doing something and not expecting anything in return. It is saying an encouraging word or giving a compliment at an unexpected time.

Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up. Proverbs 12:2

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:24

Extending a kind word or action in marriage can change the whole tone of the marriage. It can de-escalate a disagreement. It can soften the heart. Being kind and gentle in marriage is one of the markers of marriages that go the distance. Instead of extending kindness, many marriages operate with harsh overtones. See below for more on that topic and suggestions for demonstrating kindness.

Kindness has gotten a lot of publicity in the last few years - maybe because we see a lack of it. Someone started “Random Acts of Kindness” to bring attention to how much an act of kindness can change someone’s day.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness….. Galatians 5:22-23

God’s kindness to us appears many times in His Word. As we meditate on the magnitude of His kindness, our hearts are filled and overflow with kindness towards others.

The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31:3

Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:6-7

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. Titus 3:4-5a

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1

Kindness seems like an obvious ingredient in marriage ………. but it is not!

While dating, we look for ways to show kindness to each other. What happens?
Sometimes, the other person says or does something that seems hurtful to me. Instead of talking about it, I lash back with harsh words. Animosity sets in.

Maybe, I may say something that sounds harsh to the other person, even though that was not my intent. My tone, volume, or the phrasing of my words caused misunderstanding without me realizing it.

When I make demeaning or condescending statements, harshness colors my words.

If I am sarcastic, use hostile humor, or mock my spouse, kindness disappears.
When I make demands of my spouse, instead of requests, I can sound harsh.

If I ignore my spouse when I am addressed, I am not extending kindness. I have the opportunity to build a bridge to their heart.

John and Julie Gottman have studied marital interactions for many years. The Gottman’s talk about "masters" and "disasters" as they categorize couples. The masters have learned to apply kindness and generosity to nearly every interaction they have with their spouses, while disasters employ hostility and contempt instead.

As the listener, my role is to see my spouse’s words through a lens of kindness rather than harshness. Misunderstanding and hurt often come through a wrong interpretation of the intent of my spouse.

Assume good will! 

Love is kind.  1 Corinthians 13:4

Kindness is part of love. Kindness isn’t just an intention but it is overt actions or words. So, how do I show it?
  • The most obvious way is to change my tone in what I say. I have to make sure that I sound kind to others. If I speak abruptly or questioningly, I probably don’t sound kind. 
  • Listening to my spouse is an act of kindness. 
  • When I respond with interest when my spouse says something, even if it seems inconsequential, I have inserted kindness into our interaction. 
  • A gentle touch or a random compliment softens the heart of my spouse. 
  • Taking the time to leave a note of appreciation or love is kind. 
  • Letting my spouse know that I am thinking of him/her with a text or a voicemail builds an atmosphere of kindness in my marriage. 
Real kindness puts the needs of his/her spouse first, acting on what will please or help the other most, and not on self-interest. By never being rude or abusive to my spouse in any way, I build a relationship permeated with kindness.

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late. Ralph Waldo Emerson