Compassion in Relationships: Learning to Really See Each Other

Developing compassion in relationships, like this man comforting his wife.

When I work with couples, I sometimes hear how one partner wishes the other could show more compassion. The person asking for this is often unhappy because they are expecting something from the other person and they are not getting what they want.

Compassion in relationships is essential. Compassion is true understanding of another person’s pain and hurts. And compassion is what leads to healing for all of us.

But how do we learn compassion? If you were cared for tenderly as a child and as a young adult you might have an idea of what it feels like. But even after we have experienced feeling compassion, are we able to give it?

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How to Deal with an Irritating Girlfriend, Boyfriend, or Spouse

How to Deal with an Irritating Girlfriend, Boyfriend, Husband, or Wife

Most of us can relate to feeling some sort of irritation with our mate. I know we try and love them, but we all know we don’t love everything they do. In fact we might even become annoyed or irritated by some of their behaviors.

Some of us even get so frustrated when this happens that we can’t deal with those behaviors anymore so we leave the relationship and look for another partner, less annoying and irritating. But this article is about you staying in the relationship you are in and learning how to deal with your discomfort.

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Conflict in Relationships: Help Make Peace, Not War

Conflict in Relationships

When we get into a scrape with the person we love we often wind up in a difficult place. We sometimes hurt and feel unloved. Maybe we get mad at our mate and sulk or lash out. These are very common positions that many couples engage in. No one likes them. They are difficult and unpleasant.

As a couples specialist I am always trying to understand how to explain relationships in the simplest ways so people can improve how they interact with the person they love. And as I was thinking about this concept it occurred to me that there are really two places we end up occupying after a fight. We are either doing something about our partners or we are doing something about ourselves.

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Stop Suffering Silently! Tips for Communication in Marriage

Stop Suffering Silently! Tips for Better Communication in Marriage

Communication in marriage takes some training. Many expect that our empathetic bond with our mates means they’ll always be aware of our needs and be ready and willing to fulfill them, even if we say nothing. Nope.

It’s a funny thing about humans. If we are in a relationship, when we are hurting the most, all we want to know is that we matter to our mate and that we are loved. So why is it so hard for most people to get what they desperately want in their time of need?

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When Couples Learn to Communicate

As a couples specialist I am sometimes humbled by the changes I see people make to improve their relationships.  It’s not that I don’t believe it can happen; it’s just that more often than not couples stay locked in their differences and expect the other person in the relationship to make the changes.

I spend a lot of time listening to how wounded people are because of what the other person has done to them.  I know it’s important for people to be heard because often they have exhausted themselves trying to tell their partner what is wrong and they just can’t get understanding.  I do know that listening to each person tell me about their perceived pain caused by the other has value, at least someone is listening.

But sometimes couples, or individuals in a relationship, can stay so wounded they see their mate as the one who causes their suffering.  They are so hurt from past injuries that they can not see anything but the harm caused to them.

When one or both people in the relationship stay bound up in their pain there is little I can do but listen.  I can not help someone get awareness on how they treat their partner if they are still living in the mistreatment they believe they have suffered.  Sometimes they are just so hurt they just see their mate as a monster.

It doesn’t matter how I encourage the couple to look at the possibilities of living happily with their chosen partner.  It does little good to talk about the ingredients that make up a good relationship.  If one or both people are suffering from unresolved wounds the couple can not move into a more neutral space.  And yet sometimes, that’s exactly what happens.

Twice in the last two weeks, two couples I had been working with, that had deep difficulties and lots of pain, moved the relationship to the next level.  I could sense it the moment they walked into the room.  There was a decrease in stress and worry and sadness.  I felt something else; a calm, an ease, tenderness.

So what happened?  In both cases one or both changed how they treated the other. In one of the couples one of the partners was mad about past hurts and kept accusing the partner of repeating the behavior.  Then in an instant after a disagreement this partner got some awareness about how they displayed harshness toward the other.  They immediately called the partner and apologized, and that was a first.  Both felt something new; a bit of closeness that they had been craving for years.

The other couple described an incident that they navigated without blowing up at each other.  In the past this issue would have ended with arguing and swearing and disconnection.  This time they walked delicately through the rough parts and stayed away from blaming the other.  Both worried about hurting the others’ feelings.  And that was a first for this couple too.

In both cases I was amazed and humbled by the beautiful changes I was able to witness.  Are all their problems solved? Of course not.  But what they discovered together is a new way of feeling, and those feelings felt good.  The human spirit wants to feel good.  Sometimes we just have to try something new to create something better.  Trust that you can find your way.  I know I do.

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Tit For Tat; How Some Couples Cope…Guidance From A Marriage And Family Therapist

Many of us grew up needing to have the last word when we got into an argument.  It just doesn’t feel right if we can’t say what we have to say after the other person has said their piece.  We just want to finish the exchange with our own ending note.

It’s not uncommon to see this interaction when two people are discussing issues important to both of them.  It’s also not uncommon to see this type of behavior between two people who are in a relationship. He says one thing, she says another, he has to top her, she has to top him and so on.  We’ve all seen it; we may even have engaged in it.

On some level it can be satisfying, putting the other person in their place, having the last word and really saying or acting out something dramatic that makes our point.  Yes, sometimes we even feel better when we can have the last word and end with a flourish, like slamming a door, or stomping up stairs, or using a cuss word or flipping someone off.  There’s something very satisfying about really feeling like we have been heard.  Unfortunately, when two people are locked in this sort of contest no one is listening to the other; both are just waiting for their turn.

These dramatic moments can also cause harm to two people who are in a relationship. Sometimes there is real damage done during these matches, hurtful things are said, painful slights are seared into us.

Some of this sparing may remind us of squabbling with a sibling or a childhood friend. If we learned it at a young age we might even feel confidence when we spar with another person.  We may grow to rely on these skills as we get older and might even use them with our mate in our adult relationship.

Sometimes they are funny and can be laughed at in a calmer state.  But more often than not they are hurtful and leave wounds.  We carry around these scars and feel terrible and angry.  Maybe we get zinged, maybe we zing our beloved.  If we engage, it’s likely we leave something behind, some residue of hurt feelings that may get buried over the next time there is a spat.  Maybe we even compile all the zingers and hurl them back at each other reusing them again and again.

So what do we do about these actions?  Why not talk about them with our partner.  Why not have a discussion about how it feels to hurl these slights and how it feels to receive them.  Why not find out if there are some bruises left over from past arguments.  If the bruises are still tender chances are it’s possible to have some real connection with your mate.  Maybe you both agree on what you won’t say again.  Maybe if you are the offender you can apologize.  This can go a long way to healing pain.  What you don’t want is for couples to wall up against the other because of all the slights.  This can lead to resentment which can leave each person living behind his or her own wall of bricks, afraid to connect for fear of being hurt.

No couple wants to live with resentment toward their partner.  Living behind walls of resentment cuts down on closeness. And that’s really what couples want, to be close, to feel safe and loved, free from those hurtful zingers.

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When Partners Swear at Each Other

Sometimes we want to make a point.  Sometimes we have to make that point so clearly we use specific words that will drive the point home.  Sometimes those words are swear words and sometimes we say them to people we love.

This is not a place that couples go willingly.  No one starts a relationship with the notion that at some point they will be swearing and cursing at their partner, and yet I work with some couples who are in this very state and dumbfounded how they got there.

So how does this happen to a couple that starts off loving each other?  In any relationship there are misunderstandings and hurt feelings.  These incidents are going to happen.  Sometimes one person will do something that hurts the other and vice versa, sometimes inadvertently, sometimes on purpose.

If you feel attacked by your mate, or left out by your partner you may feel deeply wounded.  Sometimes in a painful place people will lash out at the person who hurt them, often their partner.  When people are deeply wounded they have to stop the pain, and swearing at their mate let’s them know of the depth of the pain.

I know there is a tremendous amount of suffering that leads a person to yell F*** you at their loved one.  I believe that the person who is doing the cursing is trying to stop the unbearable pain inside them, and the only way they can do that is to fire back in the loudest most crushing way possible.  This behavior immediately changes the situation and adds excitement, energy and anger.  These changes then become the focus instead of exploring the original hurt that started the incident in the first place.  That part gets lost in the venom.

The receiver on the other hand has options.  He or she can fight fire with fire and yell back.  They can walk away.  They can leave.

Usually when the anger dies down, about a half an hour later, some couples can talk about the argument.  Maybe there is even an apology from the person who swore.  If a couple can engage like this, there is plenty of hope for the relationship.

But if two people just stay mad at each other and go days without speaking they are cementing a wall between them.  The wall will probably become harder and harder, making it more difficult to dismantle, even with counseling.  This state can also lead to resentment, where two people are just so tired of the other they begin to resent everything they do.

If you are in a relationship and you swear and curse at each other, try to realize your words do hurt the other.  Take ownership of the harm your words create.  Say you are sorry, make amends.  This can be the beginning of resolution and healing for both of you.

In a relationship where couples swear at each other there is plenty of hurt.  What’s missing is a chance to have your partner understand your pain and for you to understand theirs.  This leads to true bonding, and that’s one thing most couples crave.


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When Your Partner Lies To You

We’ve all told lies in our lives; little ones and maybe big ones.  We’ve all learned the consequences of getting caught.  Many of us realize it’s better to tell the truth the first time around than worry about the lie we told and wonder if the truth will emerge eventually.

When we tell lies we hold secrets from the ones we love.  We might even think we are protecting them from something that will hurt them.  We figure in our mind that not telling them is probably better.  Telling them would cause them pain and we don’t want to hurt them because we really care about their feelings.  Or maybe we’re just afraid of what will happen to us if we tell the truth about something difficult.  Maybe we’re worried that we will be in trouble and people will get angry with us.

Not telling the truth takes skill, and thought.  The person telling the lie has to think about making up a story where all the pieces are plausible.  They have to make sure there are no holes an insightful person could see through.  It can be stressful on the lie teller.  He or she also has to remember the lie, and the details, and not forget what order he or she put them in.  That’s stressful too.

So that’s one side, the person telling the lie.  But what about the person who is lied to?  What happens there?

The one who is told the lie may feel angry, betrayed and ridicules, like they’ve been made a fool of.  It can be belittling and crazy making.  Some people believe that a lie, no matter how small, is a broken trust.  Many people believe that trust is one of the cornerstones in a relationship and when trust is broken they are shaken to the core because what they had believed about their relationship as fundamental is now crumbling underneath them.  They believed there would be truth between each other.  When there is a lie, that truth becomes a joke.

So how do couples heal when there are lies that sit between them?

First, each person deserves to explain and have the other person listen to his and her feelings.  It feels terrible to have been lied to.  It feels terrible to hold secrets and lie to your partner.  Both positions need understanding and compassion.  The one who lied has to become aware of the pain he or she caused the other.  That doesn’t mean you have to fall on your sword and grovel for the next year.  The liars’ job is to realize that his or her actions caused pain.  Once they realize this then he or she should begin to cultivate compassion for their mate by understanding the hurt they caused.  An apology is part of healing, but it’s more than saying I’m sorry.  Without understanding the depth of the injury; the loss of trust, the embarrassment and the anger, an apology can feel meaningless.

When the injured is heard he or she can feel validated by the partner because the partner really gets the pain he or she caused.  At that time the injured person may want to try and understand what led the partner to tell the lie in the first place.  They may discover that the partner was trying to protect them, only the lie turned out to be a clumsy attempt.

What can develop is true communication, connection between the couple.  Lies are an indication that there’s room for improvement.  In most cases when there is a lie people react by turning away from their partner.  It’s natural to protect yourself when hurt.  But turning toward your partner with understanding and compassion could just bring you exactly what you are after… real closeness and truth.

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How to Get Rid of Hurt

More than anything, most couples are looking for a happy relationship.  People want to feel good about their life and their mate.  Some couples live in relationships where they can wish they could be happy.

If you are waiting for something to happen to make you feel this way, or wondering when you will feel happy again, maybe it’s time to examine what you may be carrying that could be preventing it.  Is it possible you may be carrying around some resentment toward your mate?

Do you feel angry when you talk to him or her?  Do you prepare for an argument around the same issues?  Do you long for that time in your relationship when it was better?  Have you just resigned yourself to the situation you are in?

If you find yourself nodding your head to any of these questions, why not take a look at what’s going on inside you?  It’s possible you may be carrying around some old wounds that have never healed.  When we get our feelings hurt that hurt stays with us until it heals.  If we don’t tell someone, “Hey, I got my feelings hurt when this happened” we may still be carrying around unfinished business.

Old hurts don’t stay raw, they usually scab over and then we harden ourselves against any future pain.  On top of that scab we might pile on anger at the person who hurt us, and that anger might come out every time we have a disagreement with them.  You are not playing out the original hurt, but because the original pain was never healed it feels the same every time there is conflict.

So how do we get over old hurts?  It takes exploration and an open mind.  Sometimes we can accomplish this with our mate if they are patient and understanding.  Sometimes we can work through our discomfort with a trusted friend.  Often people choose a counselor to listen with trained ears to help people process their histories.  Whatever feels right, is the right thing for you.  And that’s how we start to heal.

The first step in a healing process is to show the light on the wound.  Look at it from all angles.  Talk about the stories that the event created and get everything out.  After everything is said and there is nothing left to say about the incident and the pain, the next step could be to think about what might make you feel better.  Maybe you need an acknowledgment that you have pain and it’s been a hard road for you.  Maybe you need an apology from the one who hurt you.  Maybe you want them to do something for you. 

We’re talking about a resolution to help you move through the difficulty.  Sometimes we just need someone to notice we are suffering.  And sometimes we need another to take some responsibility for it.  If our partner is interested in strengthening the relationship, chances are he or she will want you to feel better and not suffer.  If this is true, they may be more than willing to acknowledge or apologize.

These are the steps that help heal and solidify a relationship; allowing your partner to see you from the inside, your pain and your hopes and desires.  Also important is that the partner wants what’s best for the mate and is doing his or her part to help the mate heal.

Getting over hurts, it’s one of the best ways to strengthen your relationship.

Let me know what you think.  Send me your comments and suggestions for future articles.

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When Couples Can’t Say What They Want To Say To Each Other

All the couples I work with have something in common.  They want a better relationship with their partner.  It’s universal.  We as humans want to be loved.  We want to feel safe, cared for, supported and nurtured.  We want the best out of life and we want it from our mate.

This is true with all relationships.  Who wants a relationship filled with hurt feelings, criticism, lack of support and silence?  None of the couple I work with.  In fact that’s usually what they talk about when I meet them.  They tell me what’s in their relationship now; fighting, sadness, aloneness, and they tell me they want that gone so they can feel the love again.

Most people think counseling is a way to remove the barriers that have crept in overtime and kept the couple from feeling connected.  The counselor is supposed to remove the barriers and then the couple is happy again. 

One time a client walked into the room and stated, “So this is where the magic happens.”  I laughed with him and responded, “Yes it is.  In fact my magic wand is right over there.”  We laughed again, but the truth behind that statement echoes what most people believe; therapy will fix the problem.

What I like to help people understand is that counseling helps couples understand themselves, their relationship and each other.  I’m their guide to help them in the process.  I know the real success lies in couples who can say everything to their partner without fear of hurting feelings or driving them away.  I know that happy couples know how to listen to their partners without taking everything personally or feeling they have to argue to the death to win an argument.

There are very few rules for a good relationship.  But these guidelines are important.  They sound a lot like the good book, or the Ten Commandments or any other philosophy that treats others with compassion.  They are simple because if you and your mate are conscious, you will not intentionally harm the other.  If you accidently hurt the other, your mate can tell you about the hurt and you can make amends immediately.  You recognize that holding on to hurt feelings harms you and your mate, it keeps you disconnected.  You work hard to resolve difficulties because you know that if you don’t they will build and build and you will have walls between you that leads to all the stuff you don’t want.

The recipe for a good relationship is simple.  The roadmap to getting there may not be.  Each person brings to a relationship his and her experiences from a lifetime of living without the partner.  Included in this history is an unconscious collection of rights and wrongs.  This collection is a template that people fit their lives on to. The rights and wrongs keep us safe in our world. When people find their mate there is an unconscious expectation that the mate will automatically understand the partner’s right-and-wrong template. A person might think, if he or she really loved me, they would automatically know what I needed.

Unfortunately each person brings his and her own template, and they differ.  Most people don’t talk about what they need in the relationship to keep them feeling safe and loved because most people don’t even think about it.  It’s unconscious.  You only are aware of it when it’s not working.  Something happens and you feel misunderstood.  Your perfect person doesn’t know that one important thing about you.  They must be heartless, or even, the wrong person.  The perfect person would know, automatically, because isn’t that what love is?

These are the issues you get to explore in counseling.  You become conscious of when you expect something from your partner without asking for it.  You gain the confidence in yourself to be able to ask for what you need.  You stop blaming your mate for not giving you what you needed when you haven’t let them know what it is.  It’s simple and it can be challenging.  Even so, it’s worth it.

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