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?
Any one of us who has lost someone special due to death, knows this terrible pain. It is in most circumstances unbearable because we haven’t felt anything like it ever before and it drops us to our knees.
I know when my brother died suddenly I couldn’t breathe. I know I didn’t want to breathe. I was just in such turmoil I couldn’t tell which end was up. I am wondering if you have felt this way too?
“How much love is enough?” I was thinking about love recently and this question popped into my mind as I pondered. I wondered about this, because I see so much hunger for love every time I meet a new couple in counseling.
A couple will come in and they will tell me their issues of what is usually wrong with their partner. They often have very great details of how much their mate has hurt them. I will listen to these stories and I am always left with the same feeling. They are all hungry for more love from the other.
We all know what it feels like to feel love. We are also keenly aware of what is feels like when we don’t feel it. So if we know what it feels like, can we describe what it looks like? This is such a difficult question, and it’s so hard for many couples to really describe what love is. So let’s give it a go.
As I think about this, I wonder if it might be easier to describe what it is NOT. I was talking to a client recently and she was telling me how she loves her man very much. When he asks for something she goes out of her way to give it to him. For the client, this is an action of love.
Another client was telling me about a vacation where her husband was trying to make his two daughters happy by buying them everything they wanted. And they were still not happy. So I think it’s OK to look at what love isn’t in these two examples.
Doing things for your mate with the expectation that they will be happy is not love.
I had some relatives visit recently, among them a 5-year-old boy who loves “Frosted Mini-Wheats.” For those of you that don’t know, this is shredded wheat with sugar pasted on one side. When I was a little girl I used to live on sweet cereal. So when the relatives left and the box of cereal remained, I claimed it as my own.
For a couple of days I had this lovely cereal for breakfast, feeling like a child again. But on the third day when I went to grab the milk I knew there wasn’t enough for my husband’s coffee the next morning. There was a little left, but not enough for the two cups he drinks daily…
When we find our special person and we feel connected to them in ways that seem magical, we begin to believe, in parts of our body, that this is what we have been looking for all our life. This feeling we have with our person is the real thing. We want it to last. We all want our relationships to go on and be this way forever.
All relationships begin this way. Then other things start to happen and people wonder where that beautiful, wonderful feeling went to. Couples still say they love each other, but sometimes they don’t feel loved by one another. Sometimes, people wonder if their partner—the one who loves them—really loves them.
In our relationships, the little things can mean a lot to us.
This morning as I was making my tea and waiting for it to brew, I thought “I have 3 minutes. I could empty the dishwasher.” So instead of taking the teapot into the other room and relaxing into my chair to begin my day, I started to put the dishes away. I believed I could finish it in that amount of time.
As I was bringing the glasses over to their cabinet I thought of how much my husband does for me. He was the one who loaded the dishwasher and started it. He was the one who cooked an amazing dinner the night before and because I was very tired he offered to do the dishes, (normally my job) for me.
I was driving recently and while looking out the window saw an old man with white hair. He was tall and appeared in good health. He had this look in his eye, a young sort of gleam that spelled mischief. I caught him in the action of reaching for his ladies hand. It was a cold night and her head was buried in a hat, but I saw a huge smile brim across her mouth when they connected.
She took his hand and looked up at him. He looked at her and they locked eyes as if they had just met. It felt so fresh I thought for a moment they might be on a first date. But the friendliness of the action had a familiar feel to it and reminded me that they have probably held hands many, many times before.
All of us carry around a lot of feelings all the time. That’s just a characteristic of being human. Many of us carry around some deep love for our partners yet we don’t tell them about it. I am sometimes amazed during counseling sessions, when I will ask a man if he loves his girlfriend or wife and he’ll say, “Of course I do,” and then look over at her and say, “She knows that.”
He doesn’t tell her he loves her. He tells me he does and that she knows it. He accepts the fact that she already got his love declarations and assumes that’s all she needs. He already told her this and so it will always exist.
There are probably lots of people in your life you say you love; parents, cousins, siblings, children, friends, neighbors. If we think about our community, we might feel close and loving toward many people. But if you look closely, they don’t all feel the same.