We seek relationships somewhat selfishly; looking for love, looking to be loved.
Being in healthy relationships offers us boundless joy and fulfilment in being able to enjoy the love and companionship our partners give us.
And somewhere along that line of seeking a special someone to not complete us, but to add depth and quality to us, we also learn to give selflessly.
Relationships involve a great deal of this give and take.
This means at points sacrificing your own needs and desires to make way for your partner’s, and expecting the same in return.
It also means supporting that person through thick and thin.
This requires you to be compassionate, the definition of which is ‘to suffer together’, or ‘a strong feeling of sympathy and sadness for the suffering or bad luck of others and a wish to help them’.
It differs slightly from empathy, which is more the ability to put yourself in the shoes of that person and to feel what they feel.
Compassion involves this ability to feel coupled with the desire to also to take initiative and alleviate that suffering.
But many people start out on a more selfish, self-preserving notion. We date because we want to, and from then on we learn gradually how to put the needs of others above our own.
(This doesn’t apply to the people-pleasers out there).
Learning compassion is therefore key to being able to cater to your partner’s emotions and support them in a way that benefits both of you.
The concept might be easy to understand, the implementation less so; which is why I’ve compiled the following guide on how to show and practice more compassion in your relationship.
Giving your partner attention.
This might seem basic, but one of the best ways you can honor your partner and show that you value them is by paying attention to them.
“I already do this”, you cry!
But in longer term relationships in particular, it’s not uncommon for couples to fall out of sync with one another.
Attention becomes monotonous and routine. You brush your teeth side by side, drive off to separate offices, and sit on the sofa at the end of the day in silence.
Yet humans need to feel seen and heard, particularly by their partner.
Returning to the most basic principle of prioritizing your partner and giving them your full attention is a key pillar of consistent compassion.
This can mean regular date nights, spontaneous phone calls, and wholehearted listening.
Active listening, genuine interest.
Listening being in a point of its own, being able to focus and understand what your partner is saying (as opposed to just letting it drift in one ear and out the next) is a critical aspect of showing compassion.
Your partner comes home from a tough day at work and starts venting about their day. The annoyances seem trivial and you’ve got one eye on the football scores, so you nod and nod and eventually realize they’ve stopped talking.
You try to backtrack and flail wildly around in a desperate bid to make it seem like you were listening, but you can already see their shoulders sink.
The next day, they don’t say anything when they get home from work, but instead head straight up the stairs in silence
Failing to give your partner your undivided attention in conversations of any importance will eradicate your ability to show compassion to one another.
Hence why working on your active listening skills is critical in showing compassion, using the following principles:
- Giving the speaker your full attention
- Not cutting in
- Asking open ended questions to show your interest and gain further details
- Avoid premature judgement
- Creating a safe space for these emotions to be expressed
- Paraphrasing what has been said to show you understand
The Gottman Institute’s emotional bid study showed that couples who engaged with one another’s attempt to catch the other’s interest were far more likely to stay together in the long run.
A bid can be coming home and wanting to vent to your partner about how frustrating your day was. A bid can also be pointing out a fluffy cloud that looks like a frog and getting a giggle out of your partner.
To show compassion, you must master the art of turning towards your partner when they make a bid to connect.
Even if you really don’t see how the cloud resembles a frog in the slightest.
You can shower your partner with what you think is all the compassion in the world and then get incredibly angry and resentful when they seem wholly ungrateful and unappreciative.
But are you two speaking the same language?
And I’m not referring to spoken language here.
We receive compassion and empathy in different ways, much as we receive and express love differently.
To quickly summarize, the five love languages are:
- Acts of service
- Quality time
- Words of affirmation
- Receiving gifts
- Physical touch
You might think you are showing your partner compassion by rubbing their back and squeezing them tight when they feel low – but is this what they need to receive?
Relationships require that you learn so much about one another, including how best to express your compassion.
There’s little use buying your partner expensive gifts and snacks and trinkets to try and cheer them up, when really all they want is to spend quality time with you.
Figuring out how best to show compassion to your partner on a personal level requires some trial and error coupled with the ability to communicate needs and adapt to meet them.
Gratitude and appreciation.
You’re working to actively improve yourself and develop your ability to show your partner compassion by reading this.
If you continue to educate and improve yourself to be a better partner, you’ll likely feel hard done by if you feel like your partner isn’t appreciating all the hard work you’re doing.
Compassion also involves a great deal of appreciation and gratitude.
This isn’t to say you lord over your partner and regularly make statements proclaiming yourself the best person in the world for putting in so much effort, demanding they thank you and kiss your shoes.
But, none of us like to feel like we are investing time and effort into people only for that to go completely unnoticed.
Therefore learning how to practice gratitude and appreciation is key to maintaining compassion and showing how much you love your partner.
Growing complacent and forgetting to show your partner how thankful you are leads to feelings of resentment and a sense of being taken for granted.
Consider how you can show your appreciation and gratitude on a daily basis.
Referring to their love languages and working to personalize how you show this gratitude is key.
Work to be mindful of the things your partner does for you, no matter how big or small, and be sure to thank them for it.
If you’ve drifted into the complacency category, consider journaling to help prompt you to think about ways in which they’ve made your life better.
Reflecting and writing these points down will make it easier for you to notice and respond to their kindness with appreciation.
Relationships can be scary in the sense that we have to strip down and stand bearing all.
Naked, albeit in an emotional sense.
Getting vulnerable and showing your partner all the bits of yourself you don’t even like so much or are ashamed of takes an immense amount of courage.
Equally, encouraging your partner to open up and share all elements of themselves with you (when they’re ready) needs to be met with acceptance.
That’s not to say that if they own up and tell you swindled grannies out of their life savings or enjoy murdering kittens, you need to accept that sort of behavior.
But radical acceptance does mean taking your partner as they are, flaws and all.
We are often afraid to show the less palatable traits we carry, or to share the more burdensome trauma we’ve lived through.
However, creating a safe space in which your partner feels comfortable to do so – knowing that you will accept them – is a beautiful element of this compassion we all seek.
Knowing that you can let down your guard and show your true self, and that your partner will be there open-armed creates the most trusting of connections.
Supporting your partner does not solely mean being the shoulder they cry upon, but also being the force that encourages them to chase their dreams and tells them they can achieve them.
You might well not agree with some of these ideas or ventures or dreams, but showing compassion and expanding upon that acceptance is still supporting their wishes.
Honesty does come into play, and of course you don’t need to encourage building a meth lab in the basement.
If you don’t condone an idea or venture they’re trying to propose, use those communication skills to let them down kindly – but remember, they’re the one in charge of their decisions at the end of the day.
But if they want to take up cheese rolling (which is a sport), or want to try making a new dish at home, or want to dye their hair blue, you should be the one cheering them on.
Cheer them on when they get started and be sure to celebrate any wins and accomplishments that they encounter.
Being your partner’s biggest cheerleader will make you the most compassionate and supportive figure, which at the end of the day is what partnership is all about.
Seeing the world through their eyes.
Finally, the biggest justice you can do your partner is to work to see how they see the world.
There is a lot of contradictory knowledge on whether opposites attract or meeting your doppelganger leads to a better relationship.
Regardless of the magnetism that binds you to your partner, working to learn how they tick is so important.
We often start out enamoured with those who think differently to us, and this might well have been one of the first things you noticed about this person.
But as you journey into longer term relationships, these differences can start to transition from something new and enticing to a plain old pain in the backside.
However, try your best to always return to accepting your partner and all aspects of them – including the ways in which your views differ.
One of the most compassionate acts you can do for your partner is to eliminate judgement and work to see how they see.
The beauty of this is that whilst you never truly will, you will learn so much along the way.
In remaining open-minded, practicing acceptance, and learning to listen to your partner, you will be building an unshakable foundation for your relationship.
And to sign off, in the words of the Dalai Lama:
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive”.
In working to understand your partner better and show them compassion in a way that makes them feel seen, you are not only building a beautiful relationship, but also saving the world.