Try the activities below with your partner to explore compassion in your relationship.
- Journal about this:
How could you create a little more WE in your marriage?
2. Can you spot the empathy?
In the examples below, notice the differences and spot the empathy:
- When your spouse has had a hard day
- “Tomorrow will be better, at least we have the weekend and it’ll be fine”
- “Ugh, that sounds like a tough day. I’m sorry babe.”
- “Don’t worry, your boss has always been a bit weird”
- For those moments of insecurity when your spouse says “I’m just not sure you love me right now.”
- “Stop making a big deal out of nothing. I’m still here aren’t I?”
- “Wow, I hear that you don’t feel like I love you right now, that can’t feel good at all! Let me assure you I want you to feel loved by me.”
- “Um, well we have been fighting a lot, but I’m sure we will figure it out, I’m always looking out for you aren’t I.”
- When your spouse is sick, saying “I’m just not sure I’m up to it, I ache and I’m tired.”
- “You’ll bounce right back. Lie down and get some rest, we have that game tonight to get to. Besides, I’ve never seen you be slowed down”
- “I’m sorry your feeling achy and tired, it is hard to feel like you just haven’t got it. Let me know what you need today.”
- “So… you mean I have to go to the game myself? I guess I can do that, but you’ll have to let me know the details and pick up times.”
Which response sound most familiar for you?
Which response would you want to hear?
By the way, all the empathy is in answers B.
Where is Yoda right? How could this change your marriage?
4. A short exercise:
Sit with your eyes closed for 3 minutes. Imagine your spouse’s world — the challenges they are facing, the people and tasks, their struggles and worries, the hopes they have for the day. What is it like place yourself in their shoes? What do you feel? Pray for your spouse’s challenges, worries and hopes.
5. Give yourself a Hug!
Really, give yourself a hug. A researcher (Neff, 2011) found that we respond to hugs really well. Our bodies relax, we calm down and feel reassured. Often we don’t experience the kindness and compassion we need, but we can do something about it with a hug.
Gently wrap your arms around yourself now and just sit with the sensation for a couple of minutes.
Notice how it feels to be held and have your body start to relax.
Give the gift of a hug today, or maybe even two. As appropriate, provide a similar hug to a loved one, a friend, or maybe even a colleague. Notice who might need it and share the compassion you have shown to yourself.
Consider what you see. Rabbit? Duck? When it comes to people we have to look close, listen in, and let them tell us what is really there.
7. What’s coming next: Noticing and Judging Exercise
All of us seem to live our lives on automatic most of the time. Try this exercise:
Whatever you have coming up next in your day, just sit and notice it, the details, the generals, your experience of it, your thoughts, your feelings. Just let all of these things float up inside of you as your notice that thing that is coming next.
What pleasant and unpleasant things did you feel?
What are you expecting from the thing coming up that may not actually occur? Especially, if you had different expectations?
What judgments are you holding?
Release your judgment and accept the feelings you have. See how it changes your experience.
Apply the same to your spouse today.
8. An Exercise
Consider one thing that you do or participate in that gets in the way of connecting with your partner, one thing you could disconnect today in order to engender a greater connection. Spend the day disconnecting from it.
Emotions are merely proximity detectors meant to communicate something about the state of someone’s heart. Empathy is a way of “catching” the cue, of feeling with the person and getting closer to their experience of the world. Empathy means to feel with, not merely to feel for. When we feel with, we activate neurons in our brain that mirror the neurons in the other person’s. Our brains connect.
To practice this, take a few minutes with your partner to do this exercise:
Take turns sitting before your partner and sharing for two minutes something (unrelated to your relationship) that has made you feel angry over the past week. Perhaps it’s a frustration you’ve had with work or with a friend. When you are in the listening role, feel the frustration or anger in your spouse’s description. Resist the urge to fix or change their feelings. Just listen (which is difficult for many of us!). Then take it a step further and validate the feeling. Tell them their frustration makes sense. “That would make me angry too!” After two minutes of sharing, switch roles: the sharing partner becomes the listener and visa-versa. At the end of the exercise, discuss what it was like to feel your partner offer understanding and validation of your frustration. What did it do to your feelings of frustration — increase, decrease, nothing? Anger is a way our hearts say, “Hey! This doesn’t feel good and I need you to come into the experience with me!” Once we are able to do so, anger tends to diminish. It’s done its job and isn’t needed anymore.