How to Practice Compassion with Your Spouse
Updated: Jan 30
Love has its ways of challenging us beyond comprehension – we’ve all been there, haven’t we? But if it works out, words cannot describe how beautiful it can be. But that’s just the thing: how does one make it work? What does it take to have a happy relationship or a happy marriage? And right off the bat, we arrive at that ever-elusive question. It’s not all flowers, back rubs, and I love you’s (if only it were that simple). In fact, according to some studies, the most important quality to have in a healthy marriage, even more than honest communication, is compassion. For this reason, this is a crucial conversation to have. Fortunately, you can learn and practice compassion with your spouse, and that would be one of the greatest gestures two people in love can offer one another.
Compassion: it’s where empathy meets action
There probably isn’t a marriage where one partner hasn’t thought, heard, or uttered the phrase, “You don’t care.” This can be easily interpreted as, “You’re not showing any compassion.” In other words, they probably care about their partner, but there’s a difference between caring and showing you care.
Many couples struggle with the “showing” part, and that’s where couples counseling comes in handy. Whatever your partner experiences, good days or bad, it’s essential that they know you can feel their pain or joy and that you’re willing to do something about it or share it with them. So, compassion is where empathy meets action. It requires you to engage.
It’s the kind and loving things you say to another person but, at the same time, the little things you don’t say, being affectionate, putting aside your personal wants in order to meet your partner's needs, etc. Compassionate acts like these do you, your partner, and your marriage good. They predict higher relationship and life satisfaction for both the recipients and donors of the acts – and especially for the latter, as studies have shown.
Ways to be more compassionate in your marriage
1. Create everyday rituals in your relationship
Habits are fundamental to success in all realms of our life. Relationships are no exception. Couple rituals imply spending some intentional time with your partner. That could be anything from enjoying a cup of morning coffee together before leaving for work and hugging every day when you get home to eating meals without screens and reading together before bed at night. Little non-verbals like this are a great way to honor and strengthen your love because, most of the time, all of us are just looking to be in the presence of that person we love.
2. Show affection and appreciation as often as you can
We all need some level of affection, touchy-feely type or not. From a kiss, a hug, or gentle touch on the arm to something as simple as a sincere smile: affection comes in many forms. You can also be kind with your speech by speaking to S.O. with loving kindness, encouraging words, compliments, and soft tones. And then there are those three little words that shouldn’t ever be taken for granted, whether you’ve been married for one year or ten. Saying “I love you” and “I appreciate you” may be small words, but they’re a big deal.
3. Practice compassion with your spouse during the four critical moments of the day
It is crucial to practice loving kindness all day, every day. However, couples should be especially present and mindful when they:
First see one another in the morning
First see one another at the end of the day
4. Increase the amount of day-to-day positive interactions
All couples have arguments about things, whether it’s about not having enough sex, the use of social media, or spending too much money. It’s inevitable. The problem arises when those arguments become recurring, which can take quite a toll on relationships. And unfortunately, it’s not enough to merely reduce negative interactions, according to experts. At least not for most couples. They also need to experience positives on a regular basis. Five positives per one negative – that’s the rule. This doesn’t have to be a big secret or a grand gesture; simply see what you can do to honor your spouse’s love language. For example, pick up your partner’s favorite snack along with their morning coffee once a week. Being regularly positive in your marriage is a great way to practice compassion with your spouse.
5. Step outside yourself
Since things affect different people differently, you and your partner may not react similarly to pain, disappointment, or betrayal. If you respond differently, it’s essential to step outside of yourself, lay your preferences down a bit, and allow them to be true to themselves. This will also allow you to step into their shoes, which is key to practicing compassion with your S.O. By looking at things from your spouse’s perspective, you become more attuned to their feelings and needs, further resulting in you being more considerate and sensitive.
6. Go all-in
We all make that mistake: we stop talking, and once the day-to-day sharing dries up, we suddenly find ourselves looking at a familiar stranger slumbering their cares away inches from our body. Intimacy becomes a chore, sometimes even a burden. We drift apart. To reignite the unconditional bond, we must practice compassion with our S.O. If your spouse is having a difficult time, turn off your phone. Cancel your plans. Say, let’s talk. Ask questions like “What are your greatest stressors right now?” or “What do you need from me at this very moment?”.
7. Think before you speak
When our partner is experiencing distress, it’s easy to start panicking and mimicking their immediate helplessness. Even worse, we can start pointing fingers. Words can hurt more than a thousand daggers and leave marks that linger for a long time afterward – especially when coming from a loved one. Using them to hurt them, and intentionally so, can cause irreparable damage to both parties. That’s why, no matter how severe the issue, we must approach it with kindness and vast understanding. Such is the case with starting a conversation with a loved one struggling with addiction. It’s a sensitive topic, and picking words carefully is essential. Shaming, lecturing, criticizing, threatening, or trying to punish this person will never work. Instead, gently let them know how the addiction has changed them, articulate your worries about their health and safety, and encourage them to explore treatment and recovery options.
8. Be understanding
The best way to practice compassion with your spouse is to be understanding. Say they’re having a bad day. Most people’s first instinct would be to offer advice or try and fix their problem, but it’s essential to understand that, sometimes, understanding must precede advice. At that moment, all their looking for is compassion and emotional support, someone to actively listen to them and validate their concerns. Once they’re ready to start problem-solving, they will probably verbalize it.
You can practice compassion with your spouse by creating a safe space for both parties. Be their human blanket, their benevolent ear. Practice active listening, honesty, and appreciation. Make room for smiles. “I’m not going anywhere.”; - don’t tell them, show them. And finally, ask them to do the same.
Dr. Jordan Harris is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists with over 10 years of experience. He's worked in various fields from addictions, to kids, to psychiatric wards. Currently his clinical specialty is working with couples and marriages.
You can set an appointment with Dr. Harris below.