Marriage in trouble? Sick of it all? Feel like you’ve tried everything? I might be able to help you. But only if you’re so sick of everything you’ve been doing that you’re ready to think completely outside the box. No more blaming. No more trying to figure out “how to get him/her to…” This isn’t about that. This is about you and who you are. What I’m going to give you isn’t a technique. It’s not designed to get him/her to change. It’s not about you getting your way or getting what you want. Ready? It boils down to one word.
Many spouses have less compassion toward each other than they have toward anyone else in their lives. You may be thinking, “But I don’t want to have compassion for that idiot. He’s horrible.” “She’s the worst.” If that’s what you think, you’re not ready for this to work. You still want to win. You want to win so badly that you don’t even care that you no longer have compassion, or that your lack of compassion is causing you to act inhumanely toward your partner. You cannot be helped until you are ready to try something new.
For those of you still with me, what is required to cultivate compassion? There are different ways to do it but my favorite way is to learn to see your partner through God’s eyes. Here’s how.
1. Do a massive mea culpa. Think of how you are suffering and how you are acting shamefully because of it, and realize that your partner, too, is suffering. What’s more, he/she is suffering because of your lack of compassion, because of your demands on him/her, because of your lack of love, or respect, or sensitivity, or encouragement. You demand that they meet your needs, but you do it in a way that makes it impossible for them to do so!
2. Repent. This is a word Jesus used a lot, and it literally means to turn around and go another direction. Everything you have done so far has not worked. And it WILL not work. If you want different results, you must take different actions. Pledge to stop trying to beat down the doors that are closed to you, and simply start knocking – gently.
3. If you’re the praying kind, do the above in prayer. Realize how deeply you are loved and accepted by God, even when you are acting shamefully! See yourself yelling, or throwing things, or doing whatever you do when you are angry, and realize that in that very moment, you are unconditionally accepted and loved. Realize that this same love applies equally to your spouse. See him/her yelling, or throwing things, or otherwise acting shamefully and realize that in that very moment, your spouse is deeply and unconditionally loved by God. Neither of you has to act well to be loved by God. Why do you demand that of each other?
4. Allow yourself to remain in that place of responsibility. Your spouse is not to blame for your shameful behavior. At all. You and only you have chosen your words and actions. Stay in that place of responsibility. If you stay there long enough, you will probably become embarrassed and ashamed of your words and actions. That’s good! Embarrassment and shame, after all, are appropriate emotions when we have spoken and acted in embarrassing and shameful ways which, if your marriage is really in trouble, you almost certainly have. Do not run from this. It is as this shame and embarrassment begins to surface that you are cultivating compassion for your spouse, for as you begin to feel those terrible things, you will feel deeply sorry for having spoken and acted how you did. And as you feel genuine sorrow for your own words and actions, you will be moved to speak and act differently – indeed to BE a different person in the relationship. Your partner is not perfect. In fact they may be deeply flawed. But so are you! As you accept responsibility for your own role in the mess you are in, you will come to understand your partner’s point of view better. You will see your partner, partially, as the victim of your harsh and angry words and actions, and be motivated to think and act differently.
5. Continue to pray for your partner. Do not pray they will change, but that you will be the spouse you need to be. Pray that you will be able to love them the way you are loved by God, and the way you want them to love you. On a regular basis, pray that God will meet your partner’s deep needs, confess your shortcomings and inability to be the person they need you to be, and pray that nevertheless God will help you learn to love better. In prayer, continue to see your partner with compassion and kindness, asking God to help you see them the way he does.
Do not see these as mere techniques. They are not simply things you try and then cast off, saying, “That didn’t work for me.” These are not methods, but disciplines that will change who you are. You must understand that your marriage is failing, in part, because you are in it! If you wish the relationship to be different, then you are going to have to be different. The above five steps can help you accept responsibility and do what only you can do. If you practice them as disciplines, they will change you in good ways and when you change in good ways, the relationship will change in good ways too. They’re no panacea, but they will help you recover one of the most precious things you have lost: your sense of compassion for this person you have pledged your life to.