Being the best partner — 02 December 2011
The key to understanding yourself and your mate

Even loving, committed and adoring mates occasionally get into states of misunderstanding, hurt, anger and occasionally lash out at each other, only to deeply regret such occurrences. These times of painful interactions can be curtailed with the volitional use of compassion.

Eastern traditions have long promoted the use of compassion as a powerful emotion that can help heal our minds, bodies and our relationships with others. Dr. Paul Gilbert, in “Compassion: Conceptualizations, Research, and Use in Psychotherapy,” states, “Compassion (which is an element of loving-kindness) involves being open to the suffering of self and others, in a non-defensive and non-judgmental way.”

In “Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself,” Dr. Kristin Neff explains that Western psychology, until recently, was focused on building self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-regulation for reducing conflicts, depression, anxiety and anger, rather than on cultivating loving kindness toward oneself and others.

The field of Mindfulness, a state of active, non-judgmental attention to observing one’s thoughts and feelings in the moment, has gained prominence in current psychological treatment modalities. Developing a present awareness of our thinking, feeling and reacting in an accepting way, creates a compassionate connection to oneself and others that produces loving and healing energy.

As insecure beings, we often tend to personalize any response we receive from others. If a service provider is not gracious enough, we feel hurt and angry and assume that this response is specifically directed at us. Sometimes, this assumption may be correct. However, more likely the reaction is a representation of the service provider’s stress, rather than a statement about our being or conduct.

Similarly, when a spouse is acting disrespectfully, selfishly, inconsiderately or hurtfully, we commonly become defensive and try to exonerate ourselves from the responsibility of having caused this response.

Even a direct question that could assume failure on your part such as: “How come the bills were not paid yet?” is more likely fear based than a blame-assigning inquiry. A compassionate, non-defensive response would be: “I know that you are very concerned about paying bills on time and I value hits about you.” Provide an explanation or even an apology, in a non- defensive or accusatory retort. It is likely to soothe you both.

To develop self-compassion:

  • Imagine that you have a ‘Third Eye’ planted in the middle of your forehead that observes and records what takes place, as a camera would, without analyzing or interpreting the cause or motivation.
  • View the snapshot in a nonjudgmental, compassionate way. Then act.

To develop compassion for others:

  • Consider your mate as a precious person who is most likely hurting rather than trying to hurt you.
  • Feel compassion for your partner’s emotional pain as you would for his/her physical pain.
  • Remember, it is only about your mate – not about you!
  • Use a low, concerned (not patronizing) voice to ask about what stresses him/her and what he/she needs from you.
  • Respond with compassionate tenderness.


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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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