It may seem obvious, but simply understanding your partner’s needs, desires, and struggles does not build intimacy. To build intimacy requires you understand AND care! A compassionate response flows from caring and must accompany understanding to build a healthy marriage. Rhett Butler’s statement to Scarlet O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” marked the end of their relationship. He understood her desire. He understood her need. He just didn’t care…and without a caring response, relationships die. How can you build compassion and caring into your marriage? Try these four action steps.
- Be responsive to your spouse. When you spouse turns to you with a need or desire, turn toward them. Turn away from the TV, your book, your phone, your game, or whatever else holds your attention and turn toward your spouse. Give them your attention so you can carry out the next two actions.
- Listen actively and intently. Take the time to ask questions and clarify what your spouse is trying to say. Listen with your heart as well as your head. Hear the emotions and motivations behind your spouse’s words.
- Replace snap judgments with possibilities. Rather than dwelling on your first reaction and initial judgement of your spouse’s words or actions, consider possible reasons for their behavior. What may motivate their behavior? What emotions may drive their behavior? Are there past experiences that may spur this behavior?
- Give your spouse unanticipated compliments. Compliment your spouse’s appearance. Thank your spouse for tasks completed. Compliment your spouse for an act of kindness or a firm boundary or any other positive, kind, or special action.
Following these four steps can transform mere understanding into compassionate caring…and that will build a healthier, more intimate marriage. By the way, these four action steps can help you raise compassionate caring children as well. As a bonus, here are three more action steps to raise compassionate caring children and nurture compassionate caring in every family member!
- Build an emotional vocabulary. The greater our ability to identify and express emotions, the greater our ability to feel compassion. Nurture a broad, extensive vocabulary for emotional expression by labeling emotional experiences, reading and recognizing the emotions of various characters in novels, discussing the motivating emotions of movie characters, and, most importantly, openly discussing emotions as they arise in your family.
- Give clear reasons for the rules. Explain how behaviors impact other people and rules help limit behaviors that negatively impact other people. Quietly and politely point out how your child’s behavior impacts people around them. Discuss how the behaviors of TV or novel characters impact those around them. Perhaps most important, acknowledge how your behavior impacts other people, including your spouse and children.
- Provide hands-on opportunities to practice compassionate caring. Share with those in need. Bake a casserole for those who suffer some loss. Get a drink for another family member when you get your own. Practice simple, every day acts of compassionate caring.
Together, these seven action steps will add compassionate caring to understanding in your family. Compassionate caring will nurture intimacy and relational health. Instead of hearing “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” you will hear, “Really, my dear, what can I do to help?” “What can I do to help?”…What a wonderful question to hear within the walls of our homes!