Marriage is the PhD program of life: it is where we are challenged and stretched beyond any other circumstance. At its best, marriage can bring you joys you never thought possible and promotes self-awareness and selflessness.
At its worst, marriage can reveal our deepest fears and wounds, and test our trust and resilience.
Self-compassion is a potent tool that soothes you in suffering
Self-Compassion is one tool to temper the challenges marriage brings and to self-soothe in suffering. Self-compassion (SC) is the practice of turning toward your sufferings and inadequacies with warmth and kindness, and recognizing that everyone, yourself included, has shortcomings, and being mindful of negative emotions so that you neither suppress nor ruminate on them.
Self-compassion is about recognizing that you’re experiencing something hard and treating yourself the way you would treat a friend. There is plenty of research now that shows how a self-compassion practice actually makes you a better partner and improves the quality of your marriage.
Here are 7 concrete ways that self-compassion will improve your marriage
1. Self-Compassion makes you more accountable
Because self-compassionate people understand that we are all humans, and have flaws, it takes away the shaming and criticizing when you make a mistake or fail.
It is less scary to admit fault and take accountability for actions when there’s a “cushion” of compassion and a kind, altruistic motivation to be better.
In marriages, partners often turn to defensiveness and blame when things go wrong. This is in part a strategy for displacing the shame and harsh criticism that we heap upon ourselves.
However, when instead you give yourself comfort, empathy, and kindness precisely because you made a mistake that causes suffering to yourself and others, it is easier to admit fault to your spouse, take accountability, and looks for effective solutions to problems together. If one partner displays SC when a relationship conflict or problem arises, that’s great. If the other partner also takes a similarly self-compassionate stance, that’s even better!
Now, conflicts are less likely to spiral out of control through a process of mutual blame and ego-defensiveness.
2. Self-Compassion makes you less needy
Romantic partners often have a lot of pressure to fulfil the needs of their loved one.
Oftentimes we enter marriages with the (unrealistic) expectation that our partner will fill all our needs and validate all our fears. Unfortunately, because imperfect humans are making up this marriage, there’s going to be shortcomings on both ends.
Sometimes our partners will lack the emotional skill or energy to give us the comfort or validation we want. However, self-compassionate individuals have skills that allow them to meet their own needs for comfort, kindness, and belonging to a large extent. This makes them more realistic in what they expect from their spouse, and put less pressure on them.
They are also more able to grant their partners more freedom in their relationships without being overly controlling.
3. Self-Compassion makes you less critical
Remember that a key component of compassion and self-compassion is accepting human-ness, with all its shortcomings and flaws and imperfections.
This compassionate acceptance of the imperfect human experience softens critical tendencies, allowing for greater mutual acceptance within romantic relationships. Because people who are trained in SC are more compassionate and understanding of their own shortcomings, they are also significantly more accepting of their partner’s limitations.
Along the same lines, since self-compassionate individuals have learned to be kind and caring toward themselves, they are also more inclined to give partners benefit of the doubt in their mistakes.
4. Self-Compassion makes you more compassionate to others
This seems obvious and comes as a natural progression from self-compassion.
In fact, most people feel that it is easier to be compassionate towards others than to themselves. Yet when they have SC training, individuals report that they feel more patient, kind, and compassionate towards others than they were previously. Interestingly, even the partners of SC people recognize the increase in compassion.
Self-compassionate people were described by their partners as being significantly more caring, affectionate, warm, and considerate.
Self-compassionate individuals were also described as displaying higher levels of relatedness with partners, suggesting that the open-hearted stance of SC is linked to intimacy with others.
5. Self-Compassion makes you less self-absorbed
Being self-critical, feeling isolated, and ruminating on negative self-related emotions may lead to a type of self-absorption that blocks intimacy and connection in relationships.
Similarly, those who lacked SC were described as being significantly more controlling and domineering with partners, meaning they were less likely to accept their partners or allow them to do things their own way. This may be due to the fact that when people are hard on themselves, they also tend to be harder on relationship partners.
6. Self-Compassion makes you want to compromise
In all likelihood, people who are high in SC are more likely to resolve relationship conflicts with romantic partners using compromise solutions that balance the needs of self and other.
They were also less likely to experience turmoil and more likely to be authentic when resolving conflicts, suggesting that the constructive relationship behavior of self-compassionate individuals may yield personal as well as interpersonal benefits.
7. Self-Compassion makes you happier
Self-compassion is linked with greater relational well-being in terms of feeling worthy, being happy, feeling authentic and being able to express opinions in a romantic relationship.
Final take away
A strong sense of care, connectedness, and resilience provided by SC is not only associated with greater emotional well-being more generally but also greater well-being within the context of interpersonal relationships