Here's a more in depth look at Key # 2 from last week’s “5 Ways to Improve Things When Your Partner is The Problem”.
These are my boys (I have 3 sons). Someday to be men. In fact, the one on the right is my man as a young boy. Look at that sweetness on all of their little boy faces. Such loves.
My deepest wish is that my sons grow into the men that we women most long to have as our partner in life: loving, patient, respectful, tolerant of our imperfections, able to navigate their feelings (including anger and sadness) with maturity, grace, and kindness…
Unfortunately many men don’t naturally do so. When they, instead, do things that feel hurtful, like being critical , acting cold, or speaking in sharp tones, we women are easily tempted to react similarly out of our disappointment and hurt. It’s pretty natural.
But taking the bait by retaliating with the same critical or sharp tone or going into shut-down mode will just fuel the battle and drive you further apart. This is when relationships start to fail.
To diffuse the trouble and re-establish intimacy and support, someone needs to be the peace-maker. I suggest, for now, it be you. (Please note, I am not suggesting you ever tolerate abuse. Don’t.)
I know this is not easy. When someone is unkind, it is only natural to react with the same. But if you truly value loving intimacy, you’ll need to find a way to genuinely stay connected to your kind heart. As you do so over time, his bristly behavior is likely to fall away, as the natural human response to feeling loved and accepted is to feel good and to be loving.
Here are a couple tips to do so:
#1)To start, set the intention to come from compassion and generosity
(meaning kindness and giving him the benefit the doubt that he isn’t intentionally being jerky), even when your partner is not being so kind.
#2)To make coming from a sense of generosity easier, get filled up yourself.
That means taking good care of yourself by making sure you are incorporating fun and rest into your life. Then you will will be less reactive in general and have more to give —more kindness, tolerance, acceptance, love.
#3) Understand compassion, which means to "suffer with”. It is closely linked with empathy, which is when you can sense and even experience yourself, to some degree, what the other person is feeling.
When your partner is not being his best self, slip into your compassionate self and sense what is really going on below his unkind behaviors. It will always come down to some way he is suffering (which may have nothing to do with you).
Here is the thing: our expectations of how men should be are out of line with where most of them are at. While many women have been consciously growing and making leaps and bounds in our personal development since the feminine revolution, many men have not. It really hasn’t been a thrust of their dominant culture, and so personal growth and emotional maturity are often things men haven’t consciously tried to learn.
I sure wish they would…and I will do my best to help my boys and man learn such. So can you.
The good news is they will be much more likely to learn if you can help provide the space for them to begin that journey. That starts by coming from compassion.
To do so, remember that men don’t have it easy right now. They are up against some big obstacles. Raising my sons, I see how quickly their loving innocence begins to be covered over by the “be tough, don’t cry, don’t feel, but-if-you-do-feel-it-can-only-be-anger” teachings of our culture. It is not their conscious choice to struggle to process their feelings or to act mean or angry or distant when they are having a hard time. They simply have no one modeling a better way.
Your man is just as much a product of our messed up world as the rest of us. But under all that he’s got tender heart just like you.
I used to think my man knows better and more than me and was almost deliberately doing things that hurt me…I’ve finally figured out that none of that is true, that he is just a boy in a man's body, trying to live up to being one…He is just as tender and vulnerable as me. He just wants to be loved and feel accepted.
When you really start paying attention to this, it becomes easy to feel love, compassion, and tenderness in place of resentment and anger towards him for his weird difficult behaviors.
As as recent client said, “Lately, when I’ve snapped at him for some obnoxious thing he did, I can see the pain in his eyes… I've realized he’s just a sweet man who wants love…just like I do”.
Ultimately, we all just want one person to be on our side.
If you want that, yourself, begin by being on his side, by coming from generosity and compassion, and watch him come around to being on your side again.
Try this: Find a photo of him as a young boy. Put it somewhere prominent. When you feel upset at him for something he did or said, look at his sweet boy self and remind yourself that this is the same being… let that re-connect you to compassion.
It works for me every time. My frustration or hurt falls away and I can be loving again, which invites him to do the same. That’s what I really want. How about you?
Of course, there’s all kinds of things that can get in the way of you being kind and compassionate. And there is more, for both of you, to easing out of any intimacy sabotaging behavior. That’s what a good relationship coach can help you with.
In the next post I will talk about some ways you can kindly and firmly teach your partner how to treat you, if coming from compassion and generosity alone don’t do it. But they may just be enough. The golden rule isn’t called golden for nothing.
Let us know your thoughts or questions below in the comments.