Marriage and Self-Compassion

compassionI’ve been involved in organizing a workshop this month featuring Dr. Kristin Neff, a leading expert on self-compassion. If you’re in the San Antonio area, I invite you to join us in learning from Dr. Neff at this event on January 30. (See the end of this post for more information.)

For many years, we’ve heard that we should all try to increase our self-esteem by working on our insecurities and reminding ourselves of how special we are. Sounds great, right? Turns out, if you’re trying to feel better about yourself, this is not the best way to go about it. Instead of trying to convince yourself of your awesomeness, it’s much more effective to put your attention on the actual relationship you have with yourself.

The work of psychologist Dr. Kristin Neff tells us that many of us are way too hard on ourselves and need to treat ourselves with more self-compassion. When we do so, we’re healthier, more productive and feel more confident. We’re also more likely to be kinder to the people we love.

Self-compassion means doing the following things, especially when  you are going through a hard time:

1. Being kind toward yourself.

2. Understanding that every human being experiences suffering and struggles with feeling inadequate.

3. Noticing your painful thoughts or feelings, without running from them or trying to squash them.

To see how self-compassionate you are, try this quiz on Dr. Neff’s website:

The Trap of ‘Never Enough’

Many women get stuck in a harsh way of relating to themselves. In my book, Strong Women, Strong Love, I talk about all the demands on women today and how we expect ourselves to excel in all spheres. We aim for successful careers, passionate marriages and thriving children — not to mention a slender body, a lively social life and a perfectly decorated home.

Women often fall into the trap of judging themselves as never being good enough. It’s easy to get caught up in the idea that if we can just get that promotion, or remodel the kitchen or lose 5 more pounds, then things will be perfect. Then we will be worthy.

But the thing is, we never get there. There’s always a new benchmark to achieve or acquire. In reality, there’s no way we can realistically achieve all those high standards.

To put it mildly, this is a really stressful way to live. Dr. Neff says:

The great angst of modern life is this: no matter how hard we try, no matter how successful we are, no matter how good a parent, worker, or spouse we are – it’s never enough. There is always someone richer, thinner, smarter, or more powerful, someone that makes us feel small in comparison. Failure of any kind, large or small, is unacceptable. The result: therapist’s offices, pharmaceutical companies, and the self-help aisles of bookstores are besieged by people who feel they’re not okay as they are.

Dr. Neff’s advice is to practice self-compassion and treat yourself as you would a good friend, instead of relentlessly demanding that you “fix” everything that is wrong with you. She writes:

Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings — after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect.

Using Compassion to Improve Your Marriage

Relationship science is clear that kindness and generosity are two vital ingredients for making a relationship last. When you are gentle with yourself in all your humanness, you’re more likely to treat your spouse with that same consideration. And when you accept that getting frustrated or falling short sometimes is just part of being human (and not some fatal flaw of yours), you’re likely to extend that gentle worldview to others.

Research studies offers effective ways for relating to your spouse with more compassion:

1. Connect and show interest when your spouse makes an effort to engage you. If you’re in the middle of something, look up, make eye contact and acknowledge your husband for a little bit. Being kind means understanding the power you have to make your husband feel important or irrelevant and using that power to build him up. (Reference)

2. Stay calm and constructive when there is conflict. Stress takes a toll on us, physically and emotionally. And it takes a toll on our marriages. Feeling exhausted, anxious and inadequate doesn’t exactly set the stage for warm interactions with our partners. When you’re spent, it’s more likely you will flip your lid and hurt each other. Compassion helps you remember you’re not enemies and prevents you from hitting below the belt and damaging your relationship.

3. Respond to your partner’s good news with genuine enthusiasm. It’s not just important that you are sensitive when your husband is going through a hard time. Be kind and share his happiness when he has a “win,” and you’ll find the trust and closeness increasing. (Reference)

Choosing Compassion

You can learn much more about the practice of self-compassion and its benefits in Dr. Neff’s book Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself or by attend the upcoming workshop. Think about how you can embrace this gentler worldview this week.


Self-Compassion and Emotional Resilience: A Workshop by Dr. Kristin Neff

9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Jan. 30, 2015

Whitley Center, Oblate School of Theology

285 Oblate Drive, San Antonio

Visit Eventbrite for tickets.

Presented by Institute for the Advancement of Mindful Living, peaceCENTER and UTSA Counseling Services.