Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Couple's counselling

How to be a compassionate partner.

In today’s world we are time poor and stressed. It’s hard to make time for our partner.


We have distractions everywhere – careers, children, interests and technology. All of these demands can mean very little time left for ourselves, and even less time for our partners. I see more and more couples struggling with being a couple. They have moved away from each other and become two individuals sharing a life – more like a little business than a relationship.

Couples who find themselves in a purely functional relationship say they feel dissatisfied. They feel disconnected and isolated, even lonely. These couples don’t necessarily come to me with a relationship crisis such as an affair or a desire to break up or even parenting concerns – they just want closeness and intimacy.

So how do you achieve this in a relationship when there are so many other things going on in life? How can two people move towards each other again – to say hello again and to see each other?

In my couple work there is a strong emphasis on enhancing the communication and understanding between a couple. Clients learn solid and constructive ways to talk and listen to each other. I see clients become a lot more sophisticated in their expression and communication, and I witness brave and deep disclosures.

These kinds of communication skills go a long way to connecting a couple again. The couple will “see” each other again and often report feeling closer and more understood. However, sometimes the positive outcomes are short lived and the couple are soon reporting some terrible argument which has resulted in a big step backwards. So why? Why when people are fundamentally well intended? Why, when most people just want to feel close to their partner, do the wheels fall off so easily in a relationship?

From what I can see, good communication is just not enough. What is often lacking is empathy and compassion for a partner. We are compassionate and empathetic to our children and our friends and even to our work colleagues and strangers we meet. But it is often difficult to maintain this for our partners. We expect more. We want more and we lose sight of the person who we were first attracted to.

So what practical steps can you take to bring compassion back to your relationship?

Well it needs to start with a change in attitude; a willingness to be generous with our partners and to put them first a lot of the time. An ability to think not just about them but to really imagine how their world is for them. And also to be accountable for the mistakes we make and to say sorry – and equally to forgive our partner when they make mistakes.

Successful couples are the ones who will consider the other person before they raise a concern, consider the other’s point of view, and remember that their partner is well intended.

Being generous and compassionate with a partner requires mindfulness. Because life is full of noise and distractions it is simply not good enough to agree with this sentiment and then move on. Discussing this notion with your partner is a first step and then discussing and discussing it again until slowly it becomes a part of your relationship. Then start to look for when the compassion and empathy are there – acknowledge and celebrate these times – and keep working on them. This process requires a conscious shift in your thinking, plus follow-up action.

Here are some compassionate partner tips :

1. You have the right and should express your feelings and thoughts, but before you do consider where your partner is emotionally at the time and what may be going on for them.

2. Think about your critical voice and your tone of voice – is this attacking or is this caring and inviting?

3. Start your concerns with “I am feeling…or thinking…”, not “You did this or that…” which is often perceived as an attack.

4. When you feel hurt or disappointed consider the other person’s position first – remind yourself that your partner is well intended.

5. If you see your partner upset or distressed take time to soothe and comfort your partner – this leads to safety and trust. It takes a bigger person to put their differences aside to soothe their partner.

6. Take time to look directly at your partner when talking to them, and consider your body language.

7. Allow your partner to have space if you can see they are overwhelmed with the communication between you. Allowing your partner to have space will again lead to safety and trust – and in time deeper connection and closeness.

8. Look at your partner and watch. Take their cues and learn to read their signals. It’s not all about you and we are all different in our communication needs.

9. Forgive and say sorry in equal measures – this generosity goes a long way to creating safety and intimacy.

10. Do you have another need/desire/disappointment to disclose? Ask your partner first how they are thinking and feeling.

Was this article helpful? Through couple counselling we will guide you through your relationship concerns. Contact us today.

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