The most powerful attachment emotion is not love; it’s compassion. Compassion makes us sensitive to the individuality, depth, and vulnerability of loved ones. It makes us appreciate the fact that they are different from us, with a separate set of experiences, a different temperament, and different vulnerabilities, all of which make them give different meaning to similar emotions. For example, when you tell your partner that you “need to talk,” you mean that you want to feel closer to him. He thinks you want to tell him yet again that he’s failing you. Without compassion, neither of you can understand your differences, even though you may love one another completely.
The very intensity of love, when it exists without high levels of compassion, seems to makes us merge with one another and assume that our loved ones see the world exactly the way we do. This obscures what they actually feel and think, and, in large part, who they really are. They become merely a source of emotion for us, rather than separate persons in their own right. If they make us feel good, we put them on a pedestal. If they make us feel bad by not seeing the world the way we do, we feel betrayed and sometimes vengeful. Love without compassion is superficial, possessive, controlling, and sometimes dangerous.
It’s Compassion or It’s Betrayal
Think of what gets you the angriest and the most hurt in your relationship. We’ll give you a hint, it’s not about getting what you want; it’s the perception that your emotions are unimportant to your partner. Power struggles happen when you feel that your partner has failed at compassion. It feels like betrayal. Most of your resentment and anger have their source in betrayal of the implicit promise, not to “Do what I want,” but to “Care how I feel.” All relationship power struggles can be restated as, “Since you don’t care about how I feel, you’re going to do what I want!” Even if he gives in and does what you want, it will have little effect if unaccompanied by compassion. Think of how you feel when he does what you want resentfully.
Relationship conflicts are not really about money or sex or who what you’re going to do in the future. We fight about failure of compassion. If you sense that your feelings are valued-if you feel your partner’s compassion-you’ll become much more open to negotiation. In general, people cooperate when they feel valued and resist when they don’t.
To learn more about the necessity for high levels of compassion in your relationship, read, How to Improve Your Relationship without Talking about It: Finding Love beyond Words, by Drs. Patricia Love and Steven Stosny. http://compassionpower.com