How to Increase Compassion

Understanding Leads to Compassion


I’ve always thought of myself as a compassionate person. I’ve never thought that I was a mean person. I never thought of myself as someone who doesn’t care.

I know that I can be non-emotional in my expression of compassion, but I have always thought that I cared.

The truth is, I haven’t always been very compassionate. Or, maybe, I’ve become more compassionate that I used to be.

One time, before I got involved with marriage ministry, I remember talking to a friend whose wife left him. He told me about how she had been having an affair. He told me about all the things that she had done to hurt him.

I thought, “She’s a Christian and I can’t believe she’s doing this. Adultery is wrong and it’s a sin. She needs to be confronted.”

I was angry for my friend. I think I was reacting out of judgement. Judgement of her sin. Was I wrong?

I knew my friend was also responsible for their struggling relationship. He had been angry at her for a long time. So, he was withdrawn and distant.

Looking back, I’m not sure I was being very compassionate to either of them.

Here are 4 realizations that I’ve learned that have helped me to become more compassionate.

Realization #1: God Wants Us to Be Whole

God wants us to be holy, right? He wants us to love people.

When I was a young Christian, I used to try to be more Godly. I used to try to love people. I used to try to be perfect. I was taking the fake it until you make it approach.

The truth is, I was more doing holy over being holy. That’s not all bad. You have to start somewhere. My heart was in the right place.

I’ve changed my perspective. I want to be loving for real. I don’t want to fake how much I care.

God seems to be working in my life to make me loving. That means He’s had to work on my insecurities. He’s had to work on my fears. He’s slowly changing my thoughts that don’t result in loving behavior.

In short, He wants to change me into someone that is loving and holy.

As a husband, he wants to change me into someone that actually acts in loving ways. He wants me to be whole.

Realization #2: Everyone Has Reasons for What They Do

When I became a marriage mentor, a Christian psychologist pointed out to me that everyone has reasons for what they do. They get something out of their behavior. There is a payoff.

An addict has a reason for what they do.

A criminal has a reason for what they do.

When someone has an affair, there is a reason for it.

They may not understand their reasons, but the reasons are there.

I may not agree with their reasons, but something motivates them.

That thought changed the way that I treat people.

Realization #3: Look Beyond the Behavior

My first reaction to people used to be to judge their behavior. Are they acting in a loving manner? Are they doing something sinful?

Now, I’ve learned to look beyond their behavior to what’s underneath it.

What’s behind their behavior? Is it hurt? Is it insecurity? Shame? Fear? Are they acting to protect themselves?

For example, someone may struggle with a mistrust of people. They have been hurt in the past and they decide that they can’t trust anyone. I may not agree with their conclusion, but it’s very real to them. They decide to wall themselves off for protection. Their distant behavior may result in hurting people that they love.

Instead of criticizing the behavior, how can we pray for them? How can we understand their reasons? How can we help them to see that they are hurting people?

One of my favorite books is “The Cross and the Switchblade.” I recently reread the book. David Wilkerson looks at a picture of gang members being tried for murder. Instead of judging their behavior, he sees that they are lost. He looks beyond the behavior to the heart.

Realization #4: Compassion Grows With Understanding

When I meet with a couple, now I want to understand their perspective.

Yes, engaging in an affair is wrong.

But, what’s underneath that behavior? What does the person get out of it?

I’ve found that the more I understand someone’s perspective, the more compassion that I have for them. I may not agree with their thoughts or assumptions, but I can understand how they might react to their conclusions.

I’ve had to put this into action in my own marriage.

My wife, Michelle, sits at the kitchen table and works on her computer in the evenings. There was a time in my marriage that I would have thought, “Her email is more important than I am.”

I would sit and stew about how she’s ignoring me.

I had to understand that she doesn’t see her work as a trade-off to me. She’s not trying to hurt me. It’s just something that she feels has to get done. She feels stressed out and this helps her to complete her tasks.

When I started to understand that she feels under pressure from work, it helped me to have more compassion for her.

She also had to understand that I needed to spend time with her. My silent stewing was about feeling ignored by her.

Once we both came to understand each other’s perspectives, it was easier to have compassion for each other. We didn’t agree with each other’s conclusions, but it explained our behavior.

Now, we work on spending time with each other in other ways. I don’t get upset by her need to work when she’s at home.

Understanding led to more compassion.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Set Healing as the Goal – The goal of working with couples is healing. It’s about healing their relationship. It’s also about helping each person heal from their own hurts and insecurities. God wants people to be whole.
  • Look Beyond the Behavior – It can be easy to judge sinful behavior, but I don’t think that leads to wholeness. Yes, there are times when a behavior needs to be confronted. But, first, try to understand.
  • Understand Their Reasons – Be curious. Try to understand why someone does what they do. You may not agree with them, but understanding will lead to greater compassion.