Compassion is probably something that you find harder to provide for yourself than for others. However, did you know that self-compassion can help your marriage? Yes, we often talk about what you could and should give to your spouse in marriage, but today we want to talk about the need for self-compassion and how beneficial that can be both for yourself and for your marriage.

In Western culture, compassion is most commonly thought of as something that should be extended to others. In fact, most of what you will read nowadays about self-compassion finds its roots in Buddhist traditions where compassion to oneself is considered to be as important as one’s compassion to others.

At OnlyYouForever, we operate out of a Christian worldview, and we think we can very easily point to a Biblical basis for self-compassion in the second greatest commandment that the Lord Jesus stated: love your neighbor as yourself. That little phrase, “as yourself” is the justification for taking a serious interest in self-compassion because your love for your neighbor (or your spouse!) is going to be based on this.

What is Self-Compassion

Self-compassion was first defined by psychologist Kristin Neff and she described it as “Kindness toward the self, which entails being gentle, supportive and understanding.”[1] So rather than harshly judging oneself for personal shortcomings, one offers oneself warmth and unconditional acceptance.

The reason why this subject is worth addressing is that a growing body of research suggests that self-compassion is strongly associated with psychological health, and less anxiety and depression.[2] As well, Self-compassion is negatively correlated with depression, anxiety, and perfectionism, and is positively correlated with life satisfaction.[3] Research also indicates that self-compassion is associated with better emotional coping skills, greater ability to repair negative emotional states, and generally a more positive state of being.[4] You can imagine how those things can all benefit marriage as well.

How Self-Compassion Can Benefit Your Marriage

A recent study from 2018 looked at the effects of self-compassion on romantic relationships.[5] The students involved in the study who reported higher levels of self-compassion tended to report having higher quality romantic relationships. Now, one of the limitations of the study was that it was done on young people in romantic relationships who were in undergraduate students in university. Nevertheless, the results are worth considering for anyone in a romantic relationship/marriage. 

So, why does self-compassion lead to greater satisfaction in relationships? One reason is that people with higher self-compassion are more aware of and able to meet their own needs for kindness and self-comfort. In a distressed marriage, a lot of the focus goes toward figuring out what your spouse needs so this may be a little counterintuitive. But, the ability to balance independence with connectedness, which is being able to observe and respond to your own needs as well as to your spouse’s, is important for healthy relationships.

Another reason that individuals with high levels of self-compassion have stronger conflict resolution abilities is that self-compassion gives you more of an ability to see their spouse’s point of view during the disagreement as part of your common humanity rather than a personal hardship that is happening to you. In essence, it means you can love your spouse as yourself while in conflict. That’s a very powerful skill to have when working through conflict.[6]

When to Use Self-Compassion

Of course, with self-compassion one might simply say “use it everywhere,” but here are a few specific examples to consider.

  1. Compassion can be extended toward yourself when suffering occurs through no fault of your own, such as when the external circumstances of life are simply painful or difficult to bear.[7] For example, your company downsizes or your child is bullied at school or you have a parent who is given a difficult diagnosis. Yes, care for the other may be necessary, but what about compassion for your own pain in those circumstances?
  2. A more challenging example may be when you suffer as a result of your own mistakes, failures or personal inadequacies. How are you going to take care of yourself when you screw up? Are you able to accept that you made a mistake, and to think about understanding and rectifying it in a calm, engaged way?
  3. Coming back to difficult life circumstances: can you show self-compassion in circumstances where you may have previously turned to self-medication? One of the things that self-compassionate people do is they turn inward to offer themselves soothing and comfort. They allow themselves to be moved by their own distress so that they foster a desire to heal and overcome the difficulties they are experiencing.[8] They don’t numb or dissociate from the pain or challenges: they look at them, they look at what they need, and they recognize those needs and then they pursue adaptive (rather than dysfunctional) ways of meeting those needs. 

Practicing Self Compassion

Once again, we’ve created a bonus supplement on the topic of self-compassion for our much-appreciated supporters. This guide gives you another four key techniques to improve self compassion as well as a thought-tracking exercise you can do in order to really cement in the practice of self-compassion. Try making this a deliberate exercise for a few weeks and see how it impacts yourself and your marriage. You can get this by becoming a patron of The Marriage Podcast for Smart People.

How To Practice Self-Compassion

We’re going to give you six ways you can practice self-compassion. The first three are the core constructs of self-compassion:

  1. Self-kindness vs. self-judgment
  2. Common humanity vs. isolation
  3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification[9]

Practice Self-Kindness

Rather than judgment and criticism towards yourself, self-kindness is the tendency to apply a caring and tender attitude toward your difficult circumstances.[10] This could be in respect to something smaller like not getting your physical exercise done for the day: can you view that in a forgiving and kind manner, understanding that tomorrow is a new day? Or do you beat yourself up? Or, if you notice some aspect of your personality that you dislike, can you treat that flaw gently? Really pay attention to the emotional tone of the language that you use toward yourself. Is it kind and supportive? It’s important not to dismiss the small things when you practice self-compassion.

When you do fail to meet a personal goal or expectation, rather than attacking and berating yourself for being inadequate: offer yourself warmth and unconditional acceptance. If you do need to change, it’s not canceling the need to change, or making excuses, but kindness actually does a lot more to prepare and enable change than criticism or contempt.

Recognize Your Common Humanity

It’s important to recognize that it is only human to make mistakes, even to do things that are wrong, and that you are not alone in this.[11] This is not the same as making excuses: the goal is to reduce or remove any sense of isolation.

We have to understand that all humans are imperfect and that we all sin, fail and make mistakes. My flawed condition is a shared human condition. The same goes for suffering: my life difficulties are part of the broader human experience. It is comforting to know that I am not alone and possibly even millions of others have experienced what I am experiencing.[12] Where this really helps is in reaching out to others in the midst of our personal struggles[13] so that we don’t feel isolated.

Practice Mindfulness

When you are in the middle of a struggle — say experiencing distress in your marriage — you can very easily get carried away in the torrent of pain that you are experiencing. And you can get carried away to the point where you over-identify with the problem.[14]

Mindfulness just involves stepping back to observe and notice what’s happening. It gives you a little bit of distance and objectivity on your own distress. It’s not dissociation, which is disconnecting from reality. It’s more that you carefully observe it but you just step back from needing to solve or fix or numb. It’s like watching the credits scroll at the end of a movie: just notice what comes up for you. Try not to react to your reactions. Just observe, notice, and let it scroll by.

The practice of mindfulness helps people step back from obsessing over negative thoughts or emotions — especially about yourself — which can help you get back to a place of self-compassion.

Treat Yourself as You Would Someone Else

One thing that some of my clients find helpful is to treat themselves as they would treat a small child in need of their care and compassion. Often, we as adults will say that we don’t know what we need. Well, think of a small child in similar circumstances or with similar feelings: what would you want to do for that child? Inevitably, we know what those good, caring, nurturing things to do would be. Well, can you extend those things to yourself?[15]

Give Yourself Permission to Be Imperfect

In the Christian world when I am speaking at church, I will sometimes refer to the need to recognize that our sanctification is incomplete. We are not who we want to be, but neither are we who we were. We are in a process of growth.

It’s helpful to cultivate a perspective of yourself that sees yourself as in a journey towards wholeness and completeness. The implication is that it is OK for you not to be there yet. This helps us not to lose faith in our potential or ability to heal and to find ourselves a way out of difficult circumstances.

In a way, it allows us to note our moments even of laziness or unproductively without having to define ourselves by those moments. Yes, they happened. But it is not all of who I am and I can find my way out of these difficulties.[16]

Work with a Supportive Therapist

Therapy is an ideal context to have someone coach you through your first steps of self-compassion. We know that our brains have the ability to practice self-compassion or learn new patterns of thinking/behavior, but sometimes we need help putting that into practice[17]

Therapy creates a safe space for you to:

  1. notice your thoughts/feelings
  2. have a realistic perspective of yourself and others
  3. demonstrate empathy for yourself.

In time, you will begin to internalize these skills and integrate them into your life.[18]


[1] Allison Abrams, “How to Cultivate More Self-Compassion,” 2017,
[2] Kristin Neff and Elizabeth Pommier, “The Relationship between Self-Compassion and Other-Focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Praticing Meditators,” Self and Identity 12, no. 2 (2012): 160–76,
[3] Jia Wei Zhang et al., “A Compassionate Self Is a True Self? Self-Compassion Promotes Subjective Authenticity” 45, no. 9 (2019): 1323–37,
[4] Neff and Pommier, “The Relationship between Self-Compassion and Other-Focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Praticing Meditators.”
[5] Emily Jacobson et al., “Examining Self-Compassion in Romantic Relationships,” Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, n.d.,
[6] Jacobson et al.
[7] Neff and Pommier, “The Relationship between Self-Compassion and Other-Focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Praticing Meditators.”
[8] Neff and Pommier.
[9] David Biber and Rebecca Ellis, “The Effect of Self-Compassion on the Self-Regulation of Health Behaviors: A Systematic Review,” Journal of Health Psychology 24, no. 4 (2017): 2060–71,
[10] Zhang et al., “A Compassionate Self Is a True Self? Self-Compassion Promotes Subjective Authenticity.”
[11] Zhang et al.
[12] Abrams, “How to Cultivate More Self-Compassion.”
[13] Neff and Pommier, “The Relationship between Self-Compassion and Other-Focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Praticing Meditators.”
[14] Neff and Pommier.
[15] Abrams, “How to Cultivate More Self-Compassion.”
[16] Abrams.
[17] Abrams.
[18] Abrams.