Questions and Answers – keeping an open heart?

Relationships are the best seminar in town “

Sondra Ray, founder of Loving Relationships Training

Here is a question from a client married to a consistently relapsing alcoholic husband, frustrated after years of marital therapy. Regarding the practical day-to-day experience of open-hearted compassion:

Dear Dr. Weiss,

“ How do you keep an open heart to one that deliberately does actions that he knows will wound you and yet goes ahead? God does not intend us to be martyrs or doormats. It is a conundrum I fear I will never solve. I know from experience it is so much easier to have compassion for the stranger in the hospital bed, the poor in other countries on mission trips and such than it is for the person you live with every day and who is the one who drives you crazy. The one who lets you down and lies and continues the same behavior over and over again.

Dr. Weiss: As you are undoubtedly aware, there is no simple answer other than to learn forgiveness. It is true that those close to us are our greatest challenges. In Internal Family Systems (see ) the person you are struggling with is called your ‘Tor-mentor.’ Although they seem to clearly be tormenting you they are also your greatest teachers in the attaining the very qualities you seek for your own peace, such as calm, clarity and compassion. Parts of you love your partner while at the same time you have other parts that are furious and hurt. You have managerial parts that want to get rid of him and other parts that remain hopeful.

You are already familiar with the idea that the greatest source of pain in life comes from the idea “If only he would change, I’d be happy.” Fortunately or unfortunately, the true value of forgiveness and openhearted compassion is not dependent on change in the other. It is your own spiritual learning curve; what I call ‘where the rubber meets the road. No amount of ‘acting as if’ can replace the decision to lead from the heart in life. It is a personal decision as to whether to open one’s heart to the world or shut down in cynical self protection. We often meet people who confuse cynicism with wisdom. Cynicism is the false belief that I will be safer encapsulated in protective coating than in trusting my own inner power of transformation. The benefits and the costs accrue only to you. Do I choose to represent the light of Spirit when I walk into a room? Am I willing to shine my own inner light as a demonstration that I already possess it? The choice is yours. And in that choice you can find personal power.


Mark Weiss, Ph.D. LMFT