To Suffer With While doing some recent reading on the parenting of teenagers, I came across an excellent definition for the word compassion. The word compassion comes from the Latin word ‘compati’ which literally means to suffer with or suffer together. I wonder if we in recovery can’t take a lesson from this etymology and begin to lean in to the pain and hurt we have caused another? I wonder if we are truly suffering with our spouse in their pain and hurt? I can honestly say early on, I wasn’t ‘suffering with’ Samantha at all. I was self-absorbed with my own pain and what my affair had cost me and what my affair had done to my future, my family name, my position, and my destiny. I was also concerned with what I had done to my affair partner and her family. I was so disconnected with truth that I was sorry I got caught, not necessarily healthy enough to be truly compassionate or empathetic towards Samantha for the pain she was in. Like many I felt far too justified in my affair and self-righteous anger. Almost every day I find this to be true of so many other unfaithfuls. Like me, they are usually not healthy upon discovery. Whether they are caught and forced to come clean, or have their own epiphany and wakeup call and come clean on their own, they’re usually just not sober enough to connect with the brutal impact of their choices. They usually have been involved in the affair for quite some time and to think they are going to think rationally or have this quick timeline to healing and sobriety is just unrealistic. It will take time. It will take the right kind of help. It will take an expert’s help to lead the unfaithful down a road of clarity and compassion that usually comes in stages with several highs and even more lows. Many a betrayed spouse is frustrated and even shocked at their unfaithful spouse’s ambivalence and almost sociopathic disconnection with what they have done to their spouse and family. The truth is, it’s part of their coping mechanism to keep going in life, seemingly unfazed at the trail of destruction left behind. While normal, it doesn’t have to be that way if the right help is brought into the equation and both parties are willing to pursue help and safety. The University of Berkeley’s Science of a Meaningful life puts words to this concept in a very telling way: Compassion is not the same as empathy or altruism, though the concepts are related. While empathy refers more generally to our ability to take the perspective of and feel the emotions of another person, compassion is when those feelings and thoughts include the desire to help. Altruism, in turn, is the kind, selfless behavior often prompted by feelings of compassion, though one can feel compassion without acting on it, and altruism isn’t always motivated by compassion. While cynics may dismiss compassion as touchy-feely or irrational, scientists have started to map the biological basis of compassion, suggesting its deep evolutionary purpose. This research has shown that when we feel compassion, our heart rate slows down, we secrete the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, and regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and feelings of pleasure light up, which often results in our wanting to approach and care for other people. We have to ask ourselves, are we caring for those we’ve wounded? Are we “suffering with” those who are in pain and trauma? Alternatively, I will be so bold to ask you, the betrayed, are you too suffering with the spouse who is broken and condemned? Though many will say their spouse is not in fact, empathetic or compassionate in the least bit, I know that there are those who truly are in fact, overwhelmed with grief for their choices. I would ask if you are being compassionate with them in their pain and hurt? While it may seem too much to ask, the fact is, if a marriage is going to survive the pain of infidelity and one day enjoy the rich bond of restorative grace and healing, someone will have to dare to be selfless and care for the other. If the unfaithful is unbroken and continuing to display a lack of regard for others, I would highly suggest keeping your distance from them until they are safe.