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The Soul of Marriage
Mom with a View

The Soul of Marriage

What can I do today to give my spouse pleasure?


There is frequently a lot of time spent preparing for weddings – choosing the appropriate invitation, sampling menus, visiting halls, listening to bands…and finding “the” dress. Everything has to be just right – the flowers at the height necessary for the perfectly posed picture. Less time is spent preparing for marriage which we hope will last a lot longer than that fantasy day.

In fact it’s even possible that externally beautiful weddings may impede the possibility of internally beautiful marriages. As a bride (or groom) prepares for the wedding she is told by everyone she meets that this is her special day. We try to ensure that she will have the guests, photographer, cake (and dress!) that she wants. If there are bridesmaids (or groomsmen) they completely accede to her wishes, wearing expensive dresses that they won’t be caught dead in on any other occasion. The message is that the world revolves around her (or him – this is an equal opportunity piece).

But if there is one key to a successful marriage, it is the complete opposite perspective. It is to make the world revolve around your spouse. It is to put his or her needs first, not equal.

This requires a big adjustment for everyone, especially after the heady self-centeredness of the engagement period.

And yet without this paradigm change, your marriage can not possibly work. This is a challenge for couples of all ages. It may be even harder the later you marry because habits become ingrained and the more years you have spent attending to your own needs first, the harder it is to switch gears.

Let’s assume all the good will in the world. Let’s assume you recognize the necessity of putting your mate’s needs ahead of your own. Let’s even assume that is something you want to do. How do we go about making and internalizing this sea change in perspective?

As with all serious attempts at change, thoughts are not enough. We need action. If we keep behaving “as if,” the new thoughts and focus will eventually take hold.

Begin by asking. Neither men nor women are mind readers. You can’t know or intuit what your spouse needs without being told. “How can I help you today?” “How can I make your day easier?” “Is there some errand I could take off your plate?” “What would you like to do for dinner?” “Would you like to go out tonight; where would you enjoy?”

Get in the habit of asking these questions and responding accordingly. Maybe you’ll have to see a movie you wouldn’t have chosen. Maybe you’ll have to watch a sport you’re not a fan of. Maybe you’ll need to eat a dinner that doesn’t consist or your favorite dishes or stop off for milk and orange juice after a long tiring day. That’s how relationships are built. That’s how we deepen our caring and connection. That’s how we subjugate our egos.

When you give, you care.

There are two profound insights available here. One of the fundamentals of Jewish thought is that “when you give, you care” (as opposed to when you get!) This is at its most obvious in the parent-child relationship but plays out in almost every interaction we have. It takes a very small amount of giving to become invested (from a smile, to holding open the door, to having someone over for a meal) and the psychological import of this is far-reaching. So what better laboratory for experimenting with this concept than marriage? The more you do for your spouse (and NOT the more he or she does for you!), the more you’ll care.

Putting the needs of another first, while downplaying our own desires, also teaches us about our ideal relationship with the Almighty. We need to subjugate our will to His to have a true relationship with God. Marriage teaches us to do this where we can easily experience the benefits.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t go from selfish to selfless with the signing of the ketubah or the breaking of the glass. Even a really good band won’t get us there. Or the best videographer…

But if every morning when we wake up we ask ourselves “What can I do today to give my wife or husband pleasure?” and then actually do it, not only will we have successful marriages, we will become deeper human beings as well. Whatever color flowers you had at your chupah!

July 24, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 10

(10) Yael, August 20, 2010 3:37 AM


Emunah, I really like your articles. I believe that a person must ask themself two questions about their marriage: "Am I putting my spouse's needs ahead of my own?" and "Are my own needs being met?" Since most people tend to be selfish and make sure that their own needs are met, it makes sense to stress the first question. However, for those people (such as Moshe in #2) who seem to give to the point of negating their own needs, it is important to stress balance. It is good to express your needs to your spouse and to not give to the point where you feel resentful. At the same time, a person who works on giving can "need" less than they used to. Someone who gives in the right way (without resentment) can find the feeling of making their spouse happy intoxicating. But it is as Emunah says, we are supposed to put the needs of our spouse "first"- which means that our own needs do exist as well. Balance, in a word.

(9) SusanE, August 1, 2010 3:23 PM

What Men Want.

This is for women, and the question "What can I do today to give my spouse pleasure?" Sometimes the nicest thing we can do for our spouses is nothing at all. Just leave him be, no questions what he is doing or where he is going. For one day, no questions. Don't expect somethng from him. Leave him be.

(8) Anonymous, July 30, 2010 7:17 AM

even when ALL of the above has been done, there is sometimes cases when spouse is unresponsive . G-D is good GREAT and loves us with everlasting love and has plans to prosper not harm us giving us future hope expected end even when marriage has failed has ended has experienced divorced.

(7) Michael, July 28, 2010 5:04 PM

Forget the big stuff, it's the little stuff that gets you.

My wife and I have been married 36 years. We've learned that it's not the big problems that hurts a relationship it's the little things. Big problems are dealt with immediatly then forgotten. The small stuff sits in the background. Not wanting to sound petty, it sits there, with all of the other small stuff, growing and growing until one day, it explodes. Take care of the small stuff as quickly as the big stuff and move on. It will keep your relationship alive.

(6) Robin, July 28, 2010 1:37 PM

Though this is told us so many times, the problem comes in actual living i.e . who will do it First!--especially in a marriage of about 20 years and more it is predominantly the wife who sets the condition that because my husband (in my opinion) does not love me (enough/ the way I think he should) (i.e. he is selfish!?)--so why I should do the things which will please him/ will give him pleasure?! But the Bible never talks about the conditional love by a wife to her husband! It says "wives SUBMIT to your OWN husbands ......" (without putting any condition/s) (and the husbands also to love their OWN wives as they love their own selves! Many marriages have the difficulties due to such attitudes especially as regards to their sexual relationships.

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