Some people say marriage is give and take. Some say marriage is 50-50. The Jewish people have a different perspective: marriage is 100-100. Judaism says that marriage is giving and giving and giving ... and not keeping score.

The key to loving is giving. Not the key to being loved but the secret to loving. Why do parents feel so much more strongly for their children than vice versa? They've been giving to their children for such a long time.

We think we love the person who gives to us but we've got it backwards. That's just self-love. We love the people we give to.

We think we love the person who gives to us. We've got it backwards -- we love the people we give to.

The Rabbi who married my husband and me, R. Moshe Aharon Stern zt"l, told us a story. When he was a young boy in yeshiva, he was voraciously gobbling up his dinner one evening. His teacher approached him. "Moshe, you love that fish." Between bites, he responded affirmatively. "Wrong," boomed his teacher. "You don't love that fish, you love yourself. If you loved the fish you wouldn't be eating it. It's your pleasure you're focused on."

Taking does not lead to love. Taking leads to an uncomfortable sense of indebtedness. Giving leads to love.

GIVING LEADS TO CARING

This point is confirmed by modern psychology. Therapists will tell you that when we give we have to rationalize to ourselves our expenditure of effort. So we look with greater favor upon the beneficiary of our kindness. We elevate their importance in our eyes in order to feel good about our actions. Giving leads to caring.

And the giving doesn't have to be large. It doesn't have to be on a grand scale. It doesn't have to be overwhelming. It doesn't require many dollars or many hours. And it opens our hearts.

Steve and Hilary were getting married. A friend of Hilary was coming into town for the wedding and needed a place to stay. Steve asked acquaintances of his, the Goldbergs, if they had any room. They said yes and were soon swept up in wedding preparations. Through this one small act of giving they felt immediately closer to the bride and groom, had the groom's family for lunch before the big event and developed a lasting relationship with the married couple.

Even smiling at someone leads to a greater sense of connection. As our Sages advise in Ethics of the Fathers: "Greet everyone with a smile on your face."

Once we appreciate how big a difference a little giving makes, we can begin to see its potential and importance in a marriage.

Give to your spouse. Make an accounting at the end of the day. Did I give to my mate five times today? Did I smile when my partner walked in the door at the end of the day? Did I remember to call home from work? Did I buy his favorite foods? Order her favorite book? Did I make dinner with care because I was thinking of the person I was serving? Did I pick up the dry cleaning? Did I take out the garbage?

These are not earthshaking tasks. They don't require monumental effort or extravagant expenditure. But they could change your world. And if you change you world, you will impact others as well.

Give and you'll care; give and you'll love; give and your partner will respond in kind.

Give and you'll care. Give and you'll love. And, even though this is not the goal, give and your partner will respond in kind.

There are a number of essential ways to give in a marriage, and in all relationships. One is to express appreciation. Don't take anything for granted. Whatever your spouse does for you, be grateful. Maybe you feel it's his job, maybe you feel it's expected, but be grateful anyway.

DON'T TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED

Jill and Mark were married for a few months and both were disappointed by the coldness in their relationship. Upon further exploration it was discovered that Mark never complimented Jill on the dinners she cooked. "She's home all day anyway. That's her job. She's just holding up her end of the bargain." And Jill never thanked Mark for working so hard to pay the bills. "That's what he's supposed to do. How would we survive otherwise?" Their counselor suggested they begin by giving each other one word of praise per day. This led to two, and then three, and then they lost count and warmth and love began to flourish.

All people need to be appreciated, especially if they are acting for your benefit.

All people need to be appreciated, and your spouse particularly. Especially if they are acting for your benefit.

When praising a small child's picture we are told not to say "it's beautiful" but to look carefully and single out different aspects. "I like all the colors you use. I especially like the purple. That sun looks so warm. I see you worked hard at this picture."

Although we like to pretend otherwise, we adults are no different. We like praise and the more detailed the better:

  • "That dessert was really spectacular. It looked and tasted good. That must have taken a long time."
  • "I like the way you presented that idea. It was so clear and easy to follow."
  • "Thank you for doing that errand for me. You saved me a lot of time."
  • "Mark called to say you really helped him and Jill in their marriage. They said you have a lot of insight and caring. I told them I agree."

The bottom line is you can't be too appreciative.

EMPATHY

Another aspect of giving is empathy. You and your mate have different reactions to situations, you are placed in different circumstances. But trying to understand your spouse's reaction to a situation and how it makes him/her feel will lead to greater intimacy.

Rachel wants to remodel her kitchen. Steve is just starting a new business. Rachel feels that Steve just doesn't appreciate what it's like for her to stare at the peeling paint, to have the drawers fall apart in her hands, to have all the items in an overstocked tiny cupboard come toppling down upon her; repeatedly throughout the day.

Steve is frustrated that Rachel doesn't understand the tremendous financial pressure he is experiencing right now and how anxious he is to make this venture succeed.

They're both right. Neither understands the other and hurt feelings arise and resentment builds. However with an open dialogue, each party would be able to understand empathize with the other's position, paving the way for compromise.

The more skilled we become at empathy, the more meaningful our giving will be and the greater our closeness.

In order to build a truly unified relationship we must try to put ourselves in our partner's shoes. How does the world look for their perspective? The more skilled we become at empathy, the more meaningful our giving will be and the greater our closeness.

There is a famous story told of the great sage, the Chofetz Chaim. He was collecting money for a school that needed a furnace. On a bitter winter's night he went to the home of a wealthy benefactor. The supporter met the Rabbi at the door and invited him in. But the Chofetz Chaim would not go in. Only after he had obtained a sizeable donation from his chilled host did the Chofetz Chaim consent to enter his heated home. He was afraid that in the cozy warmth of the parlor, the man's empathy for the freezing students would be minimal. But on a freezing doorstep...

We should all try to stand on that freezing doorstep with our spouses. We should make a concerted effort to work on our empathy, and on our appreciation. If we devote our energy to giving to our mate we will experience a pleasure and intensity of love that cannot be discovered any other way.