An excerpt from "Marriage," by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin, Mesorah Publications.
For Part One, see: Don't Cause Pain, Give Pleasure, Part 1
1. EXPRESS YOUR REALIZATION THAT YOUR SPOUSE IS IMPORTANT
Human beings have a great emotional need to feel important. We truly are important because we are created in our Creator’s image. Someone who expresses respect and honor for everyone is considered an honorable person because he or she recognizes this reality. When people are treated with respect, they feel better about themselves. This understanding is especially crucial for a husband and wife.
Asking your husband or wife, "How do you feel about this?" indicates that his or her feelings are important.
Saying, "I won’t do this if it bothers you," in a tone of voice that affirms your sincerity, tells your spouse that he or she is important to you.
Doing something that you would prefer not to do but doing it because your spouse would appreciate it, conveys your message that he or she is important.
Not making a decision until you check it out with your spouse is a form of showing respect. However, the types of decisions requiring joint approval will depend on your particular relationship.
When you smile sincerely to your spouse, you send positive energy and give a valuable message. There is a saying, "A smile is a small curve that sets many things straight." Master the art of the genuine smile. For a smile to be genuine, it must come from the heart. A smile is actually what you feel inside and your face is just an external expression of that inner smile. Being on the receiving end of an artificial smile or a real smile that comes from within are totally different experiences.
3. MARRIAGE GIVES YOU UNLIMITED OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTS OF KINDNESS
Both husband and wife have many opportunities to do or say something kind. Every friendly greeting, everything you hand one another, every piece of information you share, is chesed. Every effort you make, every smile is chesed. Some understand this in the verse (Proverbs 18:22): "He who finds a wife finds something that is good." The good is the multitude of acts of kindness that a husband can do for his wife. And the same applies to the many acts of kindness that a wife can do for her husband.
"Great is chesed, for the Torah begins with chesed and ends with chesed" (Sotah 14a). In the beginning of the Torah (Bereishit 3:21) we read that the Creator gave the first couple clothing; at the end of the Torah we read that the Almighty buried Moshe. When you want to know about a book, read the beginning and read the end. Everything in between deals with the same topic. The essence of the Torah is the Almighty’s kindness. A life filled with chesed is a life in which one emulates our Creator. A marriage filled with chesed will be a joyous relationship. The more joy you experience for each opportunity to do chesed with word and deed, the more joy you will experience yourself and will create for your spouse.
When you focus on the fact that you are fulfilling the Torah commandment of doing acts of kindness, what could have been mundane and even frustrating becomes transformed into an elevated act. Every action on behalf of your spouse is spiritually uplifting as you increase your awareness of every action’s eternal value.
4. THE TWO QUESTIONS TO KEEP ASKING
There are two important questions that will greatly increase the level of chesed in your marriage.
The question to keep asking your spouse is: "What can I do for you?"
The question to keep asking yourself is: "What can I say or do to give my spouse pleasure?"
5. EXPRESS YOUR APPRECIATION AND GRATITUDE
When we know that our efforts are appreciated and we hear expressions of gratitude, it usually makes all those efforts worthwhile. Even someone who does not pursue honor and glory wants to know that he or she made a difference. It is so easy for a husband and wife to feel that the other one takes their hard work for granted. This breeds stress and resentment. The amount of effort it takes to express gratitude is slight, but the benefit is enormous.
Some people express gratitude because of selfish reasons. They know that if they want to motivate someone to continue working at the same standard as before, they’d better tell the person they are gratitude. But the ideal is to express gratitude because you are truly grateful and know that it will make your husband or wife feel happy. Every expression of gratitude that will be appreciated by your spouse is the fulfillment of the Torah commandment to love other people as you love yourself. Feel the joy of the Mitzvah and this will increase the positive energy in your tone of voice. And remember that appreciation to a human being is like sunlight to a plant.
6. BE GENEROUS WITH SINCERE PRAISE
People can give all kinds of reasons why they are hesitant to praise others. Sometimes praise might be counterproductive, but in the vast majority of instances when you sincerely praise someone, you are doing that person a great service. I heard many times from Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, Rosh Yeshiva of Mir, in the name of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, that praising others is a spiritual act, as opposed to flattery, which is a compliment someone gives in order to get something from him in return.
Sincere praise expresses your recognition of someone’s good qualities or of a positive action. This is the way to build up someone. Growing up without praise will compromise a child’s emotional well being. A marriage without praise will be missing a vital source of positive energy. Many people are ready to find fault. We should find it much easier to acknowledge the good in others, and be a hundred times more careful before we blame and complain.
A general rule to keep in mind: Only praise it if is appreciated. Praised perceived as insincere, exaggerated, or condescending, will not be appreciated. Watch the non-verbal reaction of your spouse to see if there is a positive response. Some people tend to belittle praise, even though they really enjoy hearing it. They might offer some slight resistance to the praise out of modesty, but the look on their face shows that they love it.
Keeping words of praise on the tip of your tongue will make it easier for you to spontaneously express them. If words don’t come easily to you, plan them out carefully ahead of time.
Even more important is the ability to communicate statements that express positive feedback. Optimally, these statements should come from deep within your heart, but the following samples can get your started on the right path:
- I admire what you did.
- I am touched by what you said.
- I appreciate that I can always depend on you.
- I benefited greatly from what you told me.
- I feel safe in your presence.
- I feel secure when you are handling things.
- I find you calming.
- I was impressed with the way you spoke.
- That was an insightful comment.
- That was courageous.
- That was highly thoughtful of you.
- That was one of the nicest things anyone ever said to me.
- You have my admiration and respect.
- Your caring has meant a lot to me.
7. LISTENING IS A POWERFUL ACT OF RESPECT, KINDNESS, AND VALIDATION
Listening might seem passive because you just stand or sit there and let the words enter your ears. But listening can be one of the greatest acts of kindness you can do for someone. As a person speaks to you and you listen carefully to what he or she is saying, that person know that someone cares and considers that what is being said is important. Listening is a powerful act of respect, kindness, and validation.
Someone once said that the difference between a monologue and a dialogue is that in a monologue only one person talks to himself and in a dialogue there are two people talking to themselves. This won’t happen in your marriage if you listen carefully to what your spouse says when or she speaks.
When your spouse shares his or her feelings with you, it is not helpful to respond, "You shouldn’t feel this way." Feelings don’t usually disappear by one’s being told that one shouldn’t feel a certain way. For many people, expressing distressful feelings enables those feelings to become lighter. Give your spouse the right and the chance to talk about worries and problems that bother him or her. Some people insist on talking only about positive topics. If someone complains to them about something, they will say, "You shouldn’t talk about that. Be happy. Don’t worry." But if a person is not happy and does worry, it might be necessary to talk about the issues that bother him or her.
When you enjoy listening to your spouse talk, listening is something you are doing for yourself. However, when you find it difficult to listen, then what you are doing is an act of chesed and listening is a spiritual act that is nourishing for your soul.
Being a good listener can be interpreted as being a great conversationalist. Is your spouse satisfied with the way you listen to him or her? If not, make a concerted effort to listen and concentrate on giving feedback that shows you are listening.
8. COMMUNICATION CONNECTS
When a couple is able to have enjoyable conversation, those conversations build up a sense of connection. Couples differ as to what their communication needs are. Some couples can have a very happy marriage with a minimal amount of conversation, and some individuals have a greater need for longer conversations. A problem that needs to be worked out is when one party has a much greater need for conversation than the other.
When you give a gift to your husband or wife, you are giving more than just the actual gift; you are giving a message of caring. The more thoughtful your gift, the more it will be appreciated, regardless of the cost.
If your spouse wants to give you an affordable gift, don’t deprive him or her of this pleasure. If you don’t really want gifts and you let him/her give them to you, it is an act of giving on your part and not of taking.
Surprise your spouse; every once in a while do something that will make him or her feel good unexpectedly.
10. LOOK FOR POSITIVE ACTIVITIES THAT YOU CAN DO TOGETHER
When couples are first married they naturally spend a lot of time together. The wedding and sheva berachotM are dramatic events that they share, and setting up a new home involves many decisions that need to be discussed and dealt with. A couple’s first Shabbat in their own home is a memorable experience. There is a lot to talk about and there are many adjustments to make. But after a while, it is common for couples to be so busy that they don’t spend much quality time together unless they plan to do so. For many couples this is not at all a problem, but for others it is a major issue.
I have asked many people, "What have you done to enhance your relationship?" Here are some ideas I’ve heard. Depending on many factors (time, financial situation, personalities, etc.) some are appropriate for certain couples and not for others. This list is only a beginning. Couples can brainstorm together or ask others for more suggestions:
- We have begun to take daily walks together.
- We study a Jewish text together a few times a week.
- We have "official" meetings once a week where we can bring up any issues that otherwise would be difficult to discuss. During these meetings, we don’t answer the telephone or allow any other distractions.
- Once a week we each role play an interesting character and have at least a 15-minute conversation as these characters.
- We regularly visit different interesting people and interview them. We spend time together beforehand writing down questions to ask them. We do this with experts on marriage enhancement, child raising, nutrition, health, financial planning, time management, and similar subjects.
- Every two weeks we go to a restaurant together.
- We take trips together to interesting places.
- We go together to visit people in the hospital.
- We have both learned to play a musical instrument, and we practice together.
- Once a month we have a brainstorming session to generate money-making ideas and projects.
- From time to time we have a picnic together in a park or garden.
- We both regularly leave cute notes and cards for each other.
- We leave humorous messages on our answering machine for each other. We often imitate various accents and personalities.
- We regularly watch the sunset together.
- Every day we bless each other for an entire minute.
Rerprinted with permission from Artscroll.