"My husband never listens to me." "My wife always nags." "My husband doesn't understand me." "My wife spends too much money." The complaints are unending. The market for advice is infinite. Magazines proliferate. Most of the articles on marriage focus on troubleshooting, on effective ways to deal with the struggles inherent in married life.
But marriage isn't only about surviving the difficult times. It wouldn't be very appealing if it was. Marriage is a tremendous opportunity to grow and to help your partner actualize his/her potential. (It can also be a lot of fun!)
Not only do we want to build our spouse's self-esteem (it's the least we could do after all the time we spend destroying it!) but we really want our mates to be the best they could be.
This isn't a purely selfless goal. If our husband or wife becomes an even better person we will be the lucky recipient of all that extra love and kindness.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What can I do to enhance my marriage?
- What would my spouse like from me at this moment?
- How can I reinforce and encourage my partner's positive behavior? (No, our spouses are not children, appearances to the contrary, but we can learn a lot about true love and help those we care about from parenting techniques.)
- How can I make mine the best marriage ever?
LOOKING FOR THE POSITIVE
Rabbi Pliskin suggests that the key to a life of joy is to master the art of "reframing" -- to change our negative perception of a situation into a more optimistic outlook.
One of our great teachers, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, was an expert in this. The story is told of people witnessing a wagon owner changing the wheels on his cart while wearing his tefillin. The onlookers were appalled. How could he be down in the mud, changing a tire, and wearing his tefillin? Rav Levi Yitzchak had a different perspective. "Almighty", he said. "Look how holy your people are. Even when they change their wagon wheels, they wear their tefillin!"
Let's look at a couple who would benefit from this ability to reframe.
Michael and Susan were engaged in one of their frequent battles over Michael's weight. Michael had a sweet tooth and his indulgence of it led to some health problems. Susan tried to monitor what he ate and stop him when he reached for yet another chocolate eclair. Michael thought his wife was one big nag, never giving him a moment's respite until one day it hit him (maybe he read the chapter on reframing in Rabbi Pliskin's book "Marriage"): "She must love me very much to express such constant concern over my physical well-being." A whole shift in their relationship followed and the intense arguments over Michael's weight ended. They were able to look at it as a shared goal.
Avoid criticism and kvetching and try to engineer situations that will promote optimal growth.
Be creative in your attempts to help your partner and your marriage. Avoid criticism and kvetching and try to engineer situations that will promote optimal growth.
Sometimes there is a task you want done very badly –- for example, cleaning the house. (Sometimes?!) You could try screaming and yelling at your spouse until they either scream and yell back, or simply walk out. Perhaps they may eventually start cleaning up, but there will not be a harmonious atmosphere in your home.
You could try alternative solutions. My friend, Mary, used to put notes on her husband's socks saying, "Pick me up please." A little cutesy? Yes. Effective? Yes. Does she have a strong marriage? Yes. Mary and her husband know that if they work together, if they cooperate with one another, then there's nothing they can't accomplish.
My friend, Michelle, tried another tactic. She cleaned up herself on a regular basis letting her husband experience the pleasure of a neat home. Then one day she "forgot" to clean and Tom, her husband, who was now used to an orderly home, immediately picked up a broom and began the job himself.
There are many techniques available to the motivated spouse -- cute reminders under a pillow, for example.
There are many techniques available to the motivated spouse. Sandy liked to leave Torah quotes - like "nice things and a nice home broaden a man's mind" - stuck under her husband's pillow. (A little knowledge is a dangerous thing). He laughs and gets the message.
Laughter. A sense of humor. When times are tough and you're pulling your hair out, a joke can neatly diffuse the tension. To be able to laugh at yourself, at your little obsessions and compulsions, at the situation you're in, enhances and strengthens your marriage.
When Marge first met Tim, he had all the qualities she was looking for in a spouse except one. He had no sense of humor. Marge went down her list of desired traits, checking them off one by one. She thought and thought. "He has such a wonderful character. I guess I can sacrifice the sense of humor." Luckily for Marge, after they were engaged, Tim relaxed and turned out to very funny after all. And it's good thing too, because they have a large family in tiny quarters on a tight budget and they need all the humor they can get.
A SENSE OF HUMOR
You don't need to be a standup comedian. You just need to be able to see the humor in what otherwise appear to be humorless situations. So in the middle of a crisis, stop yourself. Do something funny. Do something silly. Say something wacky. Start to laugh. Not only is this a troubleshooter but it promotes growth because the ability to see the humor in life's challenging circumstances leads to a greater level of patience and a greater ability to deal with all of life's travails. So for those aficionados of "Singing in the Rain", "Make 'em Laugh."
If you take seriously your job of promoting your partner's growth, both you and your partner will grow in the process. And not only will you grow also, but you will make yourselves partners with the Almighty in creation and the Almighty's presence will infuse your relationship.