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Who Do You Love?

Who Do You Love?

Examine your actions vis-a-vis your spouse and ask, "Who do I think about more: my mate or myself?"


Rabbi Moshe Aaron Stern, a great rabbi who passed away a number of years ago, would often tell this story: When he was a student in yeshiva, he was heartily enjoying his dinner at the end of a long day of studies. "Moshe, you really love that fish, don't you?" his teacher asked.

"Yes," he responded between bites. "It's delicious, I love it."

"Moshe," his teacher gently admonished, "it's yourself you love. If you really loved the fish, you wouldn't eat it!"

This lighthearted example can be applied to more important relationships, particularly to marriage. Is your marriage about the fulfillment of your needs and your passions? Or is it about giving to your spouse? What would he like? What does she need? How can I make him more comfortable? How can I contribute to her happiness?

The Torah tells us that when Yaakov worked seven years for Rachel it was like a few days to him. This is puzzling. Usually when we want something badly, the days drag on slowly, the hours seem endless. (Think high school waiting for the phone to ring!) Why was Yaakov's experience the diametric opposite of ours?

Because, as traditional sources suggest, it wasn't about him. It wasn't about satisfying his body, his needs. His goals were spiritual, transcendent and he was content to rely on the Almighty's wisdom in fulfilling them when appropriate.

This may be a loftier ideal than many of us aspire to or can even imagine. But here's a much simpler suggestion. Examine your actions vis-a-vis your spouse and ask, "Who do I think about more: my mate or myself?" This tool is not limited to marriage. All your relationships -- with your parents, children, friends, and colleagues -- could be deepened by the application of this principle.

And be careful. Don't underestimate our power to rationalize. We are adept at discovering sophisticated reasons why what we're doing is really for our partner. It only appears to benefit us! After all, if we're happy, they're happy, right?

Gifts are a perfect example. How often do we buy gifts for others that we really want for ourselves? And vice versa? (A new chain saw? Just what I've always wanted!) For my first birthday as a married woman, my husband bought me the camera I had requested. So far, so good. However in the purchasing and experimenting with the camera, he became so fascinated by photography that I have yet to take a picture with it! Okay, he gets credit for starting off with good intentions...

Once a day do something for you spouse you know they will enjoy.

Thinking of the needs and desires of others isn't easy. We are inherently selfish and it takes tremendous effort and strength of purpose to rise above it.

I recently heard a radio show featuring women widowed in their sixties, women who claimed to have enjoyed good marriages. This particular sampling was now enjoying their single life also. "No one to answer to, no one else's needs to consider, no one to plan around" they all proclaimed excitedly.

Even with the appreciation of the power of beauty of a good marriage, the desire to satisfy only ourselves rises strongly.

By constantly asking, "Who am I doing this for?" we can shift the focus towards others. "Constantly" is a lot. Let's try once a day. Once a day do something for you spouse you know they will enjoy. Make their favorite dinner (not your favorite dinner!) Get a book you know they want to read, bring a cup of coffee and a Danish to their office even if it's out of your way -- especially if it's out of your way. Call your spouse just to say, "I'm thinking of you" --unless they don't like being interrupted at work in which case your act of kindness would be to leave them alone!

There are no guarantees that your mate will reward you for your efforts. But there is a guarantee that you'll grow from it yourself, perhaps ultimately making it a selfish act after all.

July 6, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Anonymous, November 26, 2008 1:45 PM

what if I've become selfless, but my spouse hasn't?

I've read numerous marriage books, tens of articles just like this one, and have made a point in doing my best to incorporate what I read into my marriage. I was especially careful about what you describe here: always thinking of my husband, buying him small gifts that are solely for him, writing him little love notes and cards, cooking what he likes, making special lunches, and extending myself as much as possible. But what happens when you get no response? No acknowledgment? For months on end? Until I break down and cry, and he tells me he cares, otherwise, he wouldn't be waking up in the middle of the night to listen to me...But unless I cry, it seems I get no response, and receive almost nothing in return for my selflessness...Is it possible to be totally and completely selfless in a relationship with someone who doesn't give back? How do I do it and stop the crying spells? And stop feeling like I'm emptying out all my love?

(3) mark norton, July 9, 2002 12:00 AM

I am bit confused!

Dear Emuna, loved the article. You have such a nice way of communicating what is quite an intricate subject - I have a question - we learn that in order to love others we need to first love ourselves. How does this fit with your article? This is a debate my wife and I often have, and we never seem to reach a conclusion as both arguments are compelling and valid.Regards, Mark

Thanks for the positive feedback.

Ideally, it is preferable to love
yourself first. but I think that for many of us, that's a life long struggle so that if we wait until we love ourselves we'll never do for others!

Also, it seems to me that giving to others and developing that quality will lead to greater self-respect and ultimately love of self.

Emuna Braverman

(2) Leah Krieger, July 8, 2002 12:00 AM

Widowed women are not selfish; they are focusing on good.

Having been both widowed and happily married, I feel that interpreting those women's statements as selfishness is unfair. They are focusing on the positive in their life situation which is the increased freedom and ability to satisy their own personal needs. Most of them, especially if they had been happily married, mourn their lost spouses. However, they are able to see that the cloud has a silver lining.
In general, married people put too much of a burden on their widowed friends. Is it wrong for them to be happy in their new life? Is it selfish to feel fulfilled? Must the widow be a never-changing monument for her deceased spouse? When is she permitted to move on with her life? I will never forget the time when as a widow, I bought a new car, and a friend said, "Too bad your husband couldn't enjoy this as well!"
I realize that this was not the focus of the article, but I feel that using the widows was a particularly unfortunate illustration of the writer's point (and usually I enjoy this writer's articles).Sign me: Been there, done that and wish the best to you and all of your readers in whatever life situation they may be.

(1) Anonymous, July 8, 2002 12:00 AM

Very good advice. I was taught that the word for love in Hebrew is Ahava, the root of which is Hav which means to give. To love, is to give. And the more you give of yourself, the more you are "invested" in the other person, and the more you love them. When I first met the man who would become my husband, what impressed me the most was the fact that he would constantly be giving. When I had stomache cramps, he went out and bought me a microwaveable heating pad. When he saw me in pain, he would go to the microwave and heat it up for me.

When we traveled upstate, he put a blanket over my legs, and a pillow behind my head.. and gave me a water bottle and snacks for the road.

He was always very considerate and sensitive.
Oncewe went on an all-day bus trip to Washington with a large group of people. On the way back, I had to go to the bathroom. I got up to go, but the bus bathroom was disgusting! I went right back to my seat, and told him I was just going to hold it in for two hours. He got up without saying a word, went into the bathroom, and two minutes later he came out, and told me to go in again. I did, and almost cried. He had cleaned the whole area, and had put layers and layers of toilet paper on top of the seat.. so there was just a fluffy white cushion. He cared that much about my comfort. That I shouldn't have to sit there for two hours in pain. I knew right then that this is the man I wanted to grow old with. By the way, his constant giving so impressed me, his leading by example, that I couldn't help but reciprocate.

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