Last year my husband and I had the luxury of taking a year off to travel the world, spend several months in Israel learning Torah and exploring our spirituality. This experience proved to be invaluable, not only because of the travel itself but because we had a chance to spend so much time together, learn together, grow together and focus on the relationship. Learning Torah while exploring the world and ourselves helped us to improve the vivacity, enthusiasm and passion in our relationship.
You don’t need to take a year off to revitalize your marriage. Everything we learned during our trip can be applied at home on an everyday basis. Here are five important points we learned that can strengthen your marriage.
1. To improve your marriage, start with yourself.
We tend to think that our marriage would be better if only our spouse would change some of his or her behaviors. “Why can't she be more organized?” “Why can’t he help out more at home?” “Why can’t she stop spending so much?” Stop demanding things from your spouse. A marriage is a system. If you change one of the components, the whole system changes and reorganizes. If you change your behavior for the better you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see that your spouse will eventually respond to the change in a positive way.
And it goes both directions; if you introduce negative behaviors like criticism, demands, or contempt, your spouse will also definitely change…for the worse. So do something to become a better person, whether it is spending more time with your spouse, planning a weekly date night, dealing with others kindly, etc. And give and then give some more, without demands or expectations of anything in return.
2. Make your marriage a priority.
A large percentage of divorces are unnecessary. You can really love the one you’re with if you put your heart and energy into it. The “growing apart” phenomenon can be remedied and avoided if you make your marriage your priority with the willingness to constantly invest in it. The more you invest, the more you love. In actuality, your spouse should come even before your children. If the couple is doing well, the children will be just fine. Take time to be together, stay in touch during the day, surprise each other, tell your wife that you love her, be grateful to your husband, go out just the two of you, take up an activity together and learn Torah. It will definitely make a difference.
3. You and your spouse are one.
When the first human was created, he was comprised of two sides, the male and female; Adam and Eve were one. Once separated, man and woman become two different entities but nevertheless they crave for that oneness that experienced at the very beginning.
When a couple gets married, the couple becomes something more than the sum of its parts. There is a union that is not him plus her but goes beyond – it’s a third identity, it becomes one. If we can really understand this, then we realize that there is no room for many of the destructive interactions that couples go through. Every time that we criticize each other, yell, put down, or lie to our spouse, we are hurting ourselves; it’s like self-inflicted pain. Whenever we complain and think about our needs and what we want from this relationship without taking into account the needs of our spouse, we are creating a void. It’s like feeding only half of our body and letting the other half starve. When we solve our conflicts by separating, distancing or divorcing, we are cutting off our limbs. It’s that painful.
A couple is not a team working together but one body and soul, one system. That’s why the pain of my spouse is my pain; his or her happiness is my happiness.
4. Protect your marriage.
Adam and Eve were the only two people in the world; they had no other choices. Therefore, they had to put their best effort and energy toward making the relationship work. They had to be committed to each other. Nowadays, we are exposed to too many people (whether it’s in person or online) and a big challenge that couples face is the lack of boundaries. People are constantly comparing their spouses with other men and women in the outside world. The possibility of being with someone else becomes an option. There is too much mingling between men and women. We are constantly exposed to images of the perfect couple: more beautiful, more romantic, and more successful. Also, we are bombarded with messages about fulfilling one’s needs at the expense of everyone else’s.
In order to preserve our marriage, we need to create very firm boundaries, erect thick walls that keep the marriage separate from others and safe. This provides the marriage with an intimate space to develop that no one can trespass.
5. Give up the right to be right.
The cost of “being right” or “winning” is often a decrease in love and closeness. In order to prove that we are correct and our spouse is wrong, we argue, we lecture, we sometimes become arrogant and even hurt feelings. The benefit of “winning” and proving that we are right is not worth the cost. We might prevail at the expense of deteriorating our relationship. So refrain from the urge of correcting everything that your spouse says or does. Shalom bayit, domestic harmony, is more important than being right.
Try putting these tips to good use and notice just how much your marriage improves.