One of the first things we purchased after buying our house was a small portable island for the kitchen. After some shopping around, I found just the right one. We took it home, assembled it, lacquered the wood, and spent at least a week enjoying it. Just a glance at it was enough to make me smile.
A few months later, as I was passing through the furniture section at Target, I saw it. My island, but better. With features I hadn’t even thought to look for. And I felt it – regret, remorse. Maybe I should have just waited a few more months and I would have had the perfect island.
I became annoyed by my island’s deficiencies, lackings that hadn’t been there the day before. What happened to my love of the island? How fickle. How normal.
After all, everything in our society can be upgraded. And even if I had that newer island, it’s likely that I would eventually see another island which would somehow be more perfect. New technology comes out so frequently that a cutting-edge smartphone will be an “old” model six months after its release. A new car depreciates the moment it’s driven off the lot, and the next year’s model has enough new features to entice car owners to trade up.
We’re told newer is better, and if you’re not happy with what you have, just go get a new one. Problem solved; happiness guaranteed.
How does living in this age of disposables affect the way we view marriage?
If a spouse is just like an appliance, someone who happened to fill the criteria we laid out while dating, then it becomes all too easy to compare our spouse to other “models” we see. I remember hearing about a friend’s husband who sent his wife on a shopping spree after she worked hard to make Yom Tov. My first reaction was, Hmph! Why didn’t my husband do that for me? He must not appreciate me!
And I don’t even enjoy shopping! I realized how easy it was for me to compare my marriage to another, and how harmful that could be.
We all fall into the comparison trap.
Maybe it's how much someone else's spouse helps around the house, or gives gifts, or makes romantic gestures. We all fall into the comparison trap.
The Talmud teaches that 40 days before a child is born, a voice from heaven announces who they are to be matched with. Just because our match is heaven-sent (literally) doesn’t mean that it’s going to be easy street. Every marriage takes hard work and will go through ups and downs, but through the work we do together, we are creating a holy bond and coming closer to achieving our spiritual potential.
Judaism teaches us to internalize that our spouse, with all their positive and not-so-positive traits, is exactly who we’re supposed to be with (this also applies for second marriages). Whatever attributes we find challenging are an opportunity to work on our own tolerance, patience and compassion. I know that I am certainly a work in progress, and I’m grateful that every time I mess up, my husband isn’t looking for an upgrade!
Instead of being on the lookout for something “better,” work on cultivating gratitude for the spouse you do have. One great tool is to keep a list of all the things you appreciate about your husband, and review it frequently. Another is to give regular compliments or praise, even for little things like taking out the trash or picking something up from the store.
When I started looking at my husband through a lens of appreciation instead of criticism, it changed the entire dynamic of our marriage. We are more patient with each other and more quick to laugh at the many stressful situations that come with raising a family and living life.
These days, when I hear about something amazing someone else’s husband did, I don’t get jealous. I know that my husband is just the right guy for me, and the only regret I feel when it comes to my marriage is that I didn’t stop the comparison game sooner.