“With hearts full of sadness we have decided to separate.” Gwyneth Paltrow announced her ‘conscious uncoupling’ from husband Chris Martin on her website Goop. Paltrow has been candid about the difficulty of marriage in the past. “It’s hard being married,” she said. “You go through great times, you go through terrible times. We’re the same as any couple.”
Whether you are a famous celebrity or an ordinary couple, keeping your marriage alive can be a struggle. Creating a happy life together takes sweat. It requires introspection, courage and commitment.
Torah’s wisdom provides a path for us to build a home filled with love. How much effort we put into the journey is our choice. When a marriage is coasting along or feels stuck, I am often asked if one partner can really make a difference. The answer quite simply is ‘yes’. If a husband or wife decides to nourish the relationship, there is a renewed sense of hope. The energy in the home grows positive. True, it may take time, but our spouse will eventually mirror our emotions. If you offer love, you will strengthen your bond. If you generate pain, you will probably discover more pain. If you withdraw emotionally, the void will overcome you.
For the next 7 days be inspired to love. Drawing upon Torah wisdom for each day, here is a concrete 7-day plan of action to empower you to love. In one week you will discover that you have the inner strength to climb from the promise of love to genuine daily practice, moving from a place of frustrated dreams to a more joyous reality.
DAY ONE: SMILE
“Shammai says, receive each person with a cheerful face” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1: 15).
When you see your spouse for the first time in the morning, give a smile. When evening comes and you see each other again, greet your partner with a pleasant face. Even if you had a lousy day – there was a problem in the office, your son’s principal called, and there is a leak in your bathroom – don’t lose your smile. A smile warms the heart. It shows our husband that we are happy to see him. It relays to our wife that we are glad to be here.
The way we wake up to each other can set a tone for the day. A grumpy look creates a sour mood. Morning or night, be careful that the first moments you see each other you do not convey stress and pressure. For a house to be a haven, it must be a place of joy. Our faces project a feeling of warmth and pleasure or aloofness and distaste.
Today be the first to smile. Communicate tenderness. Create joy.
DAY TWO: GIVE PLEASURE
“Love others as you love yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).
Instead of asking what has he done for me lately, ask what can I do to show my love? Don’t wait for your spouse to initiate good feeling, today you be the one to bring pleasure to your relationship. The best way to do this is by thinking what it is that you would want and then just do it for your spouse. Make a surprise breakfast, bring home a favorite treat, offer to take on a carpool, run an errand, set up a date night – anything to show that you care.
How would you want your spouse to treat you? Give emotional support. Give undivided attention. Give of your time. Give the gift of love. This is the key to create a stronger bond.
Today put new energy into your relationship and do an act of kindness for your spouse.
DAY THREE: SPEAK KINDLY
“Death and Life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs, 18: 21).
Words create. Words devastate. With one word we can encourage dreams, create joy, inspire hope and soothe wounds. And with one word we can inject hatred, cause grief, destroy desire and demolish self-esteem. Today speak with kindness and dignity – even when you disagree. Challenge yourself to stay away from saying things like ‘are you nuts?’, ‘what’s your problem?’, and ‘can’t you do anything right?’ Determine that you will stop shaming and embarrassing your partner. Instead of using put downs or dwelling on past hurts, extend words of gratitude.
DAY FOUR: BE SILENT
“A protective fence for wisdom is silence” (Ethics of the Fathers, 3:17).
There are times that it is better to hold your tongue than to respond. Anger can bring a person to say things he doesn’t mean. Rage can cause deep regret. Silence takes you to a place of wisdom. You can review your words and think before you act. Many couples tell me that they don’t even remember how the awful argument started. If only someone would have remained silent, the situation would not have spiraled out of control.
Today think before you speak. If you are about to erupt in impatience or anger, hold yourself back. Curb negative comments. If you are provoked, find the strength to keep silent.
DAY FIVE: BE A FRIEND
“Acquire for yourself a friend” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:6).
See your spouse as your best friend. Best friends are loyal to one another. They share each other’s secrets but do not reveal them to others. True friendship means we don’t gossip or complain about our spouse. We revel in each other’s success and are not indifferent or uncaring when there is pain. We believe in each other. Friends enjoy each other’s company and are sure to make time for one another. Laughter is a large part of life together. A good friend is accepting of shortcomings because the focus is on what is right about the person instead of what is wrong.
Do something today that will express your friendship for your spouse. Be thoughtful. Challenge yourself to confide in your spouse. Make your spouse feel safe with you. Show that you trust and are trustworthy.
DAY SIX: RESPECT
“Who is honored? He who honors others” (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1).
Respect is the bedrock of marriage. Too often we believe that if we show respect, we will seem vulnerable. We restrain ourselves from displaying honor and instead wait to see how our spouse will honor us first. We lose out on a great opportunity to express our love through consideration.
When you are sitting at a meal with your spouse, turn off your iPhone. If your wife asks you to do something, don’t keep pushing her off. When your husband makes a comment, stop rolling your eyes.
Your challenge today is to find a way to show honor to your spouse. Communicate respect through your actions and words. Watch your tone and facial expressions. Be courageous and express feelings of admiration and affection.
DAY SEVEN: SEEK PEACE
“Be among the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace” (Ethics of the Fathers, 1:12).
What is your goal? You want to build a home filled with serenity. When there is war in marriage, even if you prevail, you lose. There are no winners in this battle. You must decide to seek peace.
The final challenge is to pursue peace. Can you give in to your spouse for the purpose of shalom bayit, peace in the home? Can you hear your partner’s side and put yourself in the place of another? Be the first to say “I’m sorry”? Don’t harden your heart and refuse to forgive. Let it go. Free yourself from the burden of having always to be right.
It is true, marriage can be hard. But it is also the greatest gift; the most awesome opportunity to discover true love. May we all find the strength and courage to grow and give today so that when tomorrow arrives our homes will be filled with blessing.