Many years ago, a woman had a very serious problem. She was twenty six years old, and as lonely as a stone in a field.
She did not have a single friend, couldn't get along with anyone, and couldn't keep a relationship. Why? Because, to put it bluntly, her behavior was obnoxious.
She was petty, she was selfish, she was jealous, and she was cruel. She tried desperately to control her negative traits and spent years in every kind of counseling and therapy, without success. When she thought she had reached the end of her rope, she heard that there was a wise, saintly man in Brooklyn who might be able to help her with her problem, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, leader of the worldwide Lubavitch movement. She came to him and presented him with an eight page analysis of her problem.
The venerable rabbi, know as the "Rebbe", gave her some very simple advice. He told her that when she returned to the college campus where she was attending school, she should make it a habit to serve other people during meals.
"Whatever it is that someone else might need," the Rebbe said, "the butter, the sugar, the salt, a glass of water, whatever it is, it should become your habit to bring it to them." The woman was relieved. Instead of analyzing her, the Rebbe had given her something she could actually do.
Looking back, she saw it this way: "A selfish, petty, egotistical person came to the Rebbe and said, in effect, 'Not nice? So be nice/ What's the question? You don't like being not nice? So, who is forcing you? You want to be nice? Good. There here's how you start: Bring someone a glass of water.'" In other words, if you are not a nice person, don't stop and analize it. Just start thinking, speaking and acting in a nice manner.
The same is true with love, respect, appreciation, or any of the emotions necessary in a relationship. Everyone has a capacity for love, respect and appreciation. You know when you need it, you know when you want it, and you know when you are not getting it.
It has been written that one kind thought, one holy word, one good deed can change the world. The are in which this is most important is in marriage. That is where what you think, what you say and how you act can really make a difference.
For example, one woman coming to a marriage counselor might say, "My husband's heart is in the right place, and I know he means well, but he acts just terribly. I know he really love me, but he speaks to me abusively, he criticizes me all the time and he mistreats me in front of other people."
Another woman might say, "My husband's heart is a very nice man. He's responsible, he speaks very nicely, he's thoughtful and considerate, but I'm not sure if he loves me in his heart of hearts, from the depths of his soul."
We would understand if the first woman wanted to divorce. But the second woman would be out of her mind to ask for a divorce. If her husband thinks lovingly, speaks lovingly, and acts lovingly, what more could she ask? She has a good marriage. She should leave his 'heart of hearts" ad the "depths of his soul" alone, and go home and be happy that she is married to a nice man.
The same is true when you talk about yourself. The answer to your problems doesn't always lie in analyzing your inner workings, or in probing the depths of your soul to find out why you feel the way you feel. The important thing is, how do you act?
Are you a nice person? If not, what are you going to do about it? Why analyze it? If you want to be nice, start today. Think nice thoughts, speak nice words, do something nice for someone. In the end, you will, in fact, be nice.
Sometimes, it's better not to start probing the workings of your soul. Those are complicated streets in there, and you might not know your way around. It is easy to get lost, and you haven't even got a map. So stick to what you do know. You know how to think, you know how to speak and you know how to act. That's something you have control over.
People who go through years of therapy spend too much time completely occupied with themselves. it would be better for them to stop relying on therapy and just do something good for a change.
So how can we bring love, respect and devotion to our relationships? It's easy. You already know how deeply to need to be loved and how profoundly you want to be recognized. Now take that information and apply it to your relationships. You know what love really means, so love someone else. You know how important gratitude is, so show a little gratitude. And you know how much you need respect, so be a little more respectful.
A respectful person is someone who has a talent for respect, a knack for it, a skill. A respectful person is not someone who can respect only geniuses, saints, or prophets. He or she has the capacity to respect everybody.
The same is true of a loving person. A loving person doesn't love only the person who saved his life on the beach. Anyone can do that. A loving person is someone who can love without being caused to love. Such love doesn't have to be earned; he or she offers it willingly.
A loving person can love the poor soul whom everyone else rejects and ignores. Why do other people ignore an unlovable creature? They're waiting for him to earn their love. But if he's a real loser, he can't. The loving person doesn't wait. He doesn't react; he initiates. He has a capacity to love.
Is love something you want for yourself, or something you give to others? Do you have only the capacity to receive, or can you give as well?
Think about your capacity for compassion. Suppose a poor woman knocks on your door and says, "Could I please have something to eat?" You look at her and think, "She doesn't look that emaciated." So you tell her, "Sorry, come back with you're skinnier. When you move me to compassion." That's not compassion. Compassion isn't something that has to be forced on you. Where is your ability to feel compassion? If it has be forced on you, it isn't real.
What about your marriage? When your husband or wife needs a little respect, do you give it? Sure, you'll give it, when you spouse is perfect, then you'll respect him or her? No, you won't because with those conditions, you are not capable of respect.
The question is, will you respect your spouse, or won't you? It's not what your spouse does or doesn't do, it's you. Where is your respect? Where is your love? It doesn't depend on your husband or wife it depends on you. Do you have the capacity for respect? Then who are you saving it for? For people who are already so wonderful and impressive that they command respect from everyone? People who have no need of your respect?
It is similar to what people say about believing in G-d. "If G-d will just show me some miracles, then I'll believe in Him." What's G-s supposed to say, "Gee, thanks a lot!"? That is like the woman who tells her husband, "Show me that you can makes lots of money, then I'll stay married to you,". Thanks, but no thanks.
Where is your talent? Where is your ability? Where is your virtue? You have a husband,? Respect him. You have a wife? Love her. Everything seems so easy when we first get married. We feel so much excitement in the beginning, because we look at the person we are going to marry and we can see that there is so much to love and so much to respect and so much to appreciate and so much to admire.
Then, two weeks later, the honeymoon is over. The wife looks at the husband and says, "Why? Why did I marry this guy? What did I ever see in him? How can I respect him? He doesn't do anything to make me respect him!"
And the husband thinks, "What was it I saw in that woman that made me appreciate her? There's nothing worth appreciating!"
So the two of them run to a marriage counselor. The wife says, "I have a problem. I don't respect my husband." And the husband says, "The problem is my wife. She doesn't do anything worth appreciating." Well, they both have a problem, but not the one they thought they had. The real problem is that their attitude is all wrong. They assumed that if people make you respect them, then that's the real thing; but if you have to put in a little effort, and make believe you respect them, then that's fake. The exact opposite is true.
Look at what happened between G-d and the Jews. The Jews felt an initial attraction for G-d because He was very impressive. When G-d Himself came in all His glory to take us out of Egypt, we couldn't help but respect Him. We couldn't help but be in awe of Him. We couldn't help but love Him.
When He said, "Come, let's go into the desert, " we said, "Sure, whatever You say." He said, "I'll give you the Torah and all the commandments," and we said, "Fine, whatever You say," because we were really impressed with Him. We were really in love with Him. He took us to Mount Sinai and we were married. Then He took us to a place called Israel for the honeymoon. It was a long honeymoon; it lasted about four hundred years. It was wonderful, because Israel is such a holy land. Wherever we turned, we could see miracles performed daily. G-d was very impressive and the relationship was constantly being renewed and refreshed. Our admiration for Him couldn't help but grow.
Then G-d said, "Honeymoon's over. No more temples, no more miracles. No more living in a holy land. From now on, it's just Me and you. If you love Me, you'll have to love Me for what I am, not for my signs, or wonders, or plagues. No more miracles, no more splitting seas. Just Me." So the Temple was taken away and we were sent out of Israel into Exile.
What happened? Our relationship flourished. Today, in spite of everything, we are as devoted to G-d as ever. We have shown Him love and respect that we didn't know we were capable of. Feelings that we didn't know existed, were revealed. The same can be true in your marriage.
At the beginning of your relationship, you got carried away because there was so much to love, appreciate and respect. That wasn't real. That was a gift. A door prize. Just to get you to come to the marriage.
She was wonderful; he swept you off your feet. So you respected each other, you loved each other and you adored each other. But it wasn't real. For that you didn't have to be good, or virtuous, or responsible, or moral. You didn't have to do anything. It got done to you. You were completely passive.
The real thing is now. Now that all the excitement has settled down, there are two people who are responsible to one another, who can love each other and respect each other. That's real.
You don't respect your spouse, and you can't live with a person you don't respect? Well, what are you waiting for? Start thinking respectfully, speaking respectfully and acting respectfully. The same is true of love. You know what love it, because you feel its absence when you are not getting any. Don't sit there contemplating, do something!
One kind thought, one holy word, and one good deed can change the world. So think lovingly, speak lovingly and act lovingly. By doing so, you will reveal all the love and respect inside you that you never dreamed existed.
Reprinted from "Doesn't Anyone Blush Anymore?" By Rabbi Manis Friedman