The Five Spices of Married Life

The Five Spices of Married Life

Here’s a short quiz…What’s is the best way to raise healthy children:
A. Build their self-esteem?
B. Give them lots of hugs and kisses?
C. Provide firm, fair discipline?
D. Have a loving and respectful relationship with your spouse?

Believe it or not, the answer is ‘D’! Having a loving and respectful relationship with your spouse”!

Of the numerous couples and families with whom I have worked, I’vd been witness to the unfortunate emotional and mental suffering of children directly attributed to their parent’s personal or relationship problems. I have almost never seen a healthy and happy child come from an embattled family. In the end, such children are faced with a life long challenge to regain their innocence and inner tranquility. Making your marriage a top priority is the best gift you can give your children.

Researches on healthy and happy families as well as my own experience have taught me that there are five basic ingredients to a happy marriage:

1) RESPECT

In Pirkei Avos (Jewish Book of Ethics) it states, “Who is strong? He who controls his inner impulses”. Respect means that when important decisions are made, each partner carefully consults the other. Neither the husband nor wife dominates the other with the overt or covert messages to his or her partner that they should just STUFF their feelings. Frequently, when a person feels dominated the FIGHT BACK by being passive-aggressive, i.e., resistance is expressed by not doing something. For example, if a husband forces his family to move to a new city, ignoring his wife’s pleas, feelings and concerns, she may respond by becoming depressed and withdrawing emotionally from the relationship. Respect means being sensitive to each other and frequently compromising and sacrificing for the sake of a partner’s needs. Certainly respect precludes physical, verbal and/or emotional abuse.

2) COMMITMENT

The Torah tells us “…a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife.” Put simply, is your spouse the #1 person or priority in your life? If yes, then this is a family that has the basic foundation in which many other wonderful things can fall into place. Often the struggle to become “committed” revolves around trying to adequately separate from parents. This can get very messy especially if it includes attacking a partner’s parents, either directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, couples can fight about this and contaminate their relationship for many years or even end in divorce. Another frequent challenge is making a partner priority over work. It’s not uncommon to see someone married to work and treating a spouse like a mistress. Commitment is not a decision. It is a realization that may require continual hard work to accomplish. It requires great effort especially when we are constantly bombarded by the mass media with the false idea that happiness equals money, racy cars, beautiful bodies and luxurious vacation holidays, etc.

3) SHARING

The Torah states,“ You should love your neighbor as yourself”.
Loving your fellow Jew is the foundation upon which all of Judaism rests. A warm and supportive feeling between people is an essential commandment, especially with regard to one’s spouse. Loving feelings between a husband and wife are created by talking, sharing time and activities together. Being friends and doing the things friends do together produces a loving atmosphere for a family to grow and prosper.

4) INTIMACY

The Torah commands us to affirm our fundamental relationship with G-d by repeating twice daily, “Hear O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.”  Listening and understanding is the way we become one with G-d. It is also the way we become one with another person. Listening is a special skill that requires practice and concentrated effort for most. A client recently told me that the letters that spell listen are the same letters that spell silent. Listening means suspending judgment, commentary and advice. In place is validation, respect and understanding. When partners can do this with each other, they can then take chances and share their innermost desires, fears and fantasies. Probably the greatest single characteristic of love is trust. Feeling safe and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and share your inner life with a trusting partner is a magnificent act of love.

Intimacy happens at many different dimensions of a couple’s relationship, from physical to the spiritual and all the shades in between. Problems can occur when one partner wants more intimacy than the other. One person may be willing to risk while the other is not interested or afraid. This can cause acute stress in a relationship. One antidote to this dilemma is realizing you are both individuals with your own special needs. Be tolerant and respect your partner’s differences.

5) AUTONOMY

Moses, blessed each of the twelve tribes…to the tribe of Zebulun, Moses said, …”rejoice in your ‘going out’”. To Issachar he said…” in thy tents”. Commentaries explain that the people of Zebulun were merchants and the people of Issachar were Torah scholars. Zebulun provided the monetary support for Issachar, allowing his tribe to study Torah without financial worry, while Issachar learned Torah in Zebulun’s honor and shared with them the rewards of their Torah learning. Each tribe had very different responsibilities, life styles and needs. These differences were the boundaries that separated them. Their complementary positions united them in a healthy and supportive relationship. Healthy couples are a ‘we’ made up of two separate ‘I’s”. Each person is a separate and unique individual, having the strength to stand on his or her own two feet and choosing to share certain important parts of their lives together as a married couple. Each individual adds his or her unique colors to create a beautiful rainbow, each contribution adding more depth and richness. A balance of ‘autonomy’ with ‘sharing’ and ‘intimacy’ characterizes a healthy marital relationship.

Each one of the above five characteristics are supported --or sabotaged-- by the other four. Too much or too little of any one characteristic can interfere with the others. For example, a relationship with not enough ‘intimacy’ can have the consequence of creating too much ‘autonomy’. Lack of ‘commitment’ can preclude ‘sharing’. Establishing a healthy relationship almost always requires hard work. Whether the work is just talking and listening, reading books on marriage or visiting to a properly trained marriage counselor for help, the rewards are well worth the effort. Without shalom bayis (marital harmony), all other successes – financial, professional, public acclaim, etc. -- will have little meaning. We have but one life. Let’s live it right. Marriage is the SPICE OF LIFE.
 


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