« COUPLE SKILL # 12 | Main | Effective Keys to a Happier Marriage »
Monday
Feb132012

Good Advice

Put twenty minutes a day of uninterrupted communication with your spouse as a top priority on your list. To think that after five, ten, fifteen or more years of marriage you have absolutely nothing to say to your spouse for even twenty minutes is frightening. How could it be? When you first got married you were enthralled with each other. But over time, you invested yourselves in your job, your extended family, your children, your synagogue, your community, your spiritual enhancement and elevation, but you didn’t invest enough in each other. How sad.

Outwardly you might appear happy, professional, and successful. However, if you haven’t done something positive each day to strengthen your marriage, be it a telephone call just to ask “How are you?”  or a small, inexpensive gift, or a gesture of caring and affection, you’ve wasted that day. You’ve relinquished an opportunity to strengthen your most precious relationship, and in the end, you’ve lost.

Any day not utilized to benefit the marriage, any day you haven’t learned something new about your spouse, any day you haven’t included your spouse in what is important in your life, is a wasted day.

Often, during the day a woman has spoken with her sister on the telephone, chatted with her mother, with friends, with co-workers, and if she is fortunate enough to have a teen-aged daughter, she has had a good talk with her too. So when she finally does sit down to “uninterrupted time together” with her husband and he asks: “So what’s new?” she is “talked out.” Having no further need to share, she replies, “‘Nothing special.”

Often, during the day her husband has spoken with his learning partner, the men in synagogue, the men at work or to  friends after work, their almost-grown teenage son, and when his wife asks: “So, what’s new?” he will also reply, “Nothing special.”

Neither spouse is trying to hide something; rather each has just fallen into the habit of sharing with others before sharing with each other.

Test yourself: When something wonderfully good or terribly bad happens, who do you telephonic first?

Think about it. Your answer will say a lot about your marriage, and about the level of communication between yourself and your spouse.

If your answer is that you would call your spouse first, congratulate yourself! If not, ask yourself, “Why not?” What is missing? It is specifically at times of intense emotion that we turn to the person to whom we feel closest. It is specifically when dealing with our most profound feelings that we build and strengthen our strongest relationships.

Remember, it isn’t enough that each of you fulfills your marital obligations, that he earns a living, she raises the children, etc. etc. Yes, it is a good beginning, but it is not enough. The wife must feel that her husband is essential to her happiness, he and no other; the husband should feel the same way about his wife. And not only should each feel this, each should let the other know s/he feels this way. It is an extra measure of affection to let the other person know how dear s/he is to you!

Don’t think for a minute that expressing these feelings are proper only in the first blush of marriage and that after many years of shared problems and misunderstandings your spouse should understand instinctively how you feel about him or her. Never take anything for granted. Surely, not your marriage relationship. Know that each day is a new opportunity to invest in your marriage, in more ways than you ever realized.

If at this moment your feelings towards your spouse are so strained that what you’ve just read seems totally out of place, you have two choices. Complain, give up, and suffer, or decide that you will begin to make changes in your behavior that are guaranteed to improve the atmosphere in your home, as well as the relationship between you.

Those who claim they don’t have with whom to work should know that a smile is a very powerful tool. Not many a spouse can resist it. They also can’t resist a listening ear, a tasty cake, a cup of steaming coffee in the cold, predawn hours, or a glass of cold lemonade when it’s in the high 90s outside. Begin. Try. You don’t have to do these things for four consecutive hours. Begin by stepping out onto the porch with a plate of ice cold watermelon or into the living room with a cup of hot chocolate; progress to speaking caringly for ten minutes, and always look for opportunities to create tiny islands of pleasantness between you. This will build something very valuable and lead to deeper, more mutual experiences of endearment.

When you are intent on increasing the affection between you, take an interest in your spouse. Make eye contact when you speak. Imagine how it feels to try and tell someone something while they are busy with something entirely different. Without words, such behavior sends a message: “Who you are and what you have to say, are not that important to me.” It transmits a lack of respect, as well as a lack of interest.

In addition to making eye contact, make a concerted effort to express interest in what your spouse is saying. This is not always easy. Sometimes, when he arrives home late, which upsets you to begin with, he begins telling you that he was late because he met the most fascinating person on his way home. Despite your anger at his lateness, despite your being less than enchanted by details about “this fascinating person,” force yourself to take an interest in what he has to say because it is important to him.

The same holds true when she wants to tell you exactly why she had to dump an entire recipe of challos into the garbage. Granted, you might not have the slightest interest in her tale of worms in the flour or the yeast that refused to rise, however, at times like this it is imperative that you use every ounce of your ability, and despite your disinterest in the subject, to pay attention to her because of your interest in her. In time, because of your deeper appreciation and real love for your spouse you hopefully will not need to force yourself.

It is remarkable that women with no interest in politics, in business, in cars, or in topics that interest a man, and who therefore refuse to listen to their husbands discuss these subjects, react with deeply hurt feelings when their spouses don’t express interest in discussing every detail of their new diet, their new dress, or the new neighbor who moved in upstairs.

Reversing roles for a moment helps us to understand that paving attention to what is important to one’s spouse is a two-way street that certainly leads to increased affection.

The next time your spouse attempts to relate something, make eye contact and show you care by asking questions: “You hadn’t seen him for how mam years?” “You baked how many cupcakes for that tzedaka party?” “Your boss is being honored by whom?” “You actually lost how many pounds on your new diet?” Make sure your questions aren’t an inquisition. Keep them light; and use them to express your caring about the details that mean so much to the other person. How good each of you will feel.

Communicating “I care” is the biggest gift you can give anyone, not only your spouse. Speak to those who work in old-age homes and they will confirm that the elderly who have visitors, who receive calls and mail, live the longest. This is because nothing increases a person’s emotional and physical health, nothing increases a person’s well-being more than being shown interest by another human being.

This is the power of caring. What a wonderful gift to give your spouse!

“It isn’t good for a person to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Alone doesn’t only mean physically, it also means emotionally. One can live in a family and not be part of that family. One can be married and be essentially alone. This, the Torah tells us, is not good for anyone. So do all in your power to include your spouse in your life. You will be giving him or her the biggest gift of all, the gift of life.

Remember: Every day is a gift from G-d, because each day you have the choice to determine what type of day it will be. It doesn’t depend on the weather, it doesn’t depend on how the day began, and it doesn’t depend on what happened two minutes ago. You have the choice, not over externals which you cannot control, but in how you react.

What power you have been granted! And what responsibility. But in the end, it is encouraging, because knowing that it is your choice gives you freedom from other people’s moods. You know that you can choose what type of person you want to be. You choose what messages you will transmit in your family, and to your spouse. You choose your tone of voice, which argument to hold and when, and what subjects are not worth arguing about.

This is what emotional intelligence is all about: using your innate gifts, working on your character, and using the free will with which G-d blessed you, to make the choices that will enhance and strengthen your marriage.

(See Couples Skill # 3 – Reciprocal Reinforcement; Couple Skill # 18 – Enhance Your Love Maps; Couple Skill # 19 – Nurture Your Fondness and Admiration; Couple Skill # 20 – Turn Toward Each Other Instead of Away; Couple Skill # 21 – Let Your Partner Influence You; Couple Skill # 24 – Create Shared Meaning.)

Key Questions

1. What can I do if despite realizing the importance of respect in marriage, I can’t seem to respect my spouse? Every human being has worth in the eyes of G-d, who created him or her. The fact that G-d finds your spouse worthy should be a solid basis tor building respect. If your spouse doesn’t live up to your expectations, first check and see if your expectations were realistic to begin with. (See Couple Skills # 17 – Expectations, Rules, And Acceptance.) Find one particular positive trait s/he has; begin focusing on it and develop your respect from there. When you realize that respect doesn’t have to be global or total, it is easier to choose a particular characteristic which you can honestly appreciate. And remember: “Odom nifal kfi p’ulosov – A person is mainly influence by his actions” (Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzvah 18) If we act in a certain manner, our thoughts and feelings are soon to follow. So attempt to act respectfully despite your current feelings, and enjoy the results. 

2. How can I become more sensitive to what my spouse is feeling? A good start in cultivating emotional sensitivity is by listening to what your spouse is saying. (See Couple Skill # 1 – Listening.) If s/he claims to be feeling overwhelmed, nervous, excited, or upset, you can safely trust her or him to be expressing true emotions. If your spouse doesn’t easily share feelings, then check his/her behavior to see if s/he might be sending nonverbal messages. Has she been crying? Has he suddenly refused to eat and disappeared into a closed room? Has she been coldly withdrawn? Does he look for reasons to call home during the day? All these behaviors signal feelings.

 When words don’t tell the entire story, watch for such nonverbal cues. If you can’t figure out what your spouse is feeling, ask. Say: “You seem very quiet lately. Is something wrong?” With genuine caring, and gentle persistence, you will usually succeed in getting through to your spouse, thereby strengthening your relationship.

(This is adapted from: Effective Keys to a Happier Marriage, Key # 6 Cultivating Emotional Intelligence.)

Couple Skill # 1 – LISTENING

Listening is the most important of all the communication skills that can create and preserve intimacy – but it’s usually the hardest skill to master when it counts the most. When you listen well, you understand your partner better, you stay closely in tune, you enjoy the relationship more, and you know without mind reading why your partner says and does things. Learn the five unbreakable rules for effective listening and which of the 10 blocks-to-listening you employ with your partner.

Couples Skill # 3 – RECIPROCAL REINFORCEMENT

Reciprocal reinforcement simply means that each person does more of the things that the other person likes. This may sound too simple for a workshop – but there are lots of techniques you will learn and master that will make a huge difference in improving your relationship. If your relationship has become boring, irritating, and unsatisfying, reciprocal reinforcement is the ideal starting place.

Couple Skills # 17 – EXPECTATIONS, RULES, AND ACCEPTANCE

Couples tend to enter into relationships with differing expectations. Your dream of the ideal relationship creates expectations that you bring to your relationship. These expectations become codified in unspoken rules. This workshop will show you what happens when the dream becomes a nightmare – when you and your partner have conflicting expectations and therefore conflicting rules about such things as the division of labor, how to raise children, how to spend money, and so on. In this workshop you’ll do exercises designed to help you identify the dysfunctional dream, examine the implications of your unspoken rules, and learn to make your expectations and needs known more directly and effectively.

Couple Skills # 18 – ENHANCE YOUR LOVE MAPS

Couples who have detailed love maps of each other’s world are far better prepared to cope with stressful events and conflict. A successful marriage depends on continually increasing your understanding of each other on a deeper level. You do this by enhancing your love maps. In this workshop you will find out how.

Couple Skills # 19 – NURTURE YOUR FONDNESS AND ADMIRATION

Fondness and admiration, two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance, can be fragile unless you remain aware of how crucial they are to the friendship that is at the core of any good marriage. Learn what prevents a couple from nurturing and admiring each other in this workshop and the things to look out for. Don’t allow your marriage to be trounced by the four horsemen.

Couple Skills # 20 – TURN TOWARD EACH OTHER INSTEAD OF AWAY

In marriage people periodically make "bids" for their partner’s attention, affection, humor, or support. People either turn toward one another after these bids or they turn away. Turning toward is the basis of emotional connection, romance, passion, and a good sex life. Learn how to turn towards each other instead of away with this workshop.

Couple Skills # 21 – LET YOUR PARTNER INFLUENCE YOU

The more open to influence you both are, the smoother your marriage will be. Those marriages where spouses resist sharing power are four times more likely to end or drone on unhappily than marriages where spouses do not resist. If you want to be in the latter category attend this workshop. 

Couple Skills # 24 – CREATE SHARED MEANING

The spiritual dimension of marriage has to do with creating an inner life together—a culture rich with symbols and rituals, and an appreciation for your roles and goals that link you together and that lead you to understand what it means to be a part of the family you create. This rich and rewarding workshop will significantly deepen your marriage.

Disclaimer: This blog/article is not a substitute for therapy and does not guarantee any outcomes for therapy. Any advice given does not imply any therapeutic relationship and is taken at your own risk.

PrintView Printer Friendly Version

EmailEmail Article to Friend

References (4)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Marriage Counseling - Blog - Good Advice
  • Response
    Marriage Counseling - Blog - Good Advice
  • Response
    Response: Source
    Lovely Web page, Preserve the great work. Thank you so much.
  • Response
    Marriage Counseling - Blog - Good Advice

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>