According to the Jewish faith, everyone is born as half of a pair. We spend our lives looking for our soulmate, without whom we will always feel and be incomplete.
Yet in our quest for satisfaction, we risk becoming selfish. Thinking that it’s about our needs, our happiness and our selves only.
Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore? by Rabbi Manis Friedman shows how that entire premise is wrong and in fact leads to the very unhappiness we think relationships will help us to escape.
His answer isn’t to avoid marriage. Instead, he talks about the right way to approach and treat one’s soulmate. If Freud was correct that mental health means the ability “to love and to work,” it’s probably worth studying love as closely as leadership and management.
Here are some tips from the book. (I feel a little bit like Mork from Ork sharing this, maturing in reverse…I wish I’d read this as a young bride.)
1. Focus on the other person, personally. Your mission in the marriage is to care for your spouse. Not for some abstract reason, like you need to prove that you’re a good wife or a good Jew. You care for them because you care about them, they are your best friend and your entire life is dedicated to their well-being.
2. Even married people are entitled to personal privacy. Respect your spouse’s right to have personal space. Shocking as it may sound, you have no right to know what your spouse is thinking at all times. It’s not your problem what they’re “feeling in the deepest depths of their souls.” You are not the morality police, either. Focus on yourself.
3. Fidelity is not just about sex. Loyalty to your spouse means never ganging up against them with a third party. Most people don’t think about this. But you make it a habit to look out for your spouse’s honor first – even as you subordinate your own ego. You never make fun of them or criticize them. You are a team, you are on the same team and the outside world stays outside.
4. Selfishness is good – to a point. You can only get married once you have an ego and understand your human needs. But once you’re married, the focus of each person is on subordinating their egos and caring for their spouse’s.
5. Dwelling on psychotherapy is a waste of time. You don’t need to understand your own psyche and you probably shouldn’t. You also don’t need to indulge every human emotion that you have. You only need to act right. If you’re mean and selfish, start finding ways to act giving. You don’t have to feel generous at all. And if you have a tendency to arrogance and anger, just dump them. You won’t be missing out on anything.
I can see where people might call Friedman’s advice simplistic or idealistic. But one can also look at it as empowering.
Often people think they have to wait for someone else to magically “give” them happiness. But Friedman calls on us to use the power we have already – to form a lasting bond in health and holiness.
In memory of my beloved grandmother Muriel Garfinkel, a”h, whose yahrtzeit was today and whose life was a testament to all that is written above. Photo: “A Hindu wedding ritual” by Kalyan Kanuri – Flickr: Charuti Latha,Deepak. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons. All opinions my own.