Mutual Respect – Part 2
2. Even if s/he doesn’t allow his/her mind to race, s/he still needs to place things into the proper perspectives. Although the spouse may not be exactly what s/he thought s/he would be, let’s be honest, neither is s/he what s/he seemed to be. Before people get upset at others for their faults and actions, they must also consider the quality of their own actions.
I find it frustrating when a husband complains that his wife keeps him up at night, and forgets to mention, and then downplays, how he makes noise in the morning, and wakes her. Similarly, a wife must accept the fact that she can’t watch movies and then complain that her husband doesn’t learn enough, or Daven consistently with a Minyan. Sometimes the complaining spouses’ weakness is in an area related to their complaint; at other times it’s not. Both spouses’ actions represent a lack of perfection. Before complaining, each spouse must consider whether s/he lacks perfection in the same, or similar, area and to the same degree.
This doesn’t preclude one from asking the other to accommodate him/her, but s/he shouldn’t complain in a manner which ignores her/his own shortcomings. Doing this may make the complaining spouse feel good about him/herself but is a distortion of reality. It causes one to unfairly lessen his/her respect for the other.
Complaints must also be placed into the proper perspectives. Some wives expect their husbands to never get angry and never miss a learning Seder. Some husbands believe that the house should appear as if no one lives in it when, in reality, there’s a couple and 3 children under the age of 5 living there. People often have standards that emerge from unrealistic sources. A husband, having no sisters, baselessly decides the definition of normal female behavior. A wife whose parents had above average skills believes that their standards are the norm. Before losing respect for a spouse because of a “failure”, it’s important to know if the failure can be defined as real.
Men are very different from women. Their strengths, weaknesses, likes and dislikes are so different from women, that it’s unfair for a husband to really have any opinion of his wife before consulting with someone who’s knowledgeable about women. Since the husband, never had to juggle 3 children while running a house, he’s not qualified to decide what’s considered acceptable or unacceptable On the other hand, the wife is not qualified to decide on whether learning Gemora for an hour is worthwhile, since she never attempted it.
3. Only once s/he has placed his/her actions into the right context, appreciating that s/he is also not perfect, can s/he begin to change him/her. Attempting to create change can now be done without the resentment that usually accompanies the attempt. (Creating change in others was discussed in a previous article and is available on request.)
4. The need to accept one’s spouse as s/he is has a practical and Torah aspect to it. From a practical perspective, many people believe that if one cares enough about something to become angry about it, then one can make the situation change for the better. This generally isn’t true. Although total change may sometimes take place through caring intervention and patience, there are situations that can’t be changed and can only be accepted. Most often only minor adjustments take place, but without a true understanding of how difficult it is to change an adult, the situation can become worse, and often destructive.
Although the Torah’s perspective echoes the approach of accepting your spouses before attempting to change them, it goes one step further. Many potential husbands and wives look forward to marrying someone who will help them achieve greatness. In their fantasy world, they believe that they’re designated for greatness and that their spouse will be a willing and able partner. Once reality kicks in, the disappointed spouses feel that their personal goals are stifled by the others’ unwillingness or inabilities. They conclude that they either have to convince their spouses to change or to move away from their marriages. (Although people don’t actually think of divorce, their thoughts often tell them that divorces are what they should be doing.)
The Torah’s perspective is different. Hashem wants everyone to succeed using the individual resources He gave them. Resources include money, physical and emotional strength, spouses and circle of friends. Many men would like to have a house of Chesed and feel disappointed when their wives won’t, or can’t, accommodate constant guests. However, they may really be destined to have a quiet home in which wonderful children are cultivated, and the husbands focus on personal growth and not communal work.
A wife may feel that her energies would be best utilized if she was the wife of a Rosh Hayeshiva, and therefore she becomes frustrated when she sees her husband missing one learning Seder after another. What she may not realize is that her goal is to “turn” her husband into the best person that he can become.
Becoming the best that one can become is a significant goal that is greatly overlooked. Everyone wants recognition. If people help others grow, they may want them to grow to the point where their greatness is recognized by all. However, Hashem may want them to take mediocre individuals and turn them into better mediocre beings. Although this may be disappointing, to Hashem it’s a lofty goal.
What often frustrates people is that they would like their goals to be ones that make them feel good and are easy to accomplish. One feels better spending an hour taking one’s child out for lunch because s/he received a high grade, than to spend time driving the child to school because, after a long struggle to get the child ready for school, s/he missed the bus. Parents are proud and feel accomplished when their children excel, but are ashamed when they fail. Hashem’s goals may often require us to forgo communal respect and feelings of satisfaction. It’s difficult to wake up every morning and undertake a goal that won’t allow one to feel good about oneself. Instead, people should adjust their attitudes towards what makes them feel accomplished. This can be done by focusing on what Hashem expects of them; that they become the best that they can.
Our perceptions of what our goals in this world are, may be nothing more than perceptions. Realizing that our chosen goals may not be realistic shouldn’t crush us, but it should motivate us to find out what our goals really are.
Appreciating and understanding that our goals and our spouse’s goals may not be as lofty as we had hoped, can help us to reachieve mutual respect. Our attitude should be that “we’re in this together, chosen by marriage, and chosen by Hashem. Although I may have complaints, I’m sure you also do. Let’s make the best of things and hope that after 120 years, Hashem will be proud of what we’ve achieved.”
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