Subtle Weaknesses – Part 1
People are frequently disappointed by the faults they find in those for whom they care. Parents become disappointed when their children don’t succeed. Spouses become disappointed with each other. In most cases they become accustomed to these faults even when they’re unexpected.
However, in some cases, they consider the fault so serious, that it causes the spouses to consider divorce. In these cases, the fault is generally minor, a weakness that, if found in a stranger, would be readily dismissed. It just means the spouses aren’t perfect. Some examples of these faults include: the way people laugh, their inability to be on time, and the reality that the spouse is only average and doesn’t excel in any particular area.
This last example is probably the most common and has ruined many otherwise healthy relationships. Parents and spouses can’t come to terms with “only average” when it’s found in those that they love. For some, average means they have few strengths and weaknesses; for others, average means a mixture of many strengths and weaknesses. Why should people become upset with loving ”only average” individuals? Aren’t most people average, hence the term average?
Before individuals become disappointed in those they love, they should consider the following four points:
1) Who’s really to blame for the issue that’s bothering the other spouse/parent/child? Maybe, they placed too high a standard on the other one? The answer frequently must be brought to a third, objective party, to decide.
For instance, many parents set, what they believe to be, realistic standards for their children. However, the reality is that those standards are slanted, meant to compensate for their own shortcomings. Is it fair to demand that boys become Talmedai Chachomim when the father (whose own father may have wanted the same thing) failed? Compensating for one’s youthful mistakes through one’s children may be nice but, demanding it, is unrealistic and unfair.
Can husbands expect their wives to work in order to compensate for their inability to properly support their families? Although their wives’ work may be helpful, it may still be self serving and unrealistic. Being disappointed in a wife because of her unwillingness, or inability, to work, is not only damaging, it’s also unfair to the wife.
2) This next point took me years to appreciate. Two conditions must be met for one to legitimately criticize others. a) One person definitely did something wrong to the other. b) The one who is being critical is above “such” behavior and never makes mistakes, falls short, or fails.
The second requires an explanation. Many people ask me about why their spouses did something to bother them. They can’t believe that their spouses would do such a thing. I try to explain to them that, although it may be true that the complaining spouse would never do that same thing, they would do other unrelated things that are equally wrong.
Even after repeated requests to be more careful, a wife may continue to haphazardly put away her husband’s Seforim. The husband tells me that he always puts his wife’s things away in an orderly fashion. It’s his strong respect for her belongings that doesn’t allow him to understand how she can’t reciprocate by treating his belongings with more respect. Although in this case, she may truly be at fault, nevertheless, there are other areas in which she shows a stronger respect for him than he shows for her. For example, she’ll never speak to him in a demeaning tone, privately or publicly, while he talks “down” to her whenever they’re in public.
The husband may respond to my challenging him when he says that he wouldn’t act as his wife, in one of three ways: He may tell me why he has a right to treat her in the manner that he does. (“She doesn’t deserve to be treated with respect”.) He may tell me that I’m changing the topic. (“I’m talking about putting Seforim away and you talk about unrelated incidents”.) He may create a diversion (“I can’t talk about this anymore because you just don’t understand“.)
Many husbands can’t imagine why I don’t appreciate any of these responses, because people embrace whatever logic is needed to allow them to continue their behaviors. In this case the husband wants to be legitimatized in his criticism of his wife. What the husband refuses to acknowledge is that he also has weaknesses. Even if the weaknesses are unrelated to the one being discussed, the fact that they exist should be enough to temper any disappointment in the other person. An absence of tolerance in others is a statement that they also expect zero tolerance from the others.
This second point becomes more damaging when the disappointed spouses or parents don’t have healthy levels of self esteem. In addition to being unforgiving, they exaggerate the faults of the others. This allows them to lessen the bad feelings they associate with their own weaknesses.
The husbands believe that returning Seforim to the wrong place is a more severe offense than publicly mistreating their spouses. (They don’t even think that it may be their job to return their own Seforim.) Their inability to control their own behavior, or to admit to such an inability, causes them to be critical of others.
To be continued....
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