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Healing a Marriage - It’s Never too Late!

You may be surprised to learn that some simple advice could save your relationship. Rabbi Zamir Cohen provides practical guidance for repairing a marriage

Healing a Marriage - It’s Never too Late!
Yes, You Can We all know couples still arguing and blaming each other even after many years of marriage, and who have given up all hope of a happy marriage. They feel they have sunk so low that even if someone tries to offer them advice or guidance, they won’t accept it, claiming that it’s good for people who aren’t yet married. “We’re too far gone to be fixed,” they say.

But the truth is that by investing time and effort, and concentrating on joy, emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust), any couple can fix their marriage and restore peace between them. Husband and wife must both keep in mind that their decision to marry was based on their mutual belief that they were compatible and had a lot in common, and it is only due to a lack of guidance that they find themselves in their frustrating predicament. All that is required is the genuine desire and willingness to accept guidance and put in serious effort.

There is a general rule about human beings: a person who operates from a place of genuine desire and self-confidence will increase his chances of success ten times over, and will merit help from God. Bitachon brings simchah (joy), simchah brings bitachon, and the two are fundamental elements of serving God. When they are both in place, it puts a blessing into a person’s actions and he succeeds at whatever he does.

There is a story of a wealthy American banker who was on the brink of bankruptcy, with creditors coming at him from all sides. Deeply depressed, he left his office, went to a nearby park and, sunk in thought, sat down on one of the benches. Suddenly an old man in a wrinkled suit approached him with a friendly smile. “I see you’re worried about something,” he said. “Tell me your problem.”

The banker looked at him with a weary expression. “I’m drowning in debt and I don’t know how to get out of it. It’s hopeless.”

To his surprise, the old man replied warmly, “My name is John Rockefeller. I’ll give you a loan for one year. Let’s meet here again exactly a year from today, at this time, and you can return the loan to me then.”

The banker could not believe his ears. John Rockefeller was, at that time, one of the richest men in the entire world. The old man, Rockefeller himself, took out his checkbook and dashed off a check for one million dollars. He signed his name, thrust the check into the banker’s hand, and hurried away.

On his way home, the banker decided to keep the check in his safe until he really needed to use it. Meanwhile, he compiled a list of his creditors, arranged repayment plans with them, and slowly tackled the mountain of debt until not only was he free from it, but he had returned to his earlier financial status without ever cashing the check.

A year later, to the day, the banker returned to the part to thank his benefactor and return the check, curious if Mr. Rockefeller would actually show up. After a few minutes wait, the old man arrived. The banker approached him and immediately started thanking him, when he was brought up short by a nurse from the nearby hospital hurrying after John Rockefeller! She turned to the banker and said, apologetically, “I hope he wasn’t bothering you. He’s a patient on our psychiatric ward, and he likes to pretend he’s John Rockefeller. He even signs checks in his name!”

Even this imaginary trust brought the banker, certain that he had a million dollars at his disposal, joy and faith when he got out of debt. The two together, simchah (joy) and bitachon (trust), paved the way for the banker to find his way out.

It is up to the couple to believe that it is possible to heal their marriage and look forward to spending many happy years together.

Study the following guidance carefully. This simple method that we developed with God’s help years ago has proven its effectiveness many times over. There’s no reason why it won’t work in your home as well.

Practical Guidance for Repairing a Marriage

The first step towards restoring marital harmony is “finding the root.” Every tree has many leaves, but they are all nourished from the root of one tree. So too, whenever there is tension or disagreement, it is also coming from a singular source. We need to find that root and bring it out into the open.

First we ask each side to take a few moments and then submit up to three essential expectations or requirements that, in his opinion, have a lot of “leaves,” and that if they were addressed by their spouse, he would be satisfied and able to manage with everything else. There are always issues with a spouse that, while he may not like them, he can still live with.

At the next stage, the couple sits together and conducts a serious discussion between themselves, or with a rabbinic counselor, where they commit to coming towards each other in regard to these three things. They agree to wholeheartedly commit themselves to changing (even if he still thinks he’s in the right), or at least reaching a mutual compromise.

Each side makes a list of all the behavior patterns that bother them about the other. Here is an example of a possible list of complaints:

She: He gets impatient when I’m talking to him. He gets busy with his own things and doesn’t help me with the children. He makes fun of me when we are around others.

He: She raises her voice to me. She neglects the housework and talks to her friends all the time. She tells her mother everything that happens between us.

This sample couple chose these items, but there are other issues that can continually cause arguments or friction, e.g., how often they spend Shabbat and holidays with their parents, etc.

After compiling the lists, think carefully about which “roots” are really the most important to you, and which things you can compromise on, as well as what you think your spouse cannot change under any circumstances.

Based on the conclusions drawn from the list, both sides now need to sit down and talk it through until they reach a consensus. It’s better if the discussion is moderated by a neutral third party, such as a rabbinic marriage counselor, but it’s not essential. The couple can certainly work it out alone as long as they are able to conduct a mature and civil conversation.

For the issues that cause constant arguing, you can make agreements one year at a time. For example, decide when you will visit your parents in the coming year and mark it on the calendar. Bring the issue up again after a year and decide on a course of action for the next year.

The next step in this process is to put the previous levels into practice. Each side makes the effort to work on only these three things on their lists that irritate their spouse, without judging whether it is wrong or right. As the saying goes, “Don’t be right — be smart.”

After identifying root causes of the aggravating behavior of the spouse, even if the husband is sure he is in the right and that his wife 
is expecting too much from him, and that anyway she is exaggerating, and making him look much worse than he really is, he should still say to himself, “Maybe I see things differently, but out of all the things my wife could have chosen, it was these particular things that she says bother her the most. I can try to improve in these areas for the sake of my marriage.” The same should go for the wife.

When each side is ready to come towards the other, to be flexible and to improve in the areas important to the other, a happy marriage is guaranteed.

While you are working on the above, there are other ways to bring the relationship to a higher level. Here are a few suggestions:

Refresh. Consider the following ways to bring novelty and originality into the marriage at the husband’s initiative, before she asks. He can suggest to her to take a walk together or some other kind of outing, or he can offer to take her out for coffee. Men have no idea how happy these invitations make a woman feel. She’ll no doubt say to herself, He’s interested in and happy with me. I must really be important to him.

Investment/Involvement. Surprise her. Make a surprise party for her birthday or in honor of her promotion at work.

Help. Help her out without being asked.

Words. Give thoughtful, out of the ordinary compliments, such as: “I always knew you were kindhearted, but you are even more wonderful than I thought when we first met, and that’s saying a lot!” Or, “Your cooking — if you opened a restaurant, we’d be rich!”

A Good Eye. The evil inclination works in such a way that it causes us to focus on what’s missing and ignoring all the good. In a quiet moment, ask yourself, “Why did I pick this person to marry out of all the others I met? Because she had 70-80% of what I was looking for in a wife, while others only had 3040%. Even if I discovered after the wedding that she’s really only 60% of what I wanted, under no circumstances will I take all that’s good about her for granted, and allow it to dissolve into the little part that’s missing. I need to keep in mind that if I leave her and marry someone else, even though she may have some good qualities that my wife is lacking, chances are she won’t not have all the tremendously good things my wife has, that I’ve gotten so used to that I don’t even see them anymore.”

• Criticism. With the decision to improve the atmosphere in the house, refrain from any criticism for two weeks. After the two weeks, you can start giving criticism again, but according to the guidelines set out in the chapter, “Criticism in Marriage.” The Rambam teaches that to repair a character trait, we need to go to the other extreme, and only afterwards seek out and maintain a balance.

Adapted from 'Happily Married - The Complete Guide to a Successful Jewish Marriage' For Men, by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Click Here to Buy Now