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Clarity and Calmness in Marriage

How should we express our feelings to our husbands with clarity and calmness? If we want to have the power to genuinely modify our feelings in order to make our lives happier, the first step is to face and accept those feelings

Clarity and Calmness in Marriage

We’re going to have to face it sooner or later — keeping up defenses doesn’t work in marriage. It prevents us from getting close. Defenses are inappropriate barriers to have in our marriages. Let’s be open, not guarded and fearful of expressing our feelings (in the right way, at the right time, that is), so that we can develop mutual trust. Closeness in Hebrew is "yedi’ah", which also means knowledge. And it never has to get boring. There is an infinite amount to learn about the man to whom we are married and an infinite amount of closeness possible between each couple.

If we would like to be more open with our husbands, we can guess with whom we’re also going to have to become more honest. Ourselves! We have to try hard to face our feelings, to be honest with ourselves about them, and to understand them. The more clearly we understand our feelings, the better we can control both them and the behavior that follows from them. If we want to have the power to genuinely modify our feelings in order to make our lives happier, the first step is to face and accept those feelings.

NAOMI WAS HAVING a horrible day. Her hay fever was acting up, she was feeling overwhelmed with work, and then, to top it all the principal of the school she taught at had made an extremely insulting remark. When her unsuspecting husband carne home that evening, he noticed that the important letter he had asked Naomi to mail for him that morning was still lying on the table. "Why didn’t you mail this letter? he innocently asked her. Uh oh...

Without prior warning, Naomi exploded, somewhat because of her hay fever, somewhat because of feeling overwhelmed, but mainly because of the principal ’s insult from which she was still smarting. It is her husband, though, who becomes the brunt of her vicious outburst. And since her husband also happened to have had a tough day...uh oh!

We’ll leave the rest to your imagination!

So let’s first check that we understand our own feelings.

Then we will be able to express them, appropriately instead of exploding unproductively and instigating an avoidable argument. It’s also a good idea to try to find out what kind of day our husbands have had before we unburden ourselves. Living close with a person and not knowing the state of his emotions is like living with a time bomb. So in short, know our own feelings, let our husbands know them (except, when it would be hurtful to them), and also try very hard to know our husbands’ feelings.

There are three different styles of communication:

1) Manipulating another — blaming, demanding, hurting, putting down, using sarcasm. This mode of communication puts the other person on the defensive, because he feels forced to change or give up. It causes fights that get us nowhere and solve nothing.

2) Stating a message about our feelings as clearly and calmly as we can. Afterward, we may find it helpful to ask if the person could repeat to us what he understood from our message, to see whether or not he heard correctly. Let him know if he got it right or not, and let that be the end of it. Alternatively, with feelings clear to both, we can move on together to the third mode of communication.

3) Reasoning on a Torah level. G-d commanded us, “You shall surely rebuke your neighbor and not bear sin because of him.” In other words the Torah tells us, don’t keep the complaint in your heart but rather reprimand your friend in a respectful manner, so he doesn’t feel hurt and his honor is not slighted as you analyze and diagnose the situation. This mode of communication can lead to finding a practical solution to dealing with the situation. It is very useful, but is impossible to utilize in a tense atmosphere when expressing negative feelings.

The second mode of communication works. It is effective and can be used in almost all circumstances. It is, in effect, an invitation to work on an issue. Only after using the second mode can we go over to the third mode, reasoning on a Torah level, which leads to resolving the conflict by gently delineating the problem and offering suggestions, alternatives, and compromises in a respectful manner.

Our efforts have to be directed toward realizing and carrying out our own responsibilities, not toward educating and reprimanding our partner about the correct behavior expected of him. It’s much easier to try to correct someone else. On our Sages’ statement, "Who is strong? He who subdues his [evil] inclinations” (Pirkei Avos 4:1), the Baal Shem Tov commented, “The Mishnah states, ’his [evil] inclination’ — and not his friend’s [or spouse’s].”

No marriage is free of conflicts. And yet no one prepared us for this fact. Why did we think that once we got married we would basically live happily ever after, without putting a gigantic amount of effort into making it joyful? People think that a conflict is something ugly. But, in truth, it is a normal part of life that we should expect, and actually try to see it as an opportunity for growth that we have been granted.

Adapted from "Two Halves Of A Whole" by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org