To the objective outsider, a sensible solution to a couple’s dispute may seem so easily achievable. When under the strong influence of different backgrounds and tastes, however, personalities can clash profoundly over the most trivial things.
Rivky served ”family style,” putting big bowls of food on the table, so that everyone in the family could take his or her own portion. This is what her mother had always done. Danny harbored some hurt feelings at each meal that his wife didn’t really care that much about him. His mother had always put the food directly on her son's plate. It took about eight years before Danny got enough clarity about what was causing his hurt feelings to express them to Rivky. After that, Rivky made an extra effort to remember to put Danny’s food right onto his plate. This minor change didn’t feel minor at all to Danny. He felt wonderful — and so did Rivky.
Even differences that seem trivial may in truth be laden with very heavy significance from our distinct upbringings. During the course of their marriage, a husband and wife are in for all kinds of “surprises,” discovering traits, habits and attitudes not expected in their new partnership.
They must not jump to hasty conclusions that a serious mistake has been made. Because it is G-d who is our Father, who created us, who made our match. In addition such thoughts weaken our ability to rise to the occasion, to resolve the conflict, to reach a compromise and to foster communication.
When our Sages taught us that “the same way that their faces differ, so do their personalities differ,” they were certainly including spouses in that dictum. In addition to the individual distinctions resulting from being different people with different personalities from different backgrounds, we are also different from our husbands because of the very fundamental, innate difference that G-d put between us – that we are female and our other halves are male.
In Hebrew, the word for face is “panim” and the word for inside is ”penim.” What is G-d communicating to us through the similarity of these two words? Just as our physical appearances differ, so do our inner make—ups differ. Some of the differences between us and our husbands result solely from the fact that they have male inner make-ups and we have female ones.
This awareness can help prevent us from jumping to the incorrect conclusion that our many differences are signs that our marriages are a mistake. Instead, we can begin to recognize the seeming incompatibilities as signs of the challenge ahead of us: the challenge of working hard to discover how the two seemingly very different puzzle pieces can best fit together.
So, now that we know that we need to expect to find many differences and seeming incompatibilities, we can even try to be on the lookout for them. How boring it would be to be married to our clone in male form — and how stagnating. Imagine the lack of growth and development in our personalities.
Each and every predestined relationship carries within it the seeds of its own fruition. The potential is there, but the flowering of a marriage can come about only through a great deal of careful tending. A couple who live in harmony sanctify G-d’s name, as it is written in Tehillim, “Your Wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the inner chambers of your home, your children like olive shoots surrounding your table. Behold, for so shall be blessed the man who fears G-d.”
A great artist worked long and hard to paint a magnificent landscape, full of brilliant colors. His painting was covered up almost entirely, when somebody walked past, seeing just a very small piece of it – that happened to be black. “This one doesn’t look too great to me,” remarked the man. “You could do better!” The artist tried covering up his whole painting again, but a little white section was still exposed when somebody else hurried past. ”Looks kind of boring to me,” was the comment that this one tossed out.
The painting, of course, wasn’t just black or just white. Both passersby were not seeing the whole picture. It is easy to be quick to judge the whole on the basis of a small part. What is much more difficult, but also that much more rewarding, is making the time and effort to see all the different colors in their unique and magnificent arrangements.
Some parts of marriage are black, some are white, and others may be pink or gray. Some times are happy, some times sad, some parts difficult; some parts flow more easily. But when drawn together with great thought and effort, they can be made into a true masterpiece.
“And G-d said: Let us make man in our image after our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle and over all the earth…”(Bereishis 1:26)
In Hebrew, the word that means “let them have dominion” is ”ve’yirdu.” Rashi explains that this word comes from the same root and is very similar to the Hebrew word ”yeridah,” which means going down.” It was written as a warning to us in every aspect of our lives, including, of course, our very sacred marriages. It is warning us that if we do not use our potentials to struggle upward and try to override all the pressures pushing down on us, we will undoubtedly sink. There is no such thing as standing still. Either we are struggling mightily up a down escalator in life, or we are giving up and letting all the trials and tribulations that face us — as well as the crazy attitudes that are so prevalent around us — bring us, and our marriages, down.
If we find ourselves married to false expectations, now is the time to exchange them for the challenging ones found in our real lives. Marriage can be a rose garden — but then that means we can expect to find lots of thorns along the way, too.
Marriages don’t become marvelous automatically. The words “And they lived happily ever after” have misled us more than we’d like to admit. The following ending may not be as tantalizing, but it is also less elusive — for it can genuinely be achieved: “And they lived happily ever after…a lot of hard work and effort!”
Adapted from “Two Halves Of A Whole” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org