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Lessons for marriage from the High Holidays

On Rosh HaShana we work on reestablishing our relationship with Gd. The month before, Elul has been spent thinking about what went wrong in the previous year, how we can fix it and how to plan for success in the coming year.

In the prayer service we read the keys to success in rebuilding and strengthening that  relationship and the way to rip up the evil decrees. They are Teshuvah, Tefila and Tzedaka – repentance, prayer and charity.

I want to show how we can apply these three things to our relationship with our husband or wife.

This time we will look at Teshuva.

We need to do teshuva on a Gd – us level, when we recognize that I have done something that upsets or hurts Gd – so to speak. Gd doesn’t cry or give us the silent treatment if we eat a cheese burger, but we know it is wrong because we have his instruction book, the Torah, that tells us what is expected of us.

So on the one hand it is easier than marriage because we have the exact rules and expectations written down for us, but it is also more subtle as the signs of the hurt are not staring you, or slapping you, in the face.

Teshuvah means that I recognize that I have done something wrong, something hurtful and I need to change.

There are four basic parts to Teshuvah, and this is how we can apply them to our marriages:

1. Leaving the Sin
2. Regret
3. Confession Before G-d
4. Acceptance for the Future

1 – leaving the sin, if you do something that bothers your spouse – STOP IT. If it drives them crazy that you leave your shoes in the middle of the living room then don’t. If it scares them that you dive to fast, slow down.

The first step to rebuilding the damage in that area of the relationship, is to stop doing it!

Think of an example, even a trivial one where you have been asked to stop doing something, you agreed and maybe even stopped for a while, but then carried on doing it. Why? Why didn’t the change last?

The answer is part 2 – regret. It is because you are not sorry about the hurt you caused or are causing, you didn’t think it was a big deal. The Chassidic master, the Netivos Shalom, explains when talking about Teshuvah with Gd, that when you honestly care about the person and the relationship, and therefore don’t want to cause them any harm or hurt at all, you won’t do it again.

Teshuvah only lasts when you regret the incorrect action AND the hurt that was caused by the action.

3 – Confession. You have to say “Sorry”. We all know that; “Sorry seems to the hardest word to say”. But why is it so hard?

Ego, arrogance, honor. All the things that make us want to be right, even when we know we are wrong.

Following is an idea of what might be the perfect apology, try it out and see what you think.

‘You were hurt? well let me tell you honey, I had no idea you were hurt by this and from what I see now, you have every right to be hurt and I am sorry, but you know something honey, I didn’t know it would hurt you, but had I known, I would have never have done it and I will see to it that I will never repeat it. Please forgive me.

At the end of that paragraph there is part four of the four steps; “I will see to it that I will never repeat it”. This is 4 – acceptance for the future. You have to say that you will not do it again and you have to make a plan of how not to.

The Rambam teaches that the root of all our transgressions is a flaw in our character.  Something deep inside of me which is causing me to do things that I know are wrong. It could be jealousy, lust, selfishness, ego, arrogance, etc. etc.

So too in a marriage. We have to think what is it that is leading me to hurt my partner. YOU have to take responsibility to change and ask yourself, “What do I have to do to be a better husband or wife.”

As the joke goes, how many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the bulb has to want to change. You have to make the choice to change so that you can improve yourself and your marriage.

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