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Oh Dear! I Seem to Have Lost a Child!

Earlier this week, on Veterans Day, I took my kids to Knott’s Berry Farm (our local amusement park), a boy was it busy. The older two kids were in a long line for the water ride, but the youngest wasn’t interested in waiting. I told him we would go and see what was happening off to the side, I finalized the plans with the other kids and when I turned around he was gone!

Being a cool, calm and collected parent who had lost the odd kid or two before I didn’t panic. I checked the nearby bathrooms (three times) and scanned the crowds for the cute little boy in the brown shirt with tears streaming down his face, but he was nowhere to be seen. It was time to get some help and just as I was telling one of the park’s employees what had happened, he reappeared.

And boy was he upset with me, not because he was lost or scared, but because I was taking so long to follow him! He knew where he was going, he just forgot to tell me.

I have never lost my wife, but it does happen that I assume she knows what I am thinking, or she knows what I want to do. When it suits us we imagine that our spouses have some kind of telepathic ability to always know what is going on inside our heads, and they will be tuned in to respond the way we want. We forget that we have to tell each other what it is we actually need.

Let’s say you are desperate for a vacation, you just have to get out of the routine and out of the city before you go out of your mind. Comments about being tired, needing a break or feeling claustrophobic will not get you to Hawaii. Take a deep breath, put a smile on your face and tell them what you need, unless you speak up for yourself, they are never going to know.

To Forgive Or Not To Forgive

John walks into the kitchen one morning, the kids are screaming and dog is barking and the Cheerios are crunching underfoot, he turns to his wife Jane, and says, “Glad we have you to keep things under control around here!”

Once a year Jane and John go for a very boring dinner with John’s boss, this year Jane had a bit too much red wine to drink and let her hair down, on the way down to the floor when she stumbled out of the restaurant.

To forgive or not to forgive? How do you know what to do?

The true benefit of forgiveness lies with the forgiver, it reduces your stress, anxiety and apparently even your cholesterol level. You are happier when you forgive because you are not burdened by someone else’s mistakes.

However, I just read an article in the newspaper that wasn’t so sure. A Professor in Florida State University studied people that forgive, and he found that the day after forgiving a partner, people were 6.5 times more likely to report that the partner has done something negative, compared with when there was no forgiveness. (There are lots of other things I would like to know to properly understand this study, but let’s run with it for now.) His explanation is, that when we forgive quickly “it doesn’t hold the partner accountable for the behavior.”

So how can we forgive and still protect ourselves from being hurt again the next day? My suggestion is that if you forgive but do not tell them how it is they hurt you, they just won’t get it, and they will hurt you again. What is needed is to forgive with a request for a specific change, and then they know they are forgiven and they know how to stop it happening again.

Why Women Can’t Win

A couple of weeks ago I shared what I thought was a great insight into the eternal struggle between husbands and wives over how to share the household tasks and hassles.

The question that kept coming back to me was, what about us working women, we also spend the day out of the house for the good of the family and we are STILL expected to do the bulk of the domestic and child rearing tasks? What advice do you have for us?

I reckon there are three types of women; martyrs, moaners and mediators.

Let me explain. If you are a martyr then you are the type of women that sucks it up, gets done what she has to do and doesn’t complain. Some martyrs do this with a smile on their face, happy knowing that in their worldview this is what they are supposed to be doing. Others scowl and sigh, a lot! They are not happy but they have achieved acceptance. My guess is that becoming a martyr, is not usually a conscious decision, it is more often a role they slipped into.

Moaners, well, you guessed it, they moan, all the time! They also get the job done, but they make pretty sure everyone knows how unhappy they are and how unfair it all is.

“Mediators” begins with the letter “M,” and that is why I chose it! These women have actually had a dialogue with their husbands, they spoke about the gender roles and responsibilities. She is sympathetic to her husbands needs, recognizes her own inherent talents and wants the best for everyone. The mediator and her husband have actively decided how their family is going to work.

Everyone and every marriage is unique and what works for me probably won’t work for you. The only thing I know of that does work, is talking to each other about what you feel, what you need and what is going to make you a happier married person. Communicating without attacking, talking without debating and expressing genuine care, love and affection for each other are the only solutions to this age-old problem.

The Lesson of the Flashing Grapes

This week we have been setting up our Sukkah ready for the holiday which starts on Sunday night, and as ever it is a bit of trip down memory lane. We reminisce happily about our first ever Sukkah and the one that fell down in the rain, then come the decorations, the cute stuff the kids made in pre-school and the picture of the great rabbi whose name we always forget.

Then I came to the flashing grapes. You see flashing grapes are not exactly my idea of classy sophisticated addition to our very special Sukkah experience, but they have a special place in my heart.

It was out first Sukkos in Los Angeles and we were hectically chasing our tails getting organized, and I visited one of the local Judaica stores. I came back and told Sharon, “You won’t believe what they are selling, flashing grapes!” A couple of days later Sharon came home with the above mentioned grapes, delighted that she had brought home for me the piece d’ resistance of our new Sukkah that she thought I had been longing for.

Crunch time! Option A: Send her back to the store deflated. Option B: Accept her and her gift. We are still married so I think I made the right choice by hanging up those grapes, and I have kinda come to love them too.

Happy marriages grow stronger and stronger when we make attempts to connect and when we are ready, open and willing to accept them. The grapes were Sharon’s way of trying to connect and give to me, it was my choice to move us closer together or push us apart.

Today and everyday, find at least one more way that you can make the connection between you just that little bit stronger.

Why Men Can’t Win

If I were to make a list of the top ten complaints that I here from men about their wives (I would have to go into hiding), right at the top of the list would be, “As soon as I walk in the door she has a list of things for me to do, can’t I get a few minutes to myself first!”

There are meals to prepare, groceries to buy and trash cans to empty. If there are babies in the home, there are diapers to change and tantrums to calm. And it all has to be done NOW!

On the one hand the stay-at-home mom has spent the day building resentment about the endless chores and child-caring responsibilities and is waiting for her husband to share the burden. On the other hand, the guy feels like he hasn’t stopped all day, dealing with customers, clients or patients and then having to commute home too and all he wants is stop for a minute, after all his wife has been home all day.

All this adds up to only one thing — CONFLICT!!!!!

I just read a very insightful article that explains the miscommunication that is going on here. Men and women agree that there should be a fair sharing of the long list of family responsibilities and chores. The problem is, they don’t agree with what is on that list.

Men include the eight or ten hours every day they spend at work, this is why the feel that they have earned a break when they come home, women, as a rule, don’t. For women the list of household chores are just that, chores in and around the house, so they want their men to take on their fair share of those jobs.

There are many different ways to organize your family, and if you are both happy, your way is the right way. It doesn’t matter which way you prefer, but you do have to talk about it so you know you are choosing the same way.

Is It Time For A Change?

This year is nearly over and it is just a few days until the next one, so this is a good time to take a few minutes (or more) and ask ourselves, “Do I want more of the same, or is it a time for a change?”

Most marriages and families find themselves stuck in their state of being, in psychology they call it homeostasis, where we do things we do, and interact the way we interact, simply because that’s what we have always done. It’s kinda like the movie Groundhog Day, where everything is the same and you know what is going to happen before it even happens.

All of us have a part of our relationship that is not going anywhere, an area where you are your partner are not connecting and not achieving the meaningful intimacy that you both desire. NOW is the time to decide to change that!

You can make it better by changing what you do or how you speak (you don’t have to change your personality). For some that change is small, as small as remembering to turn around and say goodbye before leaving the house, or goodnight before going to sleep. Small changes make a real difference and don’t have to hurt.

People often tell me that they “will do whatever it takes to have a good marriage,” and that might be a MASSIVE change. Do you need to change apartments, jobs or relocate to another city to have the marriage you want? Does your whole attitude and approach to role definitions, conflict resolution or problem solving need a change to create the closeness you are missing? What do you need change?

Rosh HaShana will be here in only a few days, the changes you commit to now will shape your whole year. Be brave!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: This is What it Means to Me

This is a copy of the article we had published on aish.com the world’s biggest Jewish website.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: This is What it Means to Me

7 points for building the bedrock of a strong marriage.

Respect is essential to a successful marriage. Judaism stresses that husband and wife must give each other enormous respect. As the Talmud says: “A man must love his wife as much as he loves himself and respect her more than he respects himself. Then you will know for certain that your home is peace.” (Yevamos 62b)

Professor John Gottman found that respect is so vital to successful relationships that he can predict divorce with 100% accuracy if one partner loses honor for the other. As Dr. Scott Stanley writes, “I do not know of any long-term loving relationship that doesn’t have honor.”

And yet, respect can be very hard to define. As Aretha Franklin famously said: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me.”

As a marriage counselor, I’d like to share my experience of “what respect means to me”:

R – Role modelsE – EsteemS – SpeechP – PublicE – EmpathyC – CalendarT – Touch

R – Role Models

Find a married couple that you greatly admire and notice how they demonstrate respect for each other. Keep a journal of stories and actions that you would like to emulate, and use them as inspiration.

Further, you need to be a role model for the atmosphere you want in your relationship. Any put-down or show of disrespect to your spouse will come right back at you. So if you act with respect, that will rub off and be reflected back toward you.

E – Esteem

We respect those people we hold in high-esteem, and we have high-esteem for those we respect. So one key to a great marriage is to think of your spouse as having the most amazing admirable qualities.

Gary Smalley, in Secrets to Lasting Love, says: “Honor is, first and foremost a decision. It is the simple decision to place high value, worth and importance on another person, to view him or her as a priceless gift, and grant that person a position in your life worthy of great respect.”

On the day of your engagement, you had the most incredible amount of admiration for your new fiancé. When you do it right, you will hold on to that and nurture it day by day and year by year, as you discover more of their special qualities.

To enhance your admiration for your spouse, make a list of all the things that you admire about them. But don’t keep it a secret, share it! All at once, or one at a time. It is a simple idea, but guaranteed to build intimacy between you.

S – Speech

Speech is what uniquely defines us as human beings. It is also the primary way of communicating. [This is so important that I wanted to put it first, but then the essay would be called S.U.S.P.E.C.T. – not a good trait in marriage!]

There are endless ways to communicate respect with speech:

  • Think before you speak. Ask yourself, “Does what I am about to say and the way I am about to say it, reflect the respect that I have for my spouse?” Remember: Each time you speak you have the opportunity to strengthen your relationship, or damage it.
  • Shut up and listen. When you actually stop talking and listen, you show that you care about the other and what they have to say. Listening without interrupting or contradicting screams “respect.”
  • Speak calmly. The first piece of advice in Nachmanides’ ethical will: “Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone.” Controlling the tone and volume of your voice demonstrates huge amounts of respect.

P – Public

The way you act with each other in front of other people says a lot about the level of respect. Keep your dirty laundry at home. When you are out of the house and with others, never criticize or argue with each other; nobody needs to know what the issues are in your marriage. Always validate and support, even when your spouse is wrong (emotions are more important than facts). Cute nicknames can be fun at home, but “jug-ears” and “fish-face” take on another meaning when around other people.

It always amazes me to log onto Facebook and find out which of my friends is having marriage problems. However subtle you might think you are being, it is plain humiliating and embarrassing.

How about turning it around and praising your spouse in public. For the next 30 days, at least once a day, say something that you admire or appreciate about your spouse to someone else.

E – Empathy

Showing empathy says that I care enough about you, and have enough respect for you to understand your feelings and take you seriously. “Bear the burden with your friend” – i.e. help take the weight off another’s shoulders – is one of the 48 tools to greatness mentioned in the Talmud. Giving empathy is greater than even giving charity or doing a favor, because it is with your essence, your emotions and feelings.

Men are often lacking at this, possibly because they are taught to focus on the problem and not on the person. A woman talking on the phone will typically utter an amazing array of empathetic sounds – “that’s terrible… I can’t believe it… oh no!” Men just grunt and move on.

A great marriage tip; if you ever get into a fight, never say: “How can you think that?” S/he thinks that way because not everybody thinks like you! Empathy is getting inside the other person’s life, showing them that you understand their troubles and want to help to remove them.

Never say, “What are you complaining about? It’s no big deal!” Yes it is – to them! That is terribly invalidating and is one of the biggest danger signs of poor communication. Showing empathy is a declaration that I care about you enough to take the time to understand where you are coming from.

C – Calendar

Calendar relates to the importance of time. You can use “time” to show respect in two ways:

  1. Manage your time – Commit to organizing yourself and your time to be where you are supposed to be, and when you are supposed to be there. Doing so communicates: “I respect you.”
  2. Give of your time – Proactively show that you care enough to make time for your spouse (which is really making time for you both).

Each day, dedicate 15-20 minutes to communicate with each other face-to-face. This means no TV, computer, iThis or iThat. (You don’t want you husband or wife to be jealous of your cell phone.)

This is a time to share your appreciation and admiration for each other, to catch up on the day, and check in to hear how things are going. This is not a time for conflict or problem-solving; this a time to renew your friendship each day.

The greatest way to renew your friendship is to dedicate a date-night every week. One evening a week out of the house, without kids, purely for the purpose of drawing the two of you closer together and having fun together.

T – Touch

In Jewish consciousness, physical touch is considered the most powerful form of connection between a man and woman, so powerful that it is only appropriate within marriage.

Some people like to hold hands, some people like to be hugged and some people like to feel light touches but frequently. By making the effort to understand what the other person needs, you show that you really respect them.

Studies show that women need to be touched (a hug, kiss or warm embrace) at least eight times a day to maintain balance in their bodies. Don’t hold back on touch just for when you want to head to the bedroom; that shows a great lack of respect.

There are four ways of communicating: verbal, emotional, physical and spiritual. Only after you connect on these four levels will marital intimacy be the ultimate expression of unity that it is meant to be.

After the passions of young love subside and mature love steps in, the physical side of your relationship may take a back seat. Don’t let it happen! Make a choice to keep touching, even if only small gestures.

After traveling through R.E.S.P.E.C. you can be guaranteed that Touch will communicate respect, not just physical desire.

It only takes 32 minutes to have a great marriage

Hand in hand the bride and groom walk off into the sunset to live a wonderful, stress free and inspired marriage, without a care in the world. It may happen in the movies, but it doesn’t happen to too many people that I know, the reality is that having a happy marriage takes effort, every day.

How much effort? Exactly 32 minutes!* Let me explain ….

  • Partings. Before you leave each other in the morning, make sure you know one interesting or important thing that is happening in your partner’s day (and make sure to ask them about it later too!). That should take about 2 minutes every day.
  • Reunions. Take ten minutes to let your partner know about your day, the good and the bad stuff. Take turns speaking and listening empathetically. This is a time to be supportive, not to problem solve. 20 minutes every day.
  • Compliments and gratitude. Notice a few things that your partner is doing right to focus you on how great they are, and spend 5 minutes sharing with each other.
  • Physical affection. Respectful, sensual, sexual and playful touching is good for every marriage and don’t forget to kiss good night. 5 minutes.

All this should take 32 minutes and you will be well on your way to staying connected. The final two parts are to make sure you have a designated time for dating and arguing. A couple of hours a week to get out the house and spend some “together” time doing something fun – just being friends. Finally give yourselves a twenty minute marriage enhancement meeting; this is your time to bring up those difficult topics you have been avoiding all week.

Give a try and let me know how it goes.

*Based on The Magic Five Hours from Prof. John Gottman.

The Miracle Marriage

Suppose tonight when you are sleeping and the entire house is quiet, a miracle happened. The miracle changes all the things that you are not happy with in your marriage, and makes them right. But, you don’t know it because you are sleeping. When you wake up tomorrow morning, how will you know that the miracle happened, what will be different?

Close your eyes for a moment and try and picture what that miracle would be like. What would be the very first thing you would notice as being different? Would it be something about you, your husband or your home? Think about it because the answer to these questions is your map to a miracle marriage.

Now imagine that your husband/wife has just woken up, what is the first thing that they will notice about you that has changed? It might sound crazy, but now you know which direction you have to take yourself to build the marriage that you want to have.

Take a few minutes to think about this, get concrete, get into the details.

Let’s imagine that your best friend, brother, mother (or therapist) is watching you with a hidden camera, what would they notice about you and your marriage, what would be the obvious changes.

Know that you have the abilities to make these changes happen, you and your spouse have the talents and skills that you need to make your marriage into what you want it to be, you just need to practice using them more often.

If your marriage was a sport, what sport would it be?

Maybe sometimes your marriage feels like a boxing match, both of you are trying to land the first or the last blow, and the last one standing wins. Sometimes it may be more of an iron-man endurance contest and you have to will yourself into the next day, and sometimes it is a plain old tug-of-war and you feel out of control.

The truth is marriage has a lot of similarities to a sporting contest, but you can only win this one if the two of you are on the same team. Think more synchronized swimming or ballroom dancing than mixed martial arts.

Often when we are communicating we are working really hard to convince out partners that we are right. We banter back and forth about the issue waiting for the moment when you can prove that you are right, and win. Some what like a game of tennis with a good rally. Plenty of pace and movement just waiting for the moment to smash home the winning shot, and when you hit that winner, game, set and match and it feels great – the winner.

Communication in a marriage should be more like playing with a hackey sack. The idea of that game is to work together to keep the ball off the ground, there are no winners or losers, the goal is simply to keep the ball in play. Good communication is about keeping the conversation going, paying attention to what the other person is saying and not worrying about who gets the last touch (or word) in. (Based on an idea from Andy Greendorfer)

In your marriage you only win when the team wins, so for a long, fun and loved filled game of marital communication, remember that you are on the same team.

Is Your Marriage an Elephant?

There is an ancient story about five blind men that encountered an elephant for the very first time. Each one slowly and carefully approaches the elephant and puts out his hand to learn what an elephant is like. The first blind man declares, “An elephant is a rope with a tassel at the end.” The second blind man says, “An elephant is not a rope, it is a wall.” The thirds says, “Neither of you are right an elephant is nothing more than a tree trunk.” The fourth disagrees also and says, “No no! An elephant is like a flapping tapestry hanging from above.” The fifth man argues with them all and insists, “An elephant is a thick and flexible hose.”

Each one was accurately and honestly describing what they experienced, either the tail, the side, the leg, the ears or the trunk of the same elephant. They were all right from their own perspective and for as long as they might have argued back and forth, the one that touched the tail will never think he touched a tree, but maybe he can understand that there are different ways of experiencing an elephant.

In our marriages we get stuck in a rut because we can only see our view of the relationship or the problem, and we refuse to accept that there is any other way of looking at it. We try and try to convince our partner that our experience is the only one and that if they don’t change their perception of reality, they are wrong.

The blind men teach us that often we don’t see the whole picture, because we only have our own experiences to form our perception. To avoid and to solve conflict we have to allow our husband/wife to have their experience, and to move towards them by understand them. What they are feeling is real just different.

With real understanding you can uncover underlying levels of meaning in you conflicts and work towards greater acceptance of each others feelings.

Greeting and Meeting

Life is hectic, crazy, busy we are either coming or going and there is always something to do, their never seems to be time to connect.

Healthy long lasting marriages are nourished with the smallest, and even seemingly trivial moments of connection. In the language of marriage guru John Gottman, every time a husband or wife turn towards each other they are building their marriages. Every time you try to involve your spouse in your life by sharing something with them you are drawing the two of you together.

Mostly these moments will be spontaneous and natural, but other times they need to be planned (just like a romantic evening needs planning). Two perfect opportunities exist every day when you can create a meaningful moment of turning towards each other; when you leave each other in the morning and when you meet each other in the evening.

Decide to make these two daily happenings special times of connection, choose something that will draw you closer. It can be a kiss, a hug or a special phrase, when you make a commitment to do this it takes the guess work out of connecting, you know it is going to happen even when you are having a bad day.

Connecting doesn’t have to be spontaneous and it doesn’t have to take a long time. Lots of small doses of connection (texting during the day, a quick hug, sharing news, folding laundry together) add up to make a happy marriage.

Choosing a partner is choosing a set of problems!

I want to share with you a few humorous but insightful words that I just read.

Imagine that Paul married Alice; Alice gets loud at parties and Paul, who is shy, hates that. But if Paul had married Susan, he and Susan would have gotten into a fight before they even got to the party. That’s because Paul is always late and Susan hates to be kept waiting. She would feel taken for granted, which she is very sensitive about. Paul would see her complaining about this as her attempt to dominate him, which he is very sensitive about. If Paul had married Gail, they wouldn’t have even gone to the party because they would still be upset about an argument they had the day before about Paul’s not helping with the housework. To Gail when Paul does not help she feel abandoned, which she is sensitive about, and to Paul Gail’s complaining is an attempt to at domination, which he is sensitive about.

The same is true about Alice. If she had married Steve, she would have the opposite problem, because Steve gets drunk at parties and she would get so angry at his drinking that they would get into a fight about it. If she had married Lou, she and Lou would have enjoyed the party but then when they got home the trouble would begin when Lou wanted sex, because he always wants sex when he wants to feel closer but sex is something Alice only wants when she already feels close.

When ever and who ever we choose to marry, we have to accept that we are taking on a unique person and a unique set of problems that we will struggle with. The key to a happy marriage is knowing what we can’t change, and using our emotional maturity to be able to talk about it without hurting the other person. (From After The Fight by Dan Wile)

Emotional Forgiveness

One of the more destructive things that couples do when they get into a fight is to drag up past conflicts and give them new life. Problems and arguments that you thought were dealt with a long time ago resurface to cause new problems.

For a class in couple’s therapy that I am taking right now I came across a paper that begins with the assumption that relationship repair (through forgiveness) will enrich relationships and prevent problems from developing that stem from a lack of forgiveness.

The author suggests that the key is to focus on the intrapersonal (what is going on inside of you) aspect of granting forgiveness and there are five parts to that:

1.      recall of hurt

2.      empathy

3.      humility

4.      commitment

5.      maintenance

The model they put forward encourages individuals to empathize with their offender to promote forgiveness. Humility is fostered by having individuals recall incidents when they had inflicted harm on their partner and other people and received forgiveness. Thus, the victim might shift his or her perception from unmitigated blame to humble willingness to forgive. During commitment, the hurt or offended person commits aloud to forgiveness of the other. Finally, maintenance is the follow-up portion of forgiveness, which includes a discussion of how the offender may prove him- or herself trustworthy again and how future hurts can be handled (i.e., the interpersonal portion of asking for, granting, and receiving forgiveness).

In my words … It is your choice to forgive, your emotional forgiveness does not need to wait for your partner to apologize. Recognize that everyone (including you) makes mistakes, tell them to their face that you forgive them and make a plan to make it better.

When you fully forgive you let it go, for good. Your partner needs to know that when you accept an apology and tell them they are forgiven, that you mean it

Building a Jewish Homeland One Home At a Time

This week we celebrate Israel’s independence and remember the many thousands of men and women who died fighting to making that a reality. Building a secure Jewish homeland is a dream and goal that we have been working towards for many hundreds of years.

There is one group of men in particular that are totally exempt from taking part in the battles to build the homeland. They are the newly married men in their first year of marriage.

Our soldiers, all too often, have been called on to make the ultimate sacrifice, but the Torah is teaching us a powerful idea. It is pointless to build a homeland if you haven’t first built a home. Men in their first year of marriage need to put 100% focus into building rock solid foundations for their home so are exempt of their military duties because they have family duties.

An engineer friend of mine once told me, “If a building goes up it will probably stay up.” That may well be true for the physical house but the home needs constant maintenance, so building a secure home does not just take one year, it takes a lifetime.

Ask yourself;

  • when is the last time you thought about what your relationship needs to flourish?
  • has your relationship grown same-old-same-old?
  • how do you make time for openness, sharing, connection and intimacy?

If you are in your first year of fiftieth year of marriage remember that at a happy home is the foundation of the Jewish people.

Is it harder to be a man or a woman?

Interesting question! It can happen that married men and women walk around with a chip or two on their shoulder. The most common and easiest example to understand is a family with young children and a stay-at-home mom.

She spends her waking hours rushing from bottle to carpool to laundry to grocery shopping, and her husband what does he do all day? Sit around in an office! He spends his day battle with customers, deadlines, traffic on the 405 Freeway, and what does his wife do all day? Go to the park and have lunch with her friends!

So who has it tougher? Men and women both have it the hardest and the easiest. Men and women each have certain things that bring them satisfaction and fulfillment, and generally they are different. Understanding and accepting that difference will bring a great deal of harmony to your home, ignoring or fighting against it will create tension and distance.

Guys like to watch and get excited about football, so don’t tell them they are childish or it’s just a stupid game. Women like to talk about clothes, so don’t tell them they are so annoying.

Understanding and accepting our differences is a critical element to being happily married.

As Passover is coming next week, here is a similar idea from Haggadah. The Torah tells us that Pharaoh made the Jewish people work with back breaking labor (avodas porech) and one of the commentators explain that Pharaoh made the men do the women’s jobs and the women do the men’s jobs. Clearly the cruelty here was not the amount of physical effort required but the psychological effect, Pharaoh did not allow them to be true to who they really were. Men need to be allowed to find satisfaction doing guy stuff and women need to find their satisfaction doing girl stuff.

Turning the Out-laws into In-laws

Here is a question I have been thinking about recently. If we want what is best for us and our in-laws want what is best for us, why is there so much friction?

Your situation is not the same as mine, and my situation is different from everyone else’s, but I think there are a few generalizations:

EXPECTATIONS: when we get married we may expect our in-laws to be as thoughtful, respectful and helpful as our own parents, and they often fail to meet that standard, and that leaves us feeling frustrated and that they are selfish. Take time to consider what they may be expecting of you.

THEY CAN’T LET GO: our parents have invested 20 or 30 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars bring us up, and it is not easy for them to see their baby become an adult, get married and leave you for his new family. They may try to hold on and make demands. Understand their needs and proactively keep them involved so they want have to break your door down to see you.

YOU CAN’T LET GO: many children never emotionally leave home, they are always looking for approval and recognition from their parents. This can give the impression (which may even be true) to their spouse that they care more about their parents opinion than theirs. Cutting the apron strings can hurt but your marriage will prosper.

BOUNDARIES: healthy relationships start with healthy boundaries. A boundary around your marriage keeps the two of you strong and lets the rest of the world know where they are not allowed. Discuss and create boundaries about money, advice, holidays, unannounced visits, the two of you have to decide together where and when your in-laws are allowed into your life.

I DON’T WANT TO UPSET THEM: parents are pretty resilient people and bringing up any subject in a loving, humble, respectful way may hurt them in the short term but will not harm them in the long term. Think about what you need to say, choose your time and let them know that you and your spouse have made a decision together.

And not a mother in-law joke in sight!!!!

Let Me Tell You Who’s To Blame!

Think of the last time you got angry or frustrated with your wife or husband. Probably wasn’t that long ago! Stuff happens all the time that gets us hot under the collar, what did you do last time? Did you simply take a deep breath count to ten and move on, or did it become an international incident? Now think who was to blame?

I know that I am always in the right, and if my wife would only – fill in the blank – this would never have been a problem. Guess what, it is not true. The vast majority of times that you are going to come into conflict with your spouse, or anyone that you have a relationship with, it is because of YOU.

Time keeping is an issue in many marriages. Imagine that your husband/wife is late, again, when s/he finally turns up you don’t shout but you are sarcastic, cold and irritable. Evening ruined! Whose fault is it, theirs for being late or yours for being impatient and too easily offended?

There are many ways to skin a cat, and there are many ways of getting most jobs around the house done. There is more than one effective way of doing laundry, bating the kids, chopping vegetable, sweeping the floor or changing a diaper. Somehow though I know the best way to do all of them and if you don’t do it my way I am going to criticize and belittle you. I can feel a fight coming! It is not there messy way of making dinner that is the problem, it is your attitude that, “I know best” that is the problem.

It is my ego, impatience, sarcasm, arrogance, anger, selfishness, vanity, insecurity, forgetfulness, anxiety, stinginess, disorganization, insensitivity or lack of tact that is likely to be the cause of most of your relationship problems. We have to look at ourselves first and root out our negative character traits before we can start pointing fingers at other people.

52 of the best date ideas in Los Angeles

After all the miraculous happenings of the story of Purim are done, and Mordechai and Esther have saved the day, the Megillah (the Book of Esther) tells us that the Jewish people reaffirmed their commitment to Judaism.
Every Purim at the Jewish Marriage Institute we focus on refreshing and reinvigorating marriages.

One of the best ways to do this is by making a big effort to make regular time when you and your husband/wife can have some special time together. Date night or day, is a chance to connect and have fun together, it is not when you talk about bills, carpool or the dishes.

We have put together 52 (one a week) ideas of what you can do on your date, we have focused on our hometown of Los Angeles, but I am sure the same opportunities can be found where you live too. If you would like a hard copy please send me your address.
Go wild, be adventurous and enjoy each other.
To see the whole booklet please visit our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jewish-Marriage-Institute/197414640303822

Keeping the Peace not the Pieces

People can be confusing sometimes, the way that they think about and look at the world doesn’t make sense to me (remember I am perfect!). They have this peculiar habit of only looking at what is broken or missing.

You call to catch up with a friend when they return from vacation, and they tell you, “The hotel was great BUT the bedroom was too small.” Or they come back from a wedding or party and they tell you, “It was lovely BUT the music was way too loud.” Why does there always have to be a “but”. Can’t we just butt out the but?!

That little word focuses us on what is missing or broken and takes over. I remember being taught in a leadership course, that when you give someone an evaluation you are never allowed to you use the word but, because is cancels out the first half of the sentence. If you say, “You gave a great presentation BUT you spoke to fast,” you are really saying that it was no good.

I love my husband, he is so thoughtful BUT he is so forgetful. My wife is the most considerate person I know BUT she is always late. When we pay attention to the missing parts we are in danger of neglecting all the positives. We can’t be happy about our spouses or grateful for what they do because we are fixated by what we have decided they are lacking.

The Hebrew word for whole (shaleim) has the same root as the word for peace (shalom), when we see our spouses as a whole we will see the greatness that is that person and will be able to live in peace with them. When we focus on the missing pieces (chelek) we create division and strife (machloket). Our job is to create peace in the home by learning to focus on the good traits and good habits they have.

Perfect marriages are not formed by perfect people, they come when imperfect people choose to be happy.

Ask Before You Judge

It has been a beautiful day here in Southern California and our kids are on winter break, and we have family visiting so I took everyone to Santa Monica to ride their bikes on the beach. We have one of those contraptions where you hang your bikes of the back off the car and I have always hated driving with it. Well, today was my lucky day! About three blocks from the beach when were stopped at a red light, the bikes fell off! (Thank Gd we were not moving.)

Being cool in a crisis I untangled the bikes from the holder, sent the kids ahead to a safe stopping place and folded the bike rack. The mail man and the bus that were behind us patiently waited for a space in the traffic and moved on. Just as I was getting back in the car a nice man in a black SUV shouts, “Yo dude! This isn’t a parking lot!”

Thanks buddy, and this wasn’t an IQ test!

How many times have you walked into a situation and spoken before you thought or reacted before you reasoned? It is something that we all do, and something we have to learn to change. We can only see what is on the surface, kind of like the duck analogy, where everything looks serene above the water but the ducks feet are frantically paddling below the surface. When we walk into the house or into a room and judge the situation or person badly we nearly always get it wrong.

We have to make a conscious effort to hold back on judging and react so we have time to really see what is going on.

The Child Centered Marriage

Marriage is a major life transition from a “me” centered life to an “us” centered life, successfully negotiating those early years goes a long way towards building a lasting and rewarding relationship. It is no wonder that the Torah tells newly marrieds to dedicate (about) one year just on creating the foundation.

But when your happy twosome becomes a crying, spitting up, demanding threesome, a whole new transition takes place. The “me & you” happy family that you created now becomes a “me, you, him/her” happy family. Transitioning to coupledom to familydom for many is a bigger challenge than marrying.

With many of the couples I talk to the problems begin when the new child starts to take over your life, your routine and especially your bed. Showering your child(ren) with love is your duty and your pleasure, ignoring your spouse to do it is a crime. Loving parents have loving boundaries, where the closest relationship continues to be with the spouse.

Couples often tell me that they have no time for each other because they cannot leave the house to enjoy some togherthness time. Your kid will survive with a babysitter once in a while, will your marriage? When you stop doing things that you enjoy together your level of friendship and positivity to each other can really suffer.

If you have kids or when you do have kids, you will undoubtedly experience, what is technically known as the exhausted parent stage. This is made up of babies waking all hours of the night, toddlers in your bed and children that think 5.30am is a lie-in. When you are exhausted EVERYTHING seems worse, bigger and more disastrous, minor irritations become cataclysmic events. My observation from the many many young families that we know, is that being on top of your kids sleeping is one of the best investments you can make in your kids future, because it will give you and your spouse, the time and space to be a loving intimate married couple, not just parents.

A Friend is …

You have probably seen the cute cartoons that say “Love is …”. But how would you end the sentence, “A friend is …”?

Successful life partners are also great friends, and being great friends is one of the most important roles you have as a marriage partner. So what does it mean to be a friend?

A great definition I once heard (sorry I don’t remember where) is: A friend is someone that has no immediate plans to change you or improve you.

With our friend we accept and encourage, we support and advise. With our spouses the dangerous trap so many of us fall into is trying to force change through criticism, nagging and complaining. A friend is someone that stands next to you and enjoys the journey with you, a friend is not pushing you down a path that you don’t want to travel.

Think about how you talk and behave differently with your spouse compared to your friends. Often there is a lot more openness and comfort with friends, because we are not trying to change them. I know there are many many differences in the relationship with a friend compared to the relationship with a spouse. There is no pressure to get anything done with friends and as soon as they leave you finished for the day. But it we model ourselves on that kind of supporting relationship, we will help our marriages too.

To support you have to be involved, your job as a husband or wife is to know what is going on in their lives. If you are married to software engineer you might not be so interested in knowing what line of code he is writing today, but you do need to know if he has a deadline coming up or someone at work is driving him crazy. If they have something important going on today and you don’t know about it, then how can you be there for them? You have to find out so that you can wish them luck in the morning, call during the day and say I am thinking about you or ask at the end of the day how did it go.

I would love to hear how you would end the sentence, “A friend is …”

A Chanukah Marriage

Chanukah is the time of year where we remember that we can do anything when we try and beat all the odds. The Macabees decided that they were not going to sit still and allow their lives to be taken over by the oppressive Greeks. They decided to fight for what they believed in despite of any seeming obstacles.

Often in our own lives and in our married lives we are faced with obstacles that are preventing us from achieving the happiness and success that we should have. But, each month and year that passes the job of changing feels harder and harder. The Macabees showed us with their example that we have to try, and when you are trying to do the right thing Gd will be there helping you.

First look inward. Is there something about your attitude, your behavior or your thoughts that is holding you back from enjoying the warmth and intimacy marriage should be providing you with? It could be something “silly”, maybe your nail-biting drives your husband/wife absolutely crazy, but you feel that you have done it your whole life, and it is too hard to change. Chanukah teaches that there is no such thing.

Now think about that issue that you have been holding back on talking about. Holding back has been good for you because you have avoided conflict, but avoiding expressing yourself fully also avoids the highest levels of intimacy you can reach. The conversation and the changes seem too hard, Chanukah teaches that we have to try.

Search in yourself and in your relationship for a battle that you have not been willing to take on. Write it down, make a battle plan and use the courage of Chanukah to make a positive change.

Are You Lying To Me?

Learning to be a good liar is a very important skill in a marriage! But, when I say a “good” liar, I don’t mean that you are skilled at spinning in intricate web to disguise your misbehavior which will never become unraveled. In marriage you can be good by lying at the right time.

True, the Torah tells us to make every effort to avoid falsehood, but it also true that the Torah tells us to make every effort to create peace, and the state of completeness that we experience when we live in peace is paramount. So sometimes the Torah approves of a lie to promote peace and harmony. (Consult with your rabbi for exact details.)

When you are asked, “Hey honey, how does this shirt/dress look?” and you are already running late, you are probably not be asked for an academic assessment of the suitability of spots and stripes. You are being asked for reassurement and to give a compliment.

When you see a friend and s/he asks, “What do you think of my haircut, I went to this great, expensive place across town?” If you answer, “it’s a little short” or “it makes you look old”, you might not be friends for much longer! They can’t make it grow, but you can make them feel good.

Knowing when there is more harm than good in telling the truth is an important skill to master. By being aware of what you are really being asked you can take care to say the right thing.

Softly Softly

They say that it “takes two to tango”, I have never (knowingly) tangoed so I will take their word for it. I say that it “takes two to argue,” have you ever yelled at a brick wall? It is no fun at all!

We always like to blame each other for getting into a fight, and we think to ourselves, “if only s/he had done or said that this would not have got so ugly”. But how is it that we keep finding ourselves upset with each other and occasionally things even get out of hand?

Professor John Gottman says that the way you open up a conversation or discussion has a huge impact on it. When you start on the right food you can get into a deep, heavy and emotional charged topic and come out of it closer together. Start in the wrong way and the fireworks are going to fly and you will end up further apart.

The skill is to avoid harsh start-ups and instead us soft start-ups.

Some ways you can bring up a tetchy subject successfully include: complain about the event without criticizing or blaming the other person, talk about how you feel – not what they did wrong, be clear, be polite, be appreciative of what they are doing or the effort they have been making and finally, don’t let things brew until you are ready to pop your cork.

Prof. Gottman has noticed that women are more likely to make the harsh start-up as they are the ones that are more likely to want to talk about something, but it is something we all need to improve on.

Choose Peace

Yesterday I was preparing to teach my weekly men’s marriage class, and I came across an insightful comment in a classic Jewish source that I want to share.

In the book of Proverbs it says, “Hatred stirs up strife”. The 19th century sage, the Malbim, explains that this is referring to the strife that comes from a difference of opinion that needs to be resolved. In fact there is no need to get angry or emotional at all, it is only your negative attitude that pushes you into conflict. It is your subconscious desire to pick a fight that changes a difference of opinion into an argument. Hatred exists independently of any real cause, then takes over to distort your view of the situation.

When you wake up and start the day with a bad attitude, bringing with you a ton of bad feelings about the past, you are going to find yourself in conflict over the smallest things.

The verse in Proverbs goes on to say, “Love covers over all transgressions”. In the words of the Malbim, a person’s love casts a forgiving cloud even over real acts of injury against him.

When you wake up with a good attitude and with a decision that you are going to love and draw closer to your spouse today, that is what will happen. The small things you may not even notice, and the big things will be so much easier to move past.

Living with shalom bayis – marital harmony is a choice, if you chose negativity and resentment you will live in the world of conflict, if you chose love and forgiveness you will live in the world of togetherness and intimacy.

Complain Don’t Blame

Every now-and-then something comes along in every relationship that bothers you and makes you unhappy, but when you start talking about it, before you know it, war has broken out! You are tense, angry and confused. You think to yourself, “Why can’t s/he understand that s/he is wrong?”

I will tell you the problem. You are blaming your partner, not complaining about what they did. A complaint is about the action, blaming or criticizing is aimed at the person and their character.

When you tell me that I forgot to set the alarm before I left the house, I can be receptive. When you tell me that I am irresponsible and don’t care about our home, I am insulted, defensive and need to attack you to defend my honor.

Here are a few examples I read in 10 Lessons To Transform Your Marriage:

Try … Instead of …
I thought we were going to have a romantic evening together and you invited your friend. I feel so hurt and disappointed. I thought we were going to have a romantic evening together and you invited your friend. How can you be such a clueless, insensitive idiot?
We haven’t been able to afford a vacation in two years. Maybe we should work out a better budget. It’s all your fault that we can’t afford a vacation. You waste our money on stupid things.
You set your glass on the coffee table last night and now there is ring. You haven’t done the laundry in two years, the lawn needs mowing, and you never cleaned the garage like you said you would.

Express your needs in a way that is respectful, clear, specific and immediate. This way your partner will be more open to hearing your complaint and responding positively. Do it right and you will be able to solve problems, build intimacy and strengthen your relationship.

Share the Good Times

If, Gd forbid, someone close to us suffers a loss, we are right there at their side, offering support and giving comfort. We would never think of turning our back and leaving them to their grief, and disappearing to take care of our own needs. And rightly so.

What about in times of happiness, success or triumph? Are you still right there sticking with your guy/gal? When your husband or wife experiences joy are you as conscious of their need to share it with you and to have your support?

Tragedy is a great way of bringing people together. Joy is much nicer.

Empathy is; putting yourself out to understand and feel ALL of the emotions that someone else is feeling. Think of time when you were excited or proud of yourself, didn’t you just want to share, if you were by yourself you probably reached straight for the cell phone to tell your Mom, Dad or best friend. When we are happy we also want to share that emotion and be around other people. (Maybe this why footballers, and the like, jump all over each other when they score.)

When your partner has something exciting to tell you, get excited with them. Show them that their happiness is your happiness. If it is a friend getting engaged or having a baby, a promotion or positive assessment at work or they are just feeling great, be there with them celebrating. Your job is to help them feel supported. When you are too busy, preoccupied or act like a wet blanket you burst their bubble.

When you share in your partner’s joy you take your relationship to higher levels of intimacy. When they know they can share anything with you and be supported they will keep coming back to you for that love.

Keep It In The Family

One of the best known slogans for a vacation location has to be, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” There are just some things that people don’t need to know and probably shouldn’t know!

No, no, no!! I am not telling you to run off to Vegas and keep it secret from your husband or wife; that is not a good idea. But it is OK to have secrets, from other people.

Actually, I will go a lot further than that, you are supposed to have secrets from other people, especially your parents. When I know that I can depend on you not to talk to the world about our lives, I have more confidence, more security, more trust and greater commitment towards you.

In a marriage or any close relationship we regularly experience a wonderful range of feelings, emotions and events that can be good or bad, sometimes positive and sometimes negative. A great step you can make to increase your intimacy is to only share them if you KNOW that your partner will not mind. A married couple is a distinct unit that must have healthy boundaries between them and their family and friends.

There is one couple I know and every couple of months I see their Facebook profile picture switch from being a lovey-dovey picture of the two of them to a picture of the dog, hmmm! I wonder what kind of week they are having! I don’t need to know, and neither does anyone else.

Sure we need to have friends and we need to talk to get our heads clear and get advice, but decide carefully who you tell, and what you tell them. Remember, if you do opt to tell your parents something negative about your spouse, they will never forget and they will probably never forgive, even when you have.

Make your marriage a sanctuary where you can always be coming closer together.

An Extra Word … or Two

Efficiency is a great thing, something to aspire for, the quicker we can get the job done the better. Corporations spend millions on consultants to tell them how to get the job done that little bit faster.

All this is great if you are producing widgets, but not so great if you are working at making warm, nurturing and loving relationships. When you are focused on getting the job done, that is when you want to know the best and quickest way to do it. When you are am focused on your marriage, then all you need to know, is the best way, and it doesn’t matter if it takes a little longer.

We talk to each other all the time, and when we talk there are two ways to get our message across; the quick way or the right way. If you are asking for something, making a request or even a complaint, you will build your relationship by taking the time to think of the best way to say it, and by taking the time to say it in the best way.

“Pass me the book!” or “Please can you pass me the book next to you when you can.”

“The trash is overflowing again!” or “Honey, when you are finished what you are doing do you mind taking out the trash please.”

Go out of your way to use a few extra words to communicate you love and respect for your partner, show with your words that you honor and appreciate them. Then you will be moving quickly towards creating an atmosphere that is warm, loving and nurturing.

Are You Really Sorry?

Sukkot starts in just a few hours and our sukkah is ready and everyone is excited for the holiday. But, before we get to that, I want to share a thought with you that I had over Yom Kippur. It was only a few days ago and we can so easily forget our insights and lose our inspiration in the melee of whatever comes next.

On Yom Kippur we say “sorry” to Gd for not working on our relationship with Him, and sorry for not making an effort to improve the relationship. Then we say it again and again and again. In the middle of all the chest beating I became aware that not only was I saying sorry repeatedly this year, I was saying sorry for all the same things that I said sorry for last year!

I realized that when people apologize (to Gd or to their spouses), what is that they are sorry for? They are sorry for getting caught, they are sorry for messing up or they are sorry for their own lost opportunity. That is why they can go ahead and do the same things over and over again, as long as they relate to their mistake only as their own problem, they will do it again.

When we say sorry, we are supposed to be saying sorry because we hurt the other person. We are supposed to be sorry that we hurt the person that we have committed to loving, protecting and caring for. I am sorry that you are hurting and that it is my fault.

Only if we understand the hurt that the other person is feeling and are able to empathize and sympathize with them are we able to have confidence that we will not be back in the same place next year.

How Long is Happily Ever After?

I just read an article in the news about a member of the Mexico City council that is putting forward an idea that marriage licenses should only last for two years. After two years the marriage will lapse unless you request an extension. His idea is to cut down on the hassle of divorce, remember about 50% of couples get divorced anyway!

What do you think, would that help your marriage or harm it?

Something that keep marriages together is commitment, and that is a good thing. Love, romance and even fantasy may have brought you together, but it won’t keep you going for very long. Commitment creates relationship security, security allows for effort, and that is what is going to keep your marriage strong.

Prof Markman describes two kinds of commitment, dedication and constraint.

Dedication commitment is a promise, together with actions, to maintain and improve your relationship, to invest in it and sacrifice for it, for the benefit of both of you.

Restraint commitment (which the guy in Mexico wants to get rid of) refers to things that are kind of forced on you by circumstances, such as social pressure, mortgage, difficulty of divorce and children.

We need both to keep us stablely and happily married. To express your dedication more openly will help your partner know you are there forever. Some things you can do are; call or text in the middle of the busy day just to say “Hi”, surprise your partner with tickets to a show, do a chore that you hate doing so they don’t have to, make a big fuss of the next anniversary.

When I was a kid there was a TV show and the catch phrase was; “Dedication’s what it takes to be a record breaker”. Dedication is what it takes to be a marriage maker, express yours.

Need Accommodation?

When a marriage goes well it is the source of unending pleasure, support and love. But, it doesn’t just happen by itself, you have to create it.

One of the biggest keys to unlocking the door to intimacy is, accommodation. No, not where you live, learning to accommodate to each others ways of doing things. If marriage is a union between a man who cant sleep with the window closed and a woman who cant sleep with it open, accommodation is the process of working out a compromise.

All relationships begin with a period of change. Sometimes we actively work together to find what works for both of us, but accommodation is also a process of automatic mutual adjustment, much of which goes on outside of awareness. Either way, it HAS to happen.

Deciding to share your days and nights and future with someone else means being willing to adapt and adjust to achieve harmony. It means being prepared to accommodate to each other in large and small routines. Some things are easy. He learns to accommodate to her wish to be kissed hello and good- bye. She learns to leave him alone with his paper and morning coffee. When you don’t learn to accommodate, you are teaching yourself resentment and frustration.

It is these little arrangements that cement a couple into a unit, hopefully they happen easily, but if not you may find them happening with intense struggle. Everyone has areas of inflexibility, and usually we are blind to our own rigidity. You may be so aware of giving in on some issues that you don’t realize how inflexible you are to the little occasions of life. You may have moved cities and changed jobs to marry, but can’t let your other pick which direction to walk in, or what restaurant to go to. You may cook or  put up with people you don’t like in order to please your other, but still be jealous when they do anything without you, even just sitting quietly with a book.

If you’re doing it already, great! Keep going. If you are butting heads about the little things in life, take some time to thing of ways YOU can be more accommodating.

Rosh HaShana is coming …

Rosh HaShana is coming in just two weeks from tonight. That means we need to get ready with our apples and honey to make sure that we have (with Gd’s help) a sweet and pleasant year. But is there anything else that we should be doing to work towards having an even sweeter and more pleasant year in our relationships and marriages?

New years come with resolutions and we know from our own experiences that nine out of ten don’t make it past the first couple of weeks. The main reason is that people don’t make a plan and they don’t tell anyone what they are working on improving. The number one way to be successful is achieving anything, is by knowing exactly what it is you are trying to achieve.

Your marriage can not be an exception to this rule. To have the dreamy, harmonious, love filled relationship you have always wanted takes planning. Now is a perfect time to plan how we are going to grow and grow together in our marriages.

The tool is; to create a vision for your marriage (just like successful businesses have a mission statement). A vision is not a set of expectations or a list of fears. Your vision is a description of how you desire your marriage to be, once you have the vision you can make an action plan on how to realize it.

An example might be:

We work together to understand each other and come closer together. We support each other’s goals and ambitions emotionally and practically. We bring Jewish values into our home. We are united with our approach to bringing up the children. We have fun together and make time for things that don’t have to get done. Helping and spending time with our extended family is a priority.

Sit down together and create your own vision, then start talking about what small actions you need to make to turn this into reality.

Is Marriage Getting Tougher By The Day?

When I tell people in my parents (and for sure grandparents) generation that I am a marriage educator and coach, I usually get the same response. Something like, “I don’t know why people need that, we never had any of that and we did OK!”

So what’s the deal, were they better at marriage than us, or is marriage just that much tougher now? Has the nature of marriage changed or is it the same but are we victims of the I-want-it-now disposable society?

Personally, I have only experienced marriage in the 21st Century, however I do read and listen to what other people have to say all the time. The answer that I hear about the most is that marriage is changing.

“Back in the day” marriage was all about providing an environment of security, safety and stability. A place that men and women could call home and return to at the end of the day, a place where they knew that their physical needs would be taken care of. Of course marriage also provided another vital function, having and raising children. Successful marriages had a lot to do with, how well you lived up to your responsibilities as a husband or wife.

Today, even if the stock markets are going crazy and gas prices are through the roof, we are materially more comfortable than ever before. So, marriage is changing too as we have more time and more time together with each other. Now we look for greater love and deeper levels of intimacy in our relationship. We are looking to build marriages, where we are still fulfilling our obligations, but are also a source of friendship and a place where love and companionship can flourish.

Today, right now, commit to one positive change to make your marriage flourish.

The Marriage Doctor

Our physical health is a big concern to most people. We think about what we eat and drink, go for regular check ups and at least talk about joining a gym. We have a family doctor, an eye doctor, a tooth doctor (the dentist) and even doctors for our pets.

When we feel an ache or a pain we get help, and the more it hurts the quicker we go. Sometimes we think, “It’s really not that bad and maybe it will go away by itself, besides I am just so busy right now, I will take care of it soon.” But when the pain never goes away but just keeps rumbling on, we know it is time to do something about it and get help.

The health of our marriages should be just as important to us. When our marital health is bad it is a source of distress, disquiet and discomfort. But are you willing to get help? I know, I know, sometimes it is better and sometimes it is worse, and by the time you get round to doing something about it the crisis has passed. The crisis has passed but the problem has not been addressed and for sure has not been solved.

Being married should be one of the greatest pleasures you have in your life. It should be a source of joy and fulfillment, friendship and happiness, a place where you can come closer to Gd and each other. If it is not, you need to do something about it, and the sooner the better. The sooner you do it, the less pain you cause yourself and the easier the problems will be to tackle.

Marriage help comes in many forms, shapes and styles.

  • Together make a vision for your marriage and build strategies to achieve it.
  • See a therapist or counselor together.
  • Buy, read and put into practice a marriage book.
  • Take a couple’s Marriage Skills class with us at the JMI (or even someone else!).

Whichever one you choose, choose soon and save yourself the pain.

Take Control of Your Marriage

One of the biggest steps you can make to elevate your marriage or relationship to higher levels of fulfillment, harmony and happiness is, to take responsibility. To take responsibility to do the right thing for your marriage, just because it is the right thing to do.

We are going to give you the Dr’s and the Rabbi’s take on this.

Recently I have been reading Dr Laura’s book, the Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage, and she gives three behaviors that summarize this concept of doing it because it is the right.

  • Treat your spouse as if you loved them with your last breath – no matter how contrary to that you might feel at any one moment.
  • Think hard everyday about how you can make their life worth living.
  • Be the kind of person you would want to love, hug, come home to, and sacrifice for.

Now the Rabbi, Rabbi Pliskin in his book, Marriage. He summarizes the idea in just five words, “Don’t cause pain, give pleasure.”

To us these two ways of describing the proper attitude to marriage are very similar. They are both telling us that, first we need to make a list of all the things they are doing wrong that cause pain to our partner, the type of  things that stop you from being loveable and huggable.

Cursing, leaving your coffee cup on the table, name calling, not refilling the water pitcher, embarrassing them in public, using too much perfume/aftershave, driving too fast, invalidating, making light of serious issues, nagging ….. to name just a few.

Next, make another list of all the things that you know you should be doing.

Call from work everyday, put your socks in the laundry basket, smile, compliment, greet them with a positive tone, spend more time together, say please and thank you, cut the grass, call your in-laws, come home on time …. to name just a few.

We know what we are doing wrong, and we know what we need to do right, but we get caught in cycle of thinking to ourselves, “We would be so much happy if only s/he were making an effort.” You be the one to break out of the circle, you be the one to make the effort do the right thing because you are choosing to move closer together. Most importantly, you have to do it especially when you don’t feel like it.

Have a Right Eyed Marriage

We have two eyes to view the wonderful world around us, the same two eyes that we use to look at our partners and our marriages, the right one and the wrong one.

We need both of these eyes. One is always looking to see the flaws and what needs correcting or improving, that is how we make the world a better place. The other eye appreciates the positive in everyone and every situation, this eye lets us enjoy and celebrate everything that is good. If we only use one of our eyes, we get a skewed perspective of whatever it is we are looking at.

When we think about our partners and our marriages we chose which eye to use. We can either chose to focus on the positive or the negative. Is the glass half empty of half full? It does not matter, it just depends on how you look it at.

In the words of the famous Monty Python movie, “Always look on the bright side of life.” When we chose to use out “right” eye, we look at what is good and beautiful with our marriages and partners, and it helps us to appreciate them and encourages us to work on making the good bits a bigger part of our relationships. Being focused on the good makes us happier and brighter people, a pleasure to be around and someone that our spouses will want to draw closer to.

When we loose focus we give to much attention to our “wrong” eye, the one that is on the look out for problems and mistakes. This creates an atmosphere of tension in your home and you feel like you are walking on egg shells.

In our kids school they have a raffle and you win entry tickets when you are “caught doing something right”. See what you can catch your partner doing right today.

Emotional Adultery

The seventh of the Ten Commandments is, not to commit adultery, the simple meaning is physical infidelity, and we don’t need to spend too many words describing what that means!

I was thinking how is this mitzvah relevant to me and all the other monogamously married people out there. What is the Torah trying to teach that I can put into practice on a daily basis?

This is what I came up with. A man or woman can be adulterous in many different ways. The classic example is the “golf widow”, the woman who has been abandoned by her golfing fanatic husband, she ends up living a love-less marriage, while he develops closer and closer relationship with his clubs.

So, where in our lives are we committing emotional adultery?

Right here at our computers or smart phones has to be the first place to look. If you are too engrossed in tweeting, emailing or shopping online to look up, stand up and have a conversation when your partner comes home, you know you are creating a problem. A man or woman who comes home to be greeted by nothing will very soon start staying out the house later and later.

Kids, our greatest pleasure, and the greatest distraction from our marriages. Time and time again we speak to men and women who are suffering because their spouses have no time for them because they are obsessed or dotting over the children. Men often feel after the birth of the first child that their wives have emotionally left them for the baby. Your child(ren) will manage for a few minutes or even a few days without you, make sure that you always have time for each other.

I had a conversation with a woman once, who was extremely upset that her partner was giving the pet more attention than her. Each phone call would begin not with, “how are you?”, but with “how’s the dog?” Pets are cute but people are much more fun!

Other ways that people might leave their marriages behind include: caring for parents, being involved in acts of kindness, fundraising activities for the school or work.

To be sure that you are not committing emotional adultery, take a look at your priorities and take a look at how you prioritize your time.

Create Your Own Reality

When you were a kid did your Mom ever tell you to be nice to your friends so they will be nice to you? It sounds simple but it is actually brilliant (as was all the other advice we didn’t appreciate at the time – maybe!).

The truth is, the way that we treat people has a huge influence on the way that they will treat us in return, and as with all principles of interpersonal relationships, this is infinitely more true in marriage.

Each one of us has the ability to set the tone for our homes, you need to be the one to take the lead in making your home the environment that you want to live in. If your home is not the soft glowing, warm loving, calm and nurturing place that you long for, take responsibility to change it..

When you scowl at someone they will scowl back, but if you smile at them, they will smile back. If you shout at your husband (or kids) they are going to shout back at you, but if you show them in your words and actions that they are the most important people in your life, then you will soon start to feel it coming straight back at you.

It’s very hard to angry with someone that is going out of their way to make you happy, but on the flip side it is very easy to be angry with someone that is always criticizing you and making negative comments. The way you behave gives you the chance to choose if your partner is going to respond to you with love and warmth or with anger and negativity.

Think of ways that you can create the reality you want to live in. Some areas you might want to focus on are: forgiving, speaking softly, sticking to your commitments, apologizing, giving the benefit of the doubt, smiling, prioritizing, giving, staying calm, having a positive outlook and being willing to talk about difficult topics.

The Shortcut To A Great Marriage

A great marriage happens when two people with different histories, personalities and interests commit together to learn how to live in harmony. Marriages work when men and women strive to draw closer to each other and learn how to communicate in all spheres of their relationship.

We have instant access to pretty much everything we want and we would love to know the shortcut to get to that beautiful state of marital bliss too.

I can give you the shortcut, it might just take a long time to get there!

The biggest single thing you can do to make your marriage (and all your relationships great) is to give. Give up being the most important person in your life and give to your partner instead.

Marriage is learning how to unite two people, it is a cheesy line but I like it.

The only difference between being united and untied is where you place the I.

Any man or woman who is focused on themselves and what they can take from life and get from the people around them, will have an extremely hard time building meaningful and lasting relationships. We long for the feeling of closeness and connection with our partners, but when their ego or selfishness is always in the room with us, it is impossible to feel fully connected.

Start taking the “I” out of your relationship by asking yourself, “What can I do to make my husband/wife happier today?”

Think of ways that you can give more. You can give your time, you can give emotional support, you can give gifts, you can give practical help, you can give encouragement, you can give space, you can give a listening ear, you can give compliments and gratitude, you can give a kiss or a hug.

The ways you can give are only limited by your desire to give.

If You Loved Me, You Would …

Shockingly, many men and women, when they get into a serious relationship and married, expect that their partners will automatically and mystically know all of their needs and how to provide them. Sounds ridiculous but this comes up time and time again when we talk to people.

A woman thinks to herself, “I don’t need to tell you what I need, if you loved me you would know!” She then sits back and waits for her Prince Charming to provide, romance and take care of her.

A guy might think, “If you loved me, you would know how I was feeling, I’m not going to tell you!” He then waits for her to give him affection when he needs it and space when he doesn’t.

Both of them end up miserable, frustrated and feeling unloved and uncared for BECAUSE THEY DID NOT COMMUNICATE. The age of prophesy finished many centuries ago, so the only way for your partner to know what you are thinking, feeling or needing is to tell them. Without clear communication of what you need, they are not going to know.

Ideally, we would all develop ourselves to the point where we have no needs or wants, and are always happy with the situation that we find ourselves in. In the meantime we have to learn how to live with another human being. The only way that you can be sure that they know what you need from them and what you need in the relationship is tell them.

If it is more intimacy or less, home cooked food, a bit of space, to be spoken to more softly, flowers for Shabbos, less sarcasm or a hug, you need to COMMUNICATE what it is that you need. If you find this hard, you can try using a structured conversation such as the Speaker Listener Technique.

You Avoiding Me?

When couples stop talking to each other or they find ways to spend more and more time out of the house, working or being involved in community work, you can see that some major avoidance is going on.

There is amore subtle type of avoidance that we are all guilty of at times. It is avoiding dealing with our marital issues and avoiding the discomfort of resolving conflict. According to the Smart Marriage website “The number one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict.”

When I was engaged a married friend told me tongue in cheek, “When you move into your new home together it’s important to buy a rug – that way you will have something to sweep your problems under!” We all do it but it’s a terrible idea, eventually the pile under the rug trips you up everywhere you move.

People don’t discuss issues because they feel that it is better to avoid yet another fight, or they are having a good couple of weeks and they don’t want to ruin it. Then they end up walking on egg shells, tip toeing around each other and never solve anything. To be successfully married the trick is NOT to avoid your issues but to deal with them.

Typically everyone at some time will have conflict about money or children. Other very common issues are in-laws, household chores,  recreational activities, sex,  communication and parenting.

Next time something happens that bothers or annoys you, or even triggers conflict, go through the following steps:

  1. ask yourself, “Is this really worth getting upset about?”
  2. what is the issue that is truly bothering me? Don’t get distracted by the details of what just happened.
  3. is their an underlying issue that is fueling these emotions? E.g not feeling loved, not feeling secure in the relationship, not being trusted or respected.
  4. suggest to your partner a time when you can sit down together to talk about it.
  5. work together as a team to find a solution that will work for both of you.

You Disrespecting Me?!

Did you ever get in to a fight because you felt that you were not being spoken to respectfully? Couples can disagree about what is an appropriate way of speaking to each other, so I have a three part test that you can use to see if you are treating your partner respectfully.

Would you speak to your own child like that? We all kinda get it, that we have a duty to build our kids self confidence and to make them into well balanced and independent people. So, we are careful how we speak to them, making sure that we don’t label them or call them abusive names. We try and always speak softly and convey our love through our speech

Would you speak that way to a person that you respect? Think of someone that you really admire and think how you would speak to them. You would make every effort to be polite, calm and courteous. You would choose your words and your timing carefully to show the best side of you to generate more mutual feelings of respect.

Would you do it if 100 million people were watching? There is an endless list of celebrities and politicians who have made sexist or racist jokes in private, then woken up the next day to see it repeated across the media. If they had know that 100 million people were listening, they would not have said it. Imagine there is a camera watching you, displaying to the world every word you are saying, would you be proud of your behavior. When we are in private with our partners for sure we can be more relaxed but we must always speak to them with absolute respect.

The essence of a human being is his/her ability to speak, every time we speak to each other we have to use that ability to show that we respect, love and admire one another.

A Happy Couple’s Secret Weapon

There are many relationship skills that we need to have to make our marriages successful, enjoyable and fulfilling. Some people are natural ballroom dancers and others can paint the most life like pictures without any training, but for most of us skills take patience and effort to acquire.

Prof. John Gottman talks about one of these skills, and he describes it as “the secret weapon of emotionally intelligent couples.” The skill is the repair attempt.

It works like this. You are spending some time planning your weekend activities and as usual you can’t agree on who should get to choose this week. The tension and blood pressure are starting to climb and the decibel level is creeping up, a repair attempt is needed to reestablish the calm.

In Prof. Gottman’s example, the couple stick out their tongues, mimicking their young son, and every time it brings a laugh and the desired calm. Repair attempts can be “I’m sorry” or “Wait a second, I need an ice cream sundae with hot chocolate sauce and a cherry on top”.

Repair attempts can stop a negative communication in its tracks, but only if you let it. When you see or hear you partner attempting to repair, that is your signal to accept. A joke about ice cream sundaes may sound like they are trivializing your concerns, and it might not have been the best way to do it, either way it then becomes your responsibility to accept.

Happy couples are more likely to be open to each others attempts at making things better than couples who are struggling. Even if you are one of those couples who are struggling open yourself to hear what your partner is trying to say to break away from the negative communication.

Get out your tool kit and start repairing.

Controlling Anger

We taught a class recently and the topic of anger came up. One by one each couple told us that one of them got angry often and the other one was supper calm. These couples had developed a kind of survival instinct to keep them going through the outbursts, they were coping, but this is a terrible way to live.

By identifying the triggers of our anger, we can begin controlling and minimizing the explosions. We all want to be a pleasure to live with, staying in control is a huge step in that direction.

So what is it that pushes our buttons?

Our EGO!!

Rabbi Aharon Feldman says, when our egos are bashed we get offended and we get angry. Aggressive, passive aggressive or just annoyed, it is all the same reaction. Our egos are demanding the respect that they think they deserve.

Every criticism that we hear is a blow to our ego and we feel personally attacked. We don’t like to hear that we have faults, and for sure we don’t like to hear about them from our spouse who is supposed to adore us. Our natural reaction is to justify or counterattack, both these responses avoid taking responsibility and throw the blame back at the other person. It is OK to be less than perfect. By being real with our strengths and being brave enough to admit our weaknesses we can help ourselves from reacting.

Jealousy turns us green and makes us see red! When I see my neighbor getting what I think I should have, my ego shouts out, “What about ME? I deserve it more than him!” When your spouse abandons you for the golf course, the kids, Facebook or your in-laws, you are jealous of the time they are giving and you get angry. Often the solution to jealousy is admitting the root of the feelings and focusing on what you do have.

Being ignored or disobeyed is another huge cause of anger. If you have kids you will know exactly what I mean; after all, aren’t kids supposed to listen to their parents? When kids don’t listen and don’t do what they are told, the ego takes offense and is thinking to itself, “S/He doesn’t respect ME and doesn’t care about what I want!” Understanding that we just can’t always have what we want is a first step to controlling this cause of anger.

You can be a pleasure to live when you choose to take control.

What are men thinking when they buy Valentine’s gifts?

Yes, yes, I know all the women just said, “Men think!”

I was listening to the radio a couple of days ago and they were talking about a study done by Professor Barber at the University of New Hampshire. He wanted to find an answer to the question, what are men thinking when they buy gifts?

He came to the conclusion that men are looking for the biggest WOW factor, they are on the lookout for the gift that will get the most praise, the biggest bang for their buck. That’s why jewelry is such a popular choice, almost guaranteed to generate the wow.

Men and women both want to be respected, but the way that they feel respected is very different. Men feel respected when they or their achievements are recognized and praised and women feel respected when they know they have their man’s attention and affection.

So, when a man goes shopping for a gift for his wife or girlfriend (or both) he chooses one that is a safe bet will earn him lots of praise. Women on the other hand will browse around for hours looking for the perfect gift, because they express their love by showing that they are thinking about you.

Professor Barber also has some advice for the men on how they can do even better.

He suggests that a guy should “find items their partner likes, for example a certain type of sweater, snap a quick cell phone picture or remember the style, then go to a store and ask a sales clerk for help finding something similar. Your mate may like it even more than jewelry.”

So, men shop smart and women remember to give the big “Wow!”

Capture The Moment

“I promise, just one more picture, then I won’t bother you anymore!”

When we were engaged and first married we were forever taking pictures trying to capture great moments. We have pictures of our first apartment, first burnt brownies, first Shabbat table and first car. There was always something special and memorable happening that we wanted to have a keepsake of.

Every time we face a camera, we smile and it’s a feel good moment, and in the age of the digital camera, straight away you can take a look and make the image better. Photos help us remember the special events and moments we experience. But why did we stop clicking or turn the camera around and only focus on the kids?

Sure, we get busy and we have more responsibilities, but we still need to cherish each new joint experience.

A close friend of ours passed away a couple of years ago. When his wife went looking for pictures of them as a married couple, so she could remember all of the happy times, she realized that after seven years of marriage there were only a few pictures of the two of them. She told us to make sure that we keep taking the pictures so we can keep the memories growing with us.

The camera will capture the moment, we have to create the moment. Buy a photo album as an excuse to go somewhere or do something different to get pictures to fill it. Is it time to update your Facebook profile? Another great reason to give each other a hug and a big smile. Go to a photo booth and snap some fun pictures, or take the camera on the next date night and ask a passerby to take a picture of you.

Taking pictures helps you focus on creating good memories. Remember, there is always one thing that you can count on and that is change. It’s not only the kids that grow, as a couple we grow closer together, it’s worth capturing.

“Say CHEESE!”

True Love

ow can we know if we are experiencing love? Many people tell me that you will just know when it happens, but that leaves me feeling somewhat insecure, maybe I will never just feel it. It would be so much more comforting to know a description, so we can know what to look out for.

Try this one:-

Love is; the ability to give to someone else and to be just as concerned about their dreams, needs, hurts and successes as we are about our own. It does not depend on anything outside of your relationship (not money, health or children) but it must be fed everyday in order to grow.

Love is the giving of oneself and the giving up of your own will to fulfill someone else’s. A person who loves, gives with all his powers to his or her loved one. A married person who loves, feels the desire to be concerned for and to help their partner.

Many people feel this love inside, but this love must also be expressed in speech and action so that our partners will feel it too. We can express love by showing concern and support for our partners hopes, desires, challenges and successes.

Feelings of love thrive in a marriage when both partners remember that they must feed the love.  (Adapted from The Challenge of Marriage by Sima Basry)

Take five minutes right now, to think of ways that you can do a better job at putting your partner’s will before yours. Give yourself a score out of ten on how well you are doing at express your love in action, then make a plan how to improve.

We would love to hear your description or definition of love too.

It’s Not What You Say, It’s The Way That You Say It

Often Sharon and I speak in public, we spend many hours preparing what we are going to say to our students/audience. We write out a script, then review it, and review it again checking to see if we are really conveying the message that we want to give across. Even the commas and apostrophes; each one is thought out and corrected. We do this because when we speak we want to show the attendees the respect they deserve.

Your husband or wife deserves more respect and consideration than anyone else in the world, but often we fail to show that we understand this. We get casual, we get lazy and we fail.

The same information, ideas and messages can cause the exact opposite reaction to the one you intended if you are not careful HOW you say it. The way you transmit what you want to say is far more important than what you are actually saying.

To be an effective communicator here are a few ideas:

  • Spend a few seconds understanding what you are being told. Ask a few questions before you give your opinion.
  • Never use words like never or always! They are usually wrong and it is taken as an attack on the person’s character or behavior.
  • Make eye contact before you start speaking, this way you know you have their attention.
  • Ask politely when you need something rather than making a demand.
  • Say what you mean. If you would like a drink, “Please can you get me a drink”, is much more efficient than, “I’m thirsty.”
  • Check “is this a good time” before beginning a difficult conversation.

And the bonus tip … SMILE.

Help Someone Else’s Marriage Today

An essential part of falling in love is thinking that this guy/girl is sooooooo special, this is when your friend tells you that they have never met anyone like him/her they are “sooooooo wonderful”.

To stay in love and to hang around in a relationship, you have to maintain that feeling that you are with a very very special person. You have to be sure to always respect them and hold them in high esteem.

Respect and esteem come from focusing on another person’s qualities, but sometimes we get blinded by the smokescreen created by the craziness of life. Those rose tinted glasses that we used to look through have become dark and scratched.

Do you know anyone that is happening to? Even if you don’t, keep reading for a great way to help a friend.

We all have a tremendous ability to be aware of other people’s skills and talents. Take a look around at your friend’s partners and notice something admirable about them. Then next time you see them or speak to them, in a casual way you can drop a one liner.

You might say; “She always pays attention when you speak” or “He has so much patience” or “I have never seen anyone so committed to a relationship before”. A simple statement like this will help them focus on their partner’s greatness.

Make today Help A Friend Day.

The Winning Attitude

Imagine a job where you have to work every day of the week, every week of the year, and every year for the rest of your life. Did I mention there is no pay? Any takers!

Being married is the most important job that you are ever going to have. It is also the most challenging, confusing and complicated one there is. But don’t worry, it is also beyond comparison the most rewarding, uplifting and satisfying experience that exists.

To be successful in the job of marriage you have to have the winning attitude. You need to approach your marriage with the seriousness and commitment of a person determined to be the best in their career. If you work or go to school, remember, that is just what you do during the day or to earn money. The job that counts is the one that starts when you get home.

As you walk in the door of your home be ready to take a deep breath and dive straight in to the multitude of tasks that lie ahead of you. Home is not the place where you come once you have finished trying to be successful for the day. Home is the place you come to make an effort to have the best marriage and family that you can.

Sometimes the effort is mental, thinking how to communicate correctly. Sometimes the effort is emotional, pushing yourself to be kind, compassionate or affectionate. Sometimes the effort is physical especially when you have young children. Whichever you need to do today, remember this is the most important thing that you could be doing.

The truth is that marriage is more important even than parenting! You are not giving the best opportunity to your children when there is animosity, disrespect or abuse between you and your spouse. You even need to take time off from the job of parenting to be the best at your job of marriage.

If you are thinking what resolutions you need to make for the coming year, commit to work harder … at home.

Gifted Giving

Everyone likes to receive gifts and no one ever says no to cash! But I’m sure you too have received some pretty useless things over the years, clothes that don’t fit, food that you don’t like or even checks that you can’t cash because Great Aunt Annie got your name wrong.

Giving in the just the right way is not as easy as you might think. In fact it is such a special skill we use it as one of the praises of Gd in our daily prayers. We describe Gd as the “giver of good kindness”, because a kindness done for the wrong person, at the wrong time or in the wrong way is just no good at all. Gd in His infinite wisdom gets it right every time.

We just received an unusual wedding invitation from some friends of ours and it included the following poem:

We appreciate that you may be thinking of a gift,

There’s no need, of course, but if you insist …

Then what to get for Chatan (Groom) and Kallah (Bride)?

A gift, some money or a nice schmatta?

If you are good enough to be so kind.

Money would be our preference if you don’t mind.

We have to be careful that we are giving in a way that the recipient will feel loved. Don’t plan a romantic picnic out in the country if your husband has hay fever or allergies and definitely don’t take your vegetarian date to a steak restaurant!

Remember, a gift is for the benefit of the recipient, not an opportunity for you to feel good because you are doing the right thing. Before you give in any way (at this time of year or any other!!) ask yourself what they would most benefit from or enjoy.

Time Travelling

Have you always thought that you need tons of money and be super wealthy to able to live in different time zones whenever you choose. It is not true!

All of us can chose to live in any one of three different places and we can change our minds as often as we like, and you don’t need a car or an airplane to get you there. They are, the past, the present and the future.

If you live in past you spend your life dragging the past around with you, that’s what they call it baggage. The weight of the past slows you down and stops you moving forward. People that are living in the past will typically be those that hold a grudge and can’t forgive (two concepts that go against the Torah). They will feel anxiety or negativity when they meet people because they are still living past experiences.

Stop living in the past by practicing forgiving and letting go of negative emotions.

“Rabbi! I don’t know if I can live with this forever!” This is what I hear form people that are living in the future. When you take the next five, ten or twenty years of worry and dump it on your shoulders right now, it will paralyze you. We have no idea what we will be able to tolerate and overcome in the future as we grow day by day.

Stop living in the future by focusing on how you are going to make choices based on who you are today.

Start living in the present by using this great tool from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book Marriage. We need to ask ourselves, “What can I do now to improve my marriage?” There are two important words in that phrase I and now. “I”, you have to take the responsibility to direct your life or marriage in the way that you want it to be, don’t wait for or rely on anyone else, it is up to you.

“Now”, make decisions and choices based upon the reality that you are living today. Move on from the past and don’t become weighed down with worries for the future. What is the right thing to think, say or do based on your situation and needs today.

Be A Boy/Girlfriend To Be A Great Wife/Husband

I asked someone during this week how their relationship is going and I was pleasantly surprised when she told that it was much better. I asked her what was making a difference and her insight was fantastic, and I am going to share it with you now.

She said that she has been acting like a girlfriend rather than a wife!

The depth of maturity and understanding shown here is great. After slowly realizing that she couldn’t control her husband’s rate of change, she took control of something she could change, her own thoughts, attitude, actions and speech. She told me that life is so much more pleasant and enjoyable now, because when you focus on giving you also reap the benefits.

The difference between a girlfriend / boyfriend and a husband / wife is dramatic. The image I conjure up of a girlfriend is a younger, more bouncy, happy and loving person who is always looking to impress and attract. A boyfriend, is attentive and romantic, wants to show he cares, wines and dines, uses words of affection and is polite and respectful. Husbands and wives can loose themselves in laundry, mortgage payments and soccer practice, feel their needs are not being met while brewing resentment for their unmet expectations.

The Divine plan is always perfect for us. To become a great married couple always takes stretching, dedication, commitment and hard work. Turn that effort inwards and see how fast you can build up your own muscles and stamina so that the next challenge won’t appear so hard. Our spouses are not perfect but they are perfect for us.

Be a girl/boyfriend today and take charge of the environment in your home.

Set Your Spouse Up for Success

Woah!!!!!! I really learnt a lot this week.

This is what happened: it was dinner time in the Shenker household and Motti turned to me and said, “Sharon, I just wanted to give you a heads up that the 8th of Kislev (Hebrew month) is coming up in a few days.” I said, “Okaaaay..?” (I’m not so clued in to the Jewish calendar!) then he said, “That’s my birthday.” I was so grateful that he let me know because both he and I knew I would have forgotten.

For some reason, we seem to test our spouses love for us, “if they really loved me or if I was truly important to them then they would remember.” Whether it’s a birthday, Valentine’s Day, a meeting, a gift we are expecting or a suggestion for a date night or romantic getaway, we wait and see if they will perform.

Rather than setting your spouse up for failure and then making them suffer the quiet or loud disappointment, help them out. Recognize that you have an unexpressed expectation that you are waiting for them to live up to, but your spouse has a different make-up!

It doesn’t matter if we are talking about the amount of fuss made about a birthday, your definition of romance, the need for quality time, touch, gifts or intimacy, the expectation that he/she will notice your new dress, suit or haircut (and tell you how great you look), it’s not fair to expect her to be a mind reader or expect him to have seen the movie pretty woman or even know what a white horse is.

This week stop waiting and give to your spouse by teaching them how to love you. Once expressed, your spouse is not obligated to follow through on a suggestion but if they do it is an expression of love and giving. Just because you had to ask for something, it in no way diminishes any kindness received.

Set your spouse up for success this week.

Trust

When we trust our spouses it gives us confidence that no matter what comes our way and no matter where we are, we are going to be OK. Trust allows us to be open, honest and vulnerable with each other and to share from deep within us without fear of rejection.

Trust also creates a sense of emotional security. With this security you can have the confidence to push yourself to have those difficult conversations, the conversations that you MUST have to be able to move your marriage upwards and onto a higher level.

It takes a lifetime to build trust but only a second to lose it.

Here are some simple ways to go about building greater trust in your relationship.

Your word is golden.
If you don’t mean it, don’t say it and if you say it, make sure you mean it. Get into the habit of choosing your words carefully so that your partner knows that when you say something they can be sure that you are expressing what you really mean. When you make a commitment, make sure that you can stand behind it. Even something as simple as; “I will be home in ten minutes”, has to mean that you will be home in ten minutes.

Show respect.
Show your partner respect for their ideas, suggestions, emotions, thoughts and even dreams. When you give your partner validation you generate huge amounts of trust because they know whatever they say they are not going to be ridiculed, attacked or put down. Every time you support them in this way – even when you don’t agree – you are guaranteeing that they will be open with you again.

Give pleasure.
Be focused on what you can give to the relationship. When you show through your positive actions that you are fully committed to the relationship you generate trust. When your partner sees, hears and feels that you are consciously trying to give them pleasure they will take great pleasure in being with you.

Tiny Threads

Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years. ~ Simone Signoret (Academy Award winning actress)

When lots of little things add up to make something huge that is how you build the foundations of a long lasting and loving relationship. Grand gestures are wonderful too, however the slow and steady attention to each other and to each others lives are even grander.

Number three of Prof. John Gottman’s seven principles for making marriage work is, turn toward each other instead of away. He says,

Hollywood has dramatically distorted our notions of romance and what makes passion burn. Watching Humphrey Bogart gather teary-eyed Ingrid Bergman into his arms makes your heart pound, but real-life romance is fueled by a far more humdrum approach to staying connected. It is kept alive each time you let your spouse know he or she is valued during the grind of everyday life. Romance grows when you know your spouse is having a bad day at work and you take sixty seconds out of your own workday to leave words of encouragement on their voicemail.

Professor Gottman’s number one tip on how to build romance by turning to each other is to reunite at the end of the day and talk about how it went. As a spouse you have an obligation to know and care about what is going on in your partner’s life.

The tiny threads that sew a marriage together could be sharing an interesting article you just read in the newspaper, planning what to have for dinner together, pointing out a pretty flower or even going to the market together for groceries.

The Secrets of MY Successful Marriage – Part 2

This week Sharon has written her top five ideas that have helped us to have the wonderful ten year marriage that we have had so far.

It is not 50/50. Being married is not the same as having a business partner. My marriage will succeed only if I make 100% of the effort that is needed. Rabbi Pliskin says that we need to live in the present by asking ourselves questions such as “what can I do now to make a happy atmosphere in my home”. Ask the question everyday what does my partner and our marriage need me to do today?

My Emotional State is not his fault. We have to stop blaming people, things or situations for the way I act or feel. We have to take responsibility instead of blaming. We can not blame our spouses for our moods, you are the only one responsible for the way that you feel and the way that you respond.

It is possible to do the same task in two completely different ways. There are other acceptable ways of doing most things that are not my way and achieve a similar result. It could be cutting vegetables, taking the kids out without a fully stocked diaper bag or shopping for groceries, if they do it a different way, the world will not come to an end. When you micro-manage you are showing a lack of respect for their abilities or intelligence, let it go and swallow your ego.

See Gd’s guiding hand in your life. We like to feel that we are in control of our lives and that we have the right to plan for ourselves what is going to happen next. Living a life of expectations leads to a life of disappointment, stress and aggravation which are all extremely destructive to a marriage. Instead we need to live a life knowing that whatever Gd sends our way is the best thing that could happen to us. See the unexpected as a challenge to use to grow together.

Give in a way that will be received. Learn to be sensitive to the specific needs of your partner. We are not all the same, to some people roses say “I love you” to others they say “a bunch of weeds”. Don’t be trapped into thinking that what you need from your spouse is what they need from you.

The Secrets of MY successful marriage

This week Sharon and I celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. Thank Gd they have been a wonderful ten years of continuously learning more about each other and how we can make each other happy. This week and next we are going to share with you our own personal thoughts about what has made our own marriage so strong and loving.

Here is my top five.

Make your spouse your number one priority. Your marriage must be the most important thing in your life. Your husband/wife is the number one priority, way above everything else including your kids. The way you spend your time (and money) will be a reflection of your priorities, make the choices that you need to let your partner know they are your number one concern.

Force yourself to have difficult conversations. No one likes to feel uncomfortable, but in marriage often you have to use your emotional maturity to force yourself to suffer the discomfort of one of those big conversations. When you refuse to talk about your problems, issues or unmet needs, they are not going to get any better. You have to force yourself to talk about the uncomfortable subjects so you can make your marriage stronger.

Have fun together. Go wild once in a while, let your hair down and have some fun. The relaxed carefree atmosphere of sharing a fun activity is a wonderful way to bring more warmth and affection into your marriage. Be childish, be silly or just be serene but make sure that you never become too old to have fun together.

Listen to your wife. I guess this one is more for the guys. The Torah teaches us that women have an extra insight into everything in life over and above us men. Listen to what she has to say and take her ideas and suggestions into consideration. There is always more than one way to approach any topic, be brave enough to admit that yours might not be the best.

Make time for marital intimacy. When Gd created the world He decided that the closest connection that a husband and wife can achieve is through sexual intercourse. Kids, work, stress – it doesn’t matter, this is part of the glue that holds a marriage together. There is no particular right time or wrong time but there must be time.

A Happy Marriage

Tonight is the start of the holiday of Sukkot which is described by our sages as the Season Of Rejoicing. The joy we are supposed to feel does not come from any grand or spectacular events (like the Exodus from Egypt) but from the awareness that we live constantly in Gd’s beautiful world and that he provides everything that we need.

In our relationships and marriages too the true and long lasting joy that we can find rarely comes from the ostentatious or extremely expensive gestures. It comes from the awareness that our partners do innumerable little things for us and that we have their constant support and love and that we are a safe and trusting relationship.

Recently have you noticed and expressed your gratitude for the little things? When we do it makes our appreciate what we have and who we have.

Here is a list of things that you may not have noticed or may have become taken for granted. Noticing them will bring you more joy in your marriage.

making the beds

kiss hello/goodbye

doing the laundry

washing the car

cleared table after meal

took kids to school

called mother in law

smiled

bought flowers

made supper

paid the rent

took out the trash

said thank you

took dog to vet

made vacation plans

tended to the yard

gave you a compliment

called the babysitter

put trash can in the street

moved car for street cleaning

kept to budget

went to the gym

forgave you

bought you a coffee

didn’t interrupt

let me sleep in

said that you looked good

turned out the lights

went grocery shopping

took child to doctor

Forgiving

Tomorrow night is Yom Kippur and Jews all over the world will be directing their hearts, minds and prayers towards Gd with a united thought; “FORGIVE ME!”

We know that they way we deal with other people is the way that Gd will deal with us. When we live the concept of forgiveness and put it into practice in our daily lives, then we can look to Gd and expect him to act towards us with forgiveness too.

I think of forgiveness as one of the most essential skills in marriage, and it is a skill because it is something that we have to learn. The natural reaction is to wallow in our self pity when we are hurt or to get angry and then get even, so we have to learn the skill of forgiving.

Inevitably you have been hurt in the last year by your partner in some way big or small and probably even in the last week. It may have been by accident or on purpose, it may have been as the result of forgetfulness, laziness, negligence or down right selfishness, it doesn’t matter, your job is to forgive.

So what is forgiveness, it can best me summed as; letting go. You know you have let go when you no longer feel negatively towards the other person because of what happened. If you are bearing a grudge you have not forgiven and if you are keep score and planning on getting your own back you have not forgiven, even if you have told them that you accept their apology.

Forgiving is not forgetting, we can all remember unpleasant things that happened to us when we were kids but we don’t care any more. Forgiving is never mentioning it again! Yes, they have to apologize and try to repair the damage they caused, but even if they don’t you have to work on letting go.

Some ways to help us to get into a place where we can forgive are:

be aware that they didn’t do it to hurt you
consider there side of the situation and listen to their explanation
give the benefit of the doubt
remember that we all make mistakes.

Charity Starts At Home

This week we have the third and final part in our mini series where we have been learning lessons for our marriages from the upcoming High Holidays. The third vital element (to join with repentance and prayer) is tzedakah – charity.

Speaking of charity … the Jewish Marriage Institute’s mission is:

To provide marriage education at all stages of life to give couples the best skills possible to give themselves a happy marriage and the best opportunity of having a stable, well balanced successful family.

We rely on your generosity to enable us to continue our vital work. Please visit our website to see how to donate.

Everyone gives charity, people are doing it all the time right across the world, Americans give over $300 billion dollars to worthy causes. The Torah says it is not just about the amount, true tzedakah is when you look at another person and see what they need, and give that to them. One person may need money, but another may need a hug, emotional support, food or advice.

Tzedakah is an essential element when we set out to repair our relationship with Gd because the process of giving says, “It’s not just about me”. When we are willing to give away our hard earned money we are recognizing the Creator as the source of what we have.

In our marriages there are unlimited opportunities to give. We have to take a look out our spouse’s lives and think, what do they really need. Then when you give it to them, you are making a statement to them that; “I care about you, I want to give to you and I have put in the effort to think about how I can help you the most.”

Your act of giving can be anything from doing the dishes, running a bath, organizing a vacation or working harder to provide more money. The ways you can give are as varied as your imagination. Maybe you spouse needs more time together, or more time alone, or maybe some compliments and praise are what they need to get through the day.

Giving creates love, find more ways to be a giver.

Praying for your marriage

Last week we introduced the idea, that we can learn how to strengthen our marriages by using the same “tricks” that we have been given to strengthen our relationship with Gd. They are Teshuva, Tefila, Tzedaka – Repentance, Prayer and Charity.

This week we are going to continue with some ideas on how we can use prayer to strengthen our relationships and marriages.

The day of our wedding is described as being a “time of opportunity”, when the heavens are open and Gd is closer and, so to speak, hears our prayers more loudly. One of the pieces of advice that we give to a couple, is that when the bride is walking around the groom seven times, they should choose seven different things to pray for together.

When a couple sits down and talks about their wishes and dreams, and then puts them into a top seven ranking, this will undoubtedly bring them closer together. It will give them a far greater understanding of each other and by harmonizing them it will also bring them closer together.

Give it a try. First take a look at this article for some ideas of things that you might want to include on your list.

When we pray we need to say what we feel at the moment. Right now what are you worried or anxious about, pray for it! Right now what do you need to strengthen your relationship, pray for it! Right now what does your partner need to make their lives easy, better and more successful, pray for it! Then give Gd the chance and opportunity to answer.

When we pray for our spouses it means that we are making ourselves sensitive to their needs, and that we are letting go of some of ourselves to make room for them. Anything that we can do to train us to be less self-centered is great for our marriages.

We might find it easy or natural to pray for children and that our children will be successful, but it is so much more critical to pray for our marriages. Our best chance of having healthy, stable children is by making sure that they grow up surrounded by a healthy, happy, stable marriage. So pray for it!

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.

Use Your Differences To Grow Together

Every now and then I will meet a couple that love all the same things as each other. They read the same books, they listen to the same music and they enjoy visiting the same places, they never run out of things to do together.

The other 95% of the time I meet people like you and me who can’t quite understand what is so exciting about that TV show or why you would be crying at that movie. We find our partners hobbies boring or just downright weird. The idea of trying to hit a little white ball hundreds of feet in to a hole is just bizarre. To worry about what sauce to put on the brisket seems futile; if it’s dead just eat it!

If we are really bad (at the skill of marriage) we might express how crazy we think our spouses are, but they probably don’t think it is funny. Most of us will shrug our shoulders, raise an eyebrow and just let them get on with it.

How about this. Use the differences between you to show that you are interested in your partner’s life and you want to be able to share the things that are important to them. I don’t mean that you have to pad up and go play football, or don an apron and learn how to make the fluffiest soufflé in town. But find out the basics of their hobby or interest so they can share their passion with you.

You could say this about work too. Many times I have asked women what their husband do and they tell me that they don’t really know. Wouldn’t it be nice for that guy to be able to share a little of what he spends most of his waking hours doing with the most important person in his life?

One last thought. If you really can’t find a way to get involved, then how about starting something new together: Ballroom dancing, gardening or bird watching.

The key is to find ways to grow together.

Be Each Other’s Biggest Fan

Who do you idolize?

Think of your (sorry to be crass) favorite pin up, singer, politician, activist, hero etc. You think they are amazing because they are very talented at something. Our job as a wife/husband is to be the loudest cheer leader for our spouse. This means that no matter what, we are supporting them, and they know it. They see it, hear it and feel it from you verbally and through your actions every day.

We need to be able to walk around with the feeling that no matter what challenges, successes or curve balls we experience in our daily lives, that someone at home is accepting me and rooting for me every step of the way. Whatever the outcome.

Their job is their responsibility, they have to try their hardest to do what they have to do. Your responsibility is to help them put in the effort by making sure they know that no matter the outcome that they are and always will be supported. It takes away much of the fear factor and pressures of life when you know that if you don’t get the job, promotion or the exact groceries on the shopping list I am still loved.

In Judaism success is defined by the effort not the achievement. Feeling accepted and supported through thick and thin builds confidence and self esteem and nurtures contentment. Take away the egg shells and throw down petals. This week tell your spouse that no matter what happens in your life, you are 100% behind them and on their team. Remember to make sure that you do it with eye contact and finish with a hug!

Looking Back and Going Forward

When you kick back at the end of the day with your cup of coffee or class of scotch and think about your day, are filled with contentment or regret?

At the end of a successful day we might stop and appreciate all the blessings that we have. A loving family, spouse and kids. A job, a home to live in and some money in the bank. On other days we may stop and look back at what we said and wish that we could suck our words back in, or rewind the tape and redo the scene, just like they get to when they make movies.

There are no second chances for today, but there is a first chance for tomorrow, a chance to get it right first time.

How can you get yourself into a position where you will not wish that you could redo your day? Start your day with an unconditional “I love you”, to your partner and your kids and you can even add, “Can’t wait to see you this evening.”

Say sorry if yesterday ended on a bad note, and make it a sincere apology without the word “but”. “I sorry that I yelled when you came home late last night”, and remember to leave off “but the kids were driving me crazy.” By recognizing what happened without being defensive validates your partner and expresses love and respect.

Remember, all good things only come through hard work. It is true for school, career and the perfect golf swing, and especially relationships. Take a deep breath and remind yourself, that if you are going to make a success of your relationship/marriage you are going to have to put maximum effort into it today. And be prepared that today might be a bumpy ride on your road to success, but you can deal with it because you know where you want to be.

How To Stay Cool, Calm and Collected

It’s really hot outside. The highs for Los Angeles today are at 98 degrees. We are in the middle of a heat wave!!!!

How can I get into that hot car again????? But I have to, carpool, errands and work beckon! I am 100% committed to being there for my kids, my colleagues and my home, but can I really do that car journey again?.

The voice inside my head says, “Yes, you can do it”. Focus on the mantra “stay centered, balanced, relaxed … stay centered, balanced, relaxed.”

In Rabbi Pliskin’s book, he posses the following scenario. Imagine someone offered you a large sum of money to develop a skill. The skill of remaining calm and centered when faced with challenges, criticism, anger or nagging. You would definitely be motivated by the money to work on these skills. If they were offering enough money to change your life, you would read anything you could, consult all the experts and practice every day until you were the best.

Living a joyous stress free life with a happy marriage makes you wealthier than the richest person on the planet. So, spend as much time as you need on this skill. It will transform your challenges into moments of great growth and joy!

Even when it is your partner that gets you off balance, that is just an illusion. Only you can get yourself off balance. Start by talking to yourself in ways that make you calmer, visualize a relaxing scene, learn some breathing exercises, whatever you need to do to take control of your own emotional state.

Right now, I’m visualizing sinking into a cool bath of ice cubes.

Create a Safe Haven

safe haven noun area free from danger, area free from harm, place of safety

Something we all want for our homes (and our marriages) is for them to be a safe haven that is protected from craziness, commotion and turmoil. Life is demanding and stressful, all day someone wants something from you and it is almost impossible to find a quiet moment.

Here are some ideas on how to turn our homes into (at least somewhat) calmer places where we can feel safe and secure.

We have a rule in our house that you are not allowed to talk to someone when they are in a different room, you have to find them and talk to them in a soft voice. This is a great way to bring the volume down and it stops a lot of misunderstandings too. Practice speaking softly and you will see that it is hard to be in a fight when there is no one shouting back.

Another great tip that I learnt to stop the tension (and volume) from rising is to smile. You know, the curved line that puts everything straight! Try a quick practice right now wherever you are; imagine you are angry with someone and then smile, it’s impossible to be angry or to shout and smile at the same time. Next time you feel you are about to enter an escalation with your husband/wife or kids, smile. You will see what a difference it makes.

Here’s a random one that will do wonders towards creating a feeling of security in your home. Make a budget and STICK TO IT. Money is the number one source of conflict in a marriage (so I guess divorce too). Be proactive at removing that source of conflict by sitting down together and discussing and deciding on your financial goals and priorities.  A buy now pay later attitude may end up costing you a lot more that you expected.

It’s our responsibility to make sure that inside our front doors there is a safe environment where everyone feels safe.

Love Your Partner Like You Love Yourself

The Jewish approach to all relationships is that we have to teach ourselves to love our friends / neighbors / co-workers, and even in-laws, like we love ourselves. But if you can’t do it in your marriage, then the rest is worth very little.

We speak to each other all of the time, think for a moment, how do you like to be spoken to?

gently or harshly

softly or loudly

with support or with sarcasm

patiently or intolerantly

When you express how you are feeling to your spouse, what kind of response would you like to receive?

dismissive or caring

criticized or supported

ridiculed or understood

mocked or loved

If you have planned to spend some time together, would you expect your partner to …?

be on time or be late

forget or remember

turn up tired or find energy for you

be distracted or be attentive

We crave love, support and validation from our partners, it’s their job! They are supposed to be taking care of my every need, emotion and desire (even before I know I have them). When they fail to live up to that standard you might even find yourself getting depressed or angry.

If it is your right in your marriage, then it is theirs too. Your job is to make them feel as cherished, special, important, desired, cared for and respected as you would like to be … all of the time.

Quality Time

Who would like a vacation? Anyone want to go to a spa? How about paid leave from work so the two of you can go on a romantic getaway, to a resort where other people cater to your every need? I think it sounds great!!!

It sounds great because life is a busy, crazy, a rat race, mundane, routine and full of distractions that take you away from being in vacation mode with each other.

So, what can you do instead? Make mealtimes an opportunity for a romantic dinner together, letting the answer phone take the calls.  Change your cell phone into a device that creates intimacy thru texting each other with short cute messages just for the heck of it, instead of being a device that eats into your private time.  Be addicted to each other, not the phone.

How about setting aside time for a daily walk before or after work, or any other quality activity, even if it only takes 15 minutes as long as it connects you and helps to make sure that the two of you are walking in the same direction.

Our marriage relationship is often taken for granted, Rabbi Twerski uses the example of a lawn that needs nutrients and upkeep to eliminate the weeds, the same holds true for marriage. It needs our time and attention to stop unwanted stress and outside distractions from harming its growth.

But I know what you are thinking! “I DON”T have any time to give”. How can you create time when you just don’t seem to have any? Here are a few thoughts for you: Give up the Sunday morning lie in to have a leisurely breakfast together. Buy in dinner once a week so you don’t have to spend time cooking. Schedule a time or a date with your spouse as you would any doctor’s appointment to maintain your good health. When you are driving home from work have a phone date, or a lunch hour phone date.

Use your imagination, get outside of the box and be creative to make sure you have time for each other.

Marriage: It’s a skill

Everyone has skills, things that they have learnt how to do. No one is born knowing how to whistle, flip pancakes, drive a car or even read emails. Skills are things that you have to learn and then practice to become good at.

Marriage is also a skill, it is not something that most people can figure out by themselves. Unfortunately it is a skill that hardly anyone takes the time to study and become proficient at, and maybe that is why we all know so many failed and failing marriages.

Several times a week I find myself in a “relationship situation” wishing there was an instruction manual that would tell me what to do or what to say. Or how about a live link-up to a marriage helpdesk (is that the beginning of a business idea!) to help perfect my marriage skills.

You are in one of those what-do-I-do-now situations and you choose wrong. The result is that you cause HURT. It is impossible to live with someone and not hurt them occasionally.

To be successful in your marriage you have to become an expert, a world class championship winning expert in the skill of HURT MANAGEMENT.

There are three vital steps.

First you have to recognize the signs of hurt in your partner. Typically in women this is anger expressed as nagging, criticism and put-downs. In men it usually expressed more passively as withdrawal, silence or by creating an emotional distance.

Secondly you have to take RESPONSIBILITY for causing the hurt, by apologizing for your actions, committing to not doing it again and asking for forgiveness.

Thirdly the wounded partner has to start the process of forgiving. This means letting go and not holding a grudge and giving up the desire to get even.

Keep practicing you are going to be great.

Be Open And Be Successful

One of the biggest reasons that people don’t achieve the fullest potential in their marriages, is because they bottle up their feelings. They pretend that what just happened was no-big-deal – but it REALLY was.

When you are hurt you need to express it, otherwise resentment, anger and distance grows develops between the two of you. You need to manager your hurt by expressing it in the right way.

Everyone pushes things under the carpet for the fear of having one of those difficult conversations. But, if everything goes under the carpet the bump in the middle of the room gets bigger and bigger until you trip and go flying.

When you are hurt you need to express yourself. Use your emotional intelligence to know when and how to communicate as soon as possible but in a way that does not attack, criticize or put down your partner.

Here are a few tips on how to do this:

  1. Commit to having a weekly Family Business Meeting (FBM). This is a time that you dedicate to talking about things that directly affect your relationship. By setting a weekly time, the upsetting event is never too far in the past, and you don’t have to handcuff your partner to a chair to make sure you have their attention.
  1. Take time to calm yourself and figure out what is really going on inside your head. Great ways to calm yourself include; walking the dog, meditation, controlled breathing or simply sitting alone with a cup of coffee.
  1. Consider using active listening skills (also know as the Speaker-Listener Technique) at your FBM to ensure that you focus on your perspective of the issue. This style of talking can feel unnatural but helps create a safe environment and avoids a conflict escalating. (Gd willing we will talk more about this in the future.)
  1. Be prepared to listen, not just to hear the words that are coming towards you. Hold your tongue and wait for your turn to speak. You don’t have to agree but you do have to understand and empathize with their take on the subject.

Be open and be successful.

Marital Mind Reading – A Love Hate Relationship

“S/He should have known that I wanted to leave here 30 minutes ago, s/he doesn’t care what I want.”

Wow !!

Let’s unravel that destructive thought process. First, our imaginary friend is telling themselves that their partner should have read my mind and been more sensitive to me. If that wasn’t bad enough, part two says, but I know what s/he is thinking and they are only thinking of themselves.

We want our partners to read our minds when it is to our benefit. For example, you might say to yourself, “He should know that I also wanted a cup of coffee when he got one for himself, I shouldn’t have to tell him – we’re married!” Or, “She should have known that I made dinner reservations for our anniversary and hired a babysitter.”

Sadly and frequently we make the mistake of wanting our partners to read our minds, but we forget that they are only human and don’t know how to. Take responsibility for your marriage and speak up to express your thoughts, needs, emotions or desires.

On the other hand we HATE IT when our partners mind read and tell us what we are thinking, especially when they tell us we are thinking badly about them. After a few years of marriage we usually know what is coming next and we can even finish each others sentences. But we don’tknow what they are thinking.

It is upsetting, condescending and annoying to be told what you are thinking and most of the time the mind-read is wrong anyway. Solution: ask before you assume, you could even say, “I noticed XXXXX and before I jump to any conclusions can you tell me what you were thinking please.”

If you want to be a mind reader, get a crystal ball. If you want to protect, nurture and have you relationship flourish, speak up and don’t rely on mind games.

YOU don’t need to fix it

We all know the expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what if it is broke (or broken as we say in England) are you allowed to fix it then?

Our partners have flaws, weaknesses and do things wrong and it drives us crazy. “If only you would listen to me / do what I say / follow my advice.” We have all the answers to their problems, even the ones they didn’t know they had.

You know how they can; solve the problems they are having at work, get better grades at school, get their parents to stop bothering them, earn more money, take control of their anger or be a better husband / wife.

We think we know exactly what they should be doing, or how they should be living their lives. So, we go straight in with plenty of free and unsolicited advice.

The trouble with being a fix-it man or woman is that we don’t give our partners the time and space to take care of their own issues. Even worse, we give them the message that we don’t think that they are capable to do it by themselves. That is a blow to anyone’s self esteem.

It’s hard to keep quiet when you know that you can help, and it’s frustrating to see them suffer through a problem that you can help them solve. But bite your tongue and hold back, then ask if they want your advice or suggestions. This way you will give your partner their space and they will feel that you are trying to help them and not just get them to do what you want them to do.

Remember nagging is trying to get someone to do what YOU want them to do. Encouraging is getting someone to do what THEY want to do.

Words From The Heart

Everyone wants to know THE secret to a great marriage. Well, here it is …. there isn’t one. There is no secret formula we are all so different and the challenges and victories that we experience span a wider spectrum than any one person could imagine. There are some great tips that will work for everyone. Here is one for you to think about and put into practice.

Remind yourself often what you love about each other.

One woman put it like this:

When I’m busy around the house taking care of meals, laundry or the kids mess I take a moment to remember. I remember the hours that my husband works to provide for us, his patience, commitment to our family and generosity. I chuckle as I remember a bad joke and his quirky humor.

When you spend time reflecting on the good qualities of your spouse, your love, affection and adoration for each other will grow.

One husband told me:

The way that I maintain a high feeling of esteem for my wife is to think about her great qualities and the things that she does for me. On the way home each day I try to think of another trait that I admire, sometimes I work through the alphabet. It might be: Affectionate, Best cook around, Cares for the dog, Doesn’t get upset when I am late, etc.

Here are some words to get you started, and when you have picked a few (or come up with your own) go ahead and share them.

Warm, Peaceful, Belonging, Sense of us, Shares, Passionate, Trustworthy, Gentle, Kind, Caring, Plans for the future, Gives, Security, Treasure, Reliable, Empathetic, Honorable, Loyal, Team player, Pure, Understanding, Supportive, Friend, Encouraging, Knowing, Committed, Loving, Responsible, Respectful, Open, Sincere, Laughter, Considerate, Accepted, Spirit, Soul, Sex, Together, Complete.

Are You Listening To Me?

How many times have you asked that question to your husband or wife?

You know the scenario. It’s the end of the day, you come in from work and want to tell them about your day, or to ask for their help with something, or to remind them that you going to your mother for her birthday dinner. But you have that sinking feeling inside of you that no one is listening, they are in the room but no one is there.

Don’t get all self righteous though, if we are being honest, then we need to admit that we have done it too. You hear the distant buzz of someone speaking, but you are thinking about what’s going to be on TV tonight, or when will you get a chance to get your nails done.

So, how can we learn to be better listeners and give our husbands or wives the respect that we know they deserve?

Listen first, speak second. Make sure that you are actually listening to their words and not just planning the next thing that you want to say. When you listen first you create trust, openness and understanding which are also essential elements to finding solutions.

Repeat back to them what they just told you to make sure that you understood, and to let them know that you are trying to understand. It doesn’t matter if they are giving you a shopping list or telling you why they don’t want to call your mother, let them know that you have understood all of the information.

Don’t play dumb. Body language is a more important communicator than the words themselves. If they say “Yes” but their body language says, “No, I am angry, stressed or annoyed”, don’t ignore it, have the patience and caring to try to understand the problem.

When your spouse talks to you, give them eye contact, a smile and your full attention and you will see and hear the delight they feel when they know you are listening.

Marriage – A Great Opportunity

Marriage is full of great opportunities. It is an opportunity to enjoy companionship, love and meaning. It is also a fantastic opportunity to develop our weaker character traits. Rabbi Pliskin in his book “Marriage” singles out the trait of patience as the one that we get to practice all the time!

Let me ask you, have you ever had to wait for your spouse? Did you ever need to repeat yourself because they just weren’t listening? How many times have you had to do something again because they just didn’t follow the simple instructions? Did you get impatient?

Everyday there are opportunities to improve our level of patience and to learn to be less impatient. When we receive these opportunities we need to be grateful to Gd for them, and gratitude is a much more enjoyable feeling than frustration.

Often when we get short tempered or impatient, it is because we think that the world and all the people in it have to run to our schedule and at our own pace. We have to learn to step back, and to remember, that it is Gd who sets the pace.

Impatience is such a disempowering reaction, it gets you nowhere, fast. But if you change your mindset and use your desire to get things done wisely, then you are in control of a great motivator.

Here are a few tips to take control:

  1. Accept other people’s (spouse included) short comings or faults.
  2. As soon as the feeling starts rising, recognize it and squash it.
  3. Visualize a whole room of people giving you encouragement to stay calm.
  4. Think of the people that you DO stay calm with such as an elderly parent of neighbor, and access that feeling of control.

Impatience can lead to dissatisfaction, anger and blaming. On the other hand, patience builds trust, security and intimacy in your marriage. Grasp the opportunities to be a better spouse.

Similarity = Compatibility … or does it?

Couples often think that they have to like and do the same things as each other if they are going to stay together happily, or they will just drift apart and fall out or love. In other words it is what you have in common that will keep you together.

Even “eHarmony” matches you over 29 dimensions of compatibility. Do they have the secret of a good relationship?

We don’t think so. We actually made a list once of all the things that we had in common, from taste in food and music, to ways of spending our free time, to the types of books that we like to read. To be honest it was a very short list, but we are ten years married and loving every minute. And the truth is couples who are set up on websites based on shared interests don’t do any better than anyone else.

If we married ourselves there would be no room to develop as a human being. We would never have the opportunity to learn how to be selfless, humble, giving, supportive or communicative, all traits that bring us closer to our husbands / wives and to Gd. We have to be on the same path and have similar goals but our favorite flavor of ice cream is not what keeps us together.

So what is it that keeps a couple together?

There is no short answer but here are a few quick tips:

  • Express yourself so your partner knows what you are thinking (they can NOT mind read).
  • Be ready to listen. When YOU show that you care THEY will feel supported and loved.
  • Understand that you are a team and together you can overcome any quarrel, difficulty or challenge.
  • Be a giver (and not a taker).
  • Have fun together. Go wild once a while and do something just for the heck of it.

Be A Professional

When was the last time you bought a marriage book or took a marriage class together?! 1951!?*!

If you are a lawyer, a doctor, a secretary, a fashion stylist, or a parent, and you want to succeed at you have to keep learning. To be good at your job you need to always be developing your skill base as the situations you finr yourself in are constantly changing.

Imagine lying on the operating table and the surgeon says, “Oh! I have never seen this new type of instrument how do I use it?” Oh Boy! Imagine standing in court with your attorney and the judge says you are charged with misdemeanor #16725, and your attorney says “Oh! I have never heard of that before”. Oh Boy! Imagine hiring a new assistant, and you have an important deadline to meet with your top client, but she says, “Sorry I can’t use computers but I am great with a typewriter!” She can smile sweetly, but Oh Boy!

Marriage is a skills-based relationship. It is life long profession that you have to stay expert at even after the kids leave home or you retire! After the chuppa, rather than thinking; Oh boy what the heck do I do now? Develop your skills and yourself to be a connoisseur of marriage.

Research shows that most couples won’t even take one marriage education program! The normal pattern is for couples to meet, fall in love, get married, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, for 50% of all couples, their marriage and dreams end in divorce.

By learning about marriage you’ll learn what to expect, including; challenges such as the birth of the first child, negotiating work and family responsibilities, problem solving techniques and communication skills. You will learn about romance, love, friendship, integrity, trust, making up, commitment, taking responsibility, acceptance, forgiveness, and sacrifice.

Some of our favorite books are:

The 5 Love Languages: Gary Chapman
You Owe it to Yourself: Atarah Malach
You Paid How Much For That, How to win at money without loosing at love: Markman and Stanley
Making a Good Marriage Better: Avraham Peretz Friedman

Fighting For Your Marriage: Markman and Stanley

P.S. If you like what you read visit www.jewishmarriageinstitue.com/donate to make a donation.was the last time you bought a marriage book or took a marriage class together?! 1951!?*!
If you are a lawyer, a doctor, a secretary, a fashion stylist, or a parent, and you want to succeed at you have to keep learning. To be good at your job you need to always be developing your skill base as the situations you find yourself in are constantly changing.
Imagine lying on the operating table and the surgeon says, “Oh! I have never seen this new type of instrument how do I use it?” Oh Boy! Imagine standing in court with your attorney and the judge says you are charged with misdemeanor #16725, and your attorney says “Oh! I have never heard of that before”. Oh Boy! Imagine hiring a new assistant, and you have an important deadline to meet with your top client, but she says, “Sorry I can’t use computers but I am great with a typewriter!” She can smile sweetly, but Oh Boy!
Marriage is a skills-based relationship. It is life long profession that you have to stay expert at even after the kids leave home or you retire! After the chuppa, rather than thinking; Oh boy what the heck do I do now?  Develop your skills and yourself to be a connoisseur of marriage.
Research shows that most couples won’t even take one marriage education program! The normal pattern is for couples to meet, fall in love, get married, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, for 50% of all couples, their marriage and dreams end in divorce.
By learning about marriage you’ll learn what to expect, including; challenges such as the birth of the first child, negotiating work and family responsibilities, problem solving techniques and communication skills. You will learn about romance, love, friendship, integrity, trust, making up, commitment,  taking responsibility, acceptance, forgiveness, and sacrifice.
Some of our favorite books are:
The 5 Love Languages: Gary Chapman
You Owe it to Yourself: Atarah Malach
You Paid How Much For That, How to win at money without loosing at love: Markman and Stanley
Making a Good Marriage Better: Avraham Peretz Friedman
Fighting For Your Marriage: Markman and Stanley
Enjoy each other
Motti and Sharon Shenker
P.S. If you like what you read visit www.jewishmarriageinstitue.com/donate to make a donationWhen was the last time you bought a marriage book or took a marriage class together?! 1951!?*!
If you are a lawyer, a doctor, a secretary, a fashion stylist, or a parent, and you want to succeed at you have to keep learning. To be good at your job you need to always be developing your skill base as the situations you find yourself in are constantly changing.
Imagine lying on the operating table and the surgeon says, “Oh! I have never seen this new type of instrument how do I use it?” Oh Boy! Imagine standing in court with your attorney and the judge says you are charged with misdemeanor #16725, and your attorney says “Oh! I have never heard of that before”. Oh Boy! Imagine hiring a new assistant, and you have an important deadline to meet with your top client, but she says, “Sorry I can’t use computers but I am great with a typewriter!” She can smile sweetly, but Oh Boy!
Marriage is a skills-based relationship. It is life long profession that you have to stay expert at even after the kids leave home or you retire! After the chuppa, rather than thinking; Oh boy what the heck do I do now?  Develop your skills and yourself to be a connoisseur of marriage.
Research shows that most couples won’t even take one marriage education program! The normal pattern is for couples to meet, fall in love, get married, and hope for the best. Unfortunately, for 50% of all couples, their marriage and dreams end in divorce.
By learning about marriage you’ll learn what to expect, including; challenges such as the birth of the first child, negotiating work and family responsibilities, problem solving techniques and communication skills. You will learn about romance, love, friendship, integrity, trust, making up, commitment,  taking responsibility, acceptance, forgiveness, and sacrifice.
Some of our favorite books are:
The 5 Love Languages: Gary Chapman
You Owe it to Yourself: Atarah Malach
You Paid How Much For That, How to win at money without loosing at love: Markman and Stanley
Making a Good Marriage Better: Avraham Peretz Friedman
Fighting For Your Marriage: Markman and Stanley
Enjoy each other
Motti and Sharon Shenker
P.S. If you like what you read visit www.jewishmarriageinstitue.com/donate to make a donation.

Let It Go

Letting go lets you go free. Bearing a grudge drags you down and messes with the most important relationships you have.

You can do it, and it is a mitzvah (commandment) too.

Everyone messes up and everyone (even me and you) has flaws or annoying habits. Accepting them and moving on is one of the great secrets to a successful marriage.

When we get upset, most of the time we just need to let it go. Especially if there has already been an apology. Stop keeping that list of mistakes to be used as a weapon in the future. OK! So she/he doesn’t remember the first time you met, or whatever it is that drives you crazy.

You need to be able to move past the event. Our constant reminders are probably worse than the original sin. But how do we do it? How can we let go?

1. Be the first to apologize. Don’t brood, don’t be resentful, don’t be a martyr and don’t worry about who is right.

2. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Most things are not even worth noticing, let alone fighting over. Sometimes you will have to talk about it but choose your battles well.

3. Focus on the credit in your emotional bank account. All the acts of kindness and caring from your spouse over the years are not wiped out by one (or two) acts of thoughtlessness.

4. Accept your spouse’s (or friend’s –this applies to friends as well) limitations.

5. Look at yourself first and judge favorably. Many of our grudges result from oversensitivity. Are they ignoring you, or are they simply preoccupied?

6. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you anyway.

Letting go frees us. We can exhale and breathe again. It opens us up to more profound experiences and deeper relationships. Give it a try.

The Marriage Ref

There is a new TV show starting here in America called “The Marriage Ref”. Here is what the website says:

“Married life takes center stage as celebrities, comedians and sports stars candidly comment, judge and decide who’s right and who’s wrong in real-life disputes between real-life spouses.”

What do you think, does this sound like a good idea to you? Here are my thoughts.

The idea that there needs to be a winner or a loser in a marital dispute, totally fails to grasp the most important concept of a marriage. When we get married we make a commitment to work together to become one unit. We are now a family who will work together to find solutions where we can all be happy.

In the September 2009 issue of the journal, Psychology and Aging, they reported on the importance of having a sense of “we-ness” in a marriage. A new study suggests that “we” language used between spouses in times of conflict goes along with less negative behavior in lengthy marriages. Studies have indicated that the use of inclusive pronouns such as “we,” “our” and “us” — versus “I,” “me” and “you” — are evidence of marital satisfaction in younger couples. Robert Levenson, the study’s senior researcher, said “we” words over “I” words are “part of this invisible language that can tell scientists what’s going on inside a marriage.”

You don’t need a referee to make peace in your home (Shalom Bayit), you will find it when you are focused on working together as a team to solve your problems. We can only fuse our souls together and live as one flesh (Basar Echad) when we stop caring about who is right and who is wrong and only care about each other.

You Giving Me Attitude?!

Your attitude is your biggest strength in your marriage.

Your attitude towards your spouse, yourself and the craziness that is going on all around you is the biggest factor in the success of your relationship.

Attitude #1 – Hide under the rock. Marriage is a bumpy road to happiness and greatness, but if you choose to bury your head in the sand and pretend that your problems don’t exist, they won’t go away. Solution: Start working on the feeling of security between you, so you will have the confidence to bring up difficult issues without fear of rejection.

Attitude #2 – Everything is fine. Fine is a pretty weak description of the relationship that is supposed to bring you joy and fulfillment. Leaving your marriage on the back burner to take care of the kids, the business or the home is not going to increase your level of satisfaction. Solution: Take a class or some time to figure out where the fizzle has gone and start trying to put it back.

Attitude #3 – If only … If only we had more money, if only we had more time, if only we had more/less kids, if only I had married someone else! When you keep looking at what you don’t have you will never find pleasure in the wonderful life that you can create with what you do have. Solution: Give your husband/wife one compliment and one praise everyday and you will soon see all the good that you have.

Attitude #4 – It’s down to me. This is a winning attitude, marriage is a partnership where each partner is 100% responsible. Wake up everyday and think what can I do to make my wife/husband happier and to show them that they are the most important thing in my world.

Priority #1

Are you feeling brave? When was the last time that you and your spouse checked that your priorities were compatible?
Are you sure you are feeling brave? Then try the following eye opening exercise. Each of you list your top five priorities in life and then list what you think your spouse would say your top five are. Some common priorities are:
work/career house/home possessions friends
children sports hobbies pets
your partner future goals relatives TV
faith/Gd/religion education co-workers car
If they are the same, that’s great, you are heading for everlasting happiness. If they are not take some time to think about how you can bring them together to bring the two of you closer together.
Jewish thought says that there can only be one priority in your married life, your husband or your wife. They have to be at the top of your list even above your kids, because the best thing that you can do for your kids, is to give them a happy, loving, stable home.
We are all exhausted and this is the most common excuse for not making each other feel that they are our number one. Rabbi Pliskin says to always ask yourself the question, “What can I do to make her/him feel like s/he is the center of my world?”
Maybe you should drop everything when they walk in the door and greet them with excitement, a smile and the kids. Be interested in their day (even if it was boring!). Snap out of it and be attentive. Let them know you are present and it makes a difference to your life that they are with you. Show them that you desire intimacy.
Your husband or your wife needs to know that they are your number one.

Are you feeling brave? When was the last time that you and your spouse checked that your priorities were compatible?

Are you sure you are feeling brave? Then try the following eye opening exercise. Each of you list your top five priorities in life and then list what you think your spouse would say your top five are. Some common priorities are:

work/careerhouse/home - possessions friends - childrensportshobbiespets - your partnerfuture goalsrelativesTV - faith/Gd/religioneducationco-workerscar

If they are the same, that’s great, you are heading for everlasting happiness. If they are not take some time to think about how you can bring them together to bring the two of you closer together.

Jewish thought says that there can only be one priority in your married life, your husband or your wife. They have to be at the top of your list even above your kids, because the best thing that you can do for your kids, is to give them a happy, loving, stable home.

We are all exhausted and this is the most common excuse for not making each other feel that they are our number one. Rabbi Pliskin says to always ask yourself the question, “What can I do to make her/him feel like s/he is the center of my world?”

Maybe you should drop everything when they walk in the door and greet them with excitement, a smile and the kids. Be interested in their day (even if it was boring!). Snap out of it and be attentive. Let them know you are present and it makes a difference to your life that they are with you. Show them that you desire intimacy.

Your husband or your wife needs to know that they are your number one.

Do You NAG !?!?

Lets define … do you constantly suggest or remind your spouse to do something?  Women nag about things they want their husband to do, and men are usually ‘after the fact’ naggers, telling their wives that they spent to much, or they were not friendly to his mother!

Nagging usually happens when we have a higher standard than our spouses, in anything from cleanliness to manners, from exercise to romance. But … it is really a veiled form of criticism and communicates that you don’t trust them to take care of things on their own.

Nagging never works anyway, which is exactly why you have to keep nagging to get them to do it. Nagging builds up a resistance to your demands. Men react by tuning out, he might nod or smile but he switched off because he knows the script already.

So how can I get them to do the things I am nagging about??! One answer is to encourage. It’s a far bigger motivator than nagging! Encourage is to inspire courage, but you can only support them to do something that they want to do themselves. The beauty and greatness of marriage is that you are living with another adult who is also making their own freewill decisions.

Another way is to show him/her the rewards of doing what you are asking for by expressing your appreciation and gratitude. The more someone likes you, the more they will do the things that make you happy. The more pleasantly you speak the greater the chance you will be heard.

It seems to me that the things we nag about are connected to expectations. How they will always be on time, take their ‘fair’ share of the chores, know how to be perfect, be more affectionate or always look gorgeous. So the next time you are disappointed and ready to nag, realize you had an expectation. Check if it is reasonable and express it through requests rather than demands to build intimacy rather than resistance!

Empathy – Showing that you care

Showing empathy says, “I care enough about you to take the time to understand your feelings.”

Giving someone empathy is better than giving charity or doing a chessed (an act of kindness). Charity is just with your money, a chesed requires that you get more involved but it still stays external to you. Empathy is a much higher level, because you need to give of yourself with your emotions and feelings.

Usually men are pretty bad at this, probably because they are taught to toughen up and get on with it, and that emotions are for girls. Women are usually great at it. If you ever hear a woman on the phone to one of her girlfriends, you will hear the most amazing array of empathetic comments. “That’s terrible”, “Oh no!” “I can’t believe it”, “How could that happen”, and “I would be so upset if that happened to me.” It comes naturally to them.

Showing empathy is a declaration that I enough care about you to take the time to understand “where you are coming from”.

TIP: If you are in a fight, never say “How can you think that?” The answer is easy. She thinks that way because she is not you – from her perspective it is also obvious. You have to try to understand where she is coming from.

TIP: Never say, “What are you complaining about, it’s no big deal!” YES, it is a big deal to him. That is invalidating him and is one of the big danger signs in a relationship.

To successfully show respect and create a safe environment in your home, you have to be able to demonstrate to your spouse, that you know where they are coming from.

Real Fun

Recently we took our kids ice-skating (by the beach – this is LA!), and for the first time we got skates for our youngest boy who is only three years old. He was having a great time trying to figure out what to do and was really becoming confident.

I was left with a dilemma. On the one hand I could ditch the kids and race off to have some fun dodging in between people, alternatively, I could stand at the side and watch my wonderful little boy learn a new skill and take a step towards being a big boy.

I realized that there really was no contest, the deep pleasure of sharing this experience with my son, was far more important to me than the quick thrills of speed skating.

In marriage and relationships we often face similar dilemmas. The choice between focusing on the “I” or the “We”. I can do what I want to do, which will give me a buzz or an ego boost, or I can choose to do something that will build our relationship even though it might not be as exciting. If I choose the second, I am choosing to increase the intimacy between us.

Do something this week that shows your partner that your relationship is the most important thing to you, and that they are the greatest pleasure in your life.

Arrghhh!! I’m too stressed out!

Stress can be a big part of our lives. It comes in many forms and affects our ability to function.

There are three types of stress:

  • Stress can come from events we see coming, like starting a new job or the birth of a baby.
  • It can come out of nowhere like losing your job or being the victim of a crime.
  • We have ongoing stresses in our lives, from our family, in-laws or financial worries.

The common danger is that these stresses will spill over into our marriages / romantic relationships. This makes it much harder to give our partners the patience, attention and affection they need. Stress affects us in many ways, it makes it much harder for us to give the benefit of the doubt, it increases arguments and conflicts and it drains our physical strength.

Mastering your stress will help create and maintain an environment of safety in your relationship. Then you will be able to carry on enjoying each other regardless of what the big-bad-world is throwing at you.

Some practical tips to maintain your serenity:

  • Learn how to relax by using simple meditation CDs, this can also be a fun thing to do together.
  • Is there an upcoming event or a reoccurring event that is causing you stress? Sit down together to brainstorm how you can deal with the situation better. Can you find a way to better manage your time or to reorder your priorities.
  • Take the dog or the baby for a nice long walk (maybe even leave your cell phone behind).
  • Yoga!
  • Take a long hot shower or bath.
  • Try relaxed breathing as you are talking to your partner it will help you listen and be focused. (For all the moms out there, you probably took birthing classes. Remember how they taught you to reduce pain by relaxing your muscles and focusing on your breathing? When you tense up, it hurts!)

Don’t Blame … Take Responsibilty

We live in a world of blame. We blame the spouse for a bad day, the traffic for being late, and computer games for overweight children. In our world of blame, a packet of peanuts must clearly say, ‘may contain nuts’, and hot drink cups say, ‘caution: contents may be hot’, because rather than take responsibility, we sue manufacturers. Each person blames the other for problems in the relationship.

When you blame, you see the fault in another person and attach negativity to that person. 80% of the negativity you feel towards your spouse has to do with blaming them for X, Y, or Z. Imagine walking around without any negativity. It takes away the heavy baggage. We’re the people who end up being the victim through our own blame. Being right is pleasurable, and we want to blame because it means we are right.

Steven Covey in his ‘7 Habits’ books, defines “responsibility” as having the “ability to choose your response.” Responsible people do not blame circumstances, conditioning, or conditions for their behavior. Response able means constantly choosing how you react to your spouse.

Rabbi Pliskin says you can take responsibility by asking the question, “What can I do now to create a joyful atmosphere in my home?” The two important words are “I” and “do.” In your relationship, instead of trying to get your partner to make you feel happy and secure, you have to learn how to do this through your own thoughts and actions. Instead of getting angry at your partner for feeling rejected when they are late, not listening, or preoccupied, explore your own feelings and be response able. Take 100% responsibility for yourself and ask “what can I do now to…”

When you point your finger at someone else, there are three fingers pointing back at you!

When is it OK to express your negative feelings?

One of the hardest questions we face as married men and women is “when to keep quiet and when to let it out?” Clearly we can’t talk about everything and we also can’t talk about nothing, so what is the right thing to do?

There are times when it is both necessary and helpful to express negative feelings of criticism or disappointment. The Torah teaches us that when we are upset with anyone we need to express our feelings, but when we do express, it must be done is such a way that is constructive and does not cause embarrassment and then only in private. When done correctly we are promised that there will be peace and harmony in the home.

The first step to doing this correctly is never to allow your negative emotions to carry you away and into a storm of yelling, name calling and accusations. Bite your lip, calm yourself and set a time a day or two later which both of you agree on. Often you won’t feel the need to talk about it by then, that is fine too.

If you do still have a need to express yourself, then start discussing the problem by giving each other the opportunity to be understood. First understand their perspective and feelings on the issue. When you both feel fully understood, then you can start to problem solve.

Marriage – A Team Sport

One of the key ingredients of a successful marriage is remembering that you are on the same team.

When Gd arranges the marriage of Adam and Eve He says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Two important phrases in that sentence, “cling” and “one flesh”. The way to attain marital unity or harmony is by clinging together.

Gd forbid if you were shipwrecked and you were stranded in the ocean and a piece of wood drifts by you would cling onto it and never stop. In a marriage we can become one by always trying to find ways of clinging closer together.

That is where TEAMWORK comes in. You become close by always working on being a better team and being better team mates. Marriage is a TEAM sport, but you are on the SAME team, and you need to be always cheering for and supporting your team.

Some of the characteristics of a good team are:

v     Work as a team

  • You are pulling in the same direction by working together.

v     Cover your own positions

  • Take responsibility for yourself, your own effort and your behavior.

v     Play be the rules

  • Setting limits creates security.

v     Strategy

  • Your marriage needs a “vision”.

v     Practice to stay good

  • You have to work at it everyday single day to the be the best you can.

v     Ejected for bad behavior

  • No one wants to suffer a trip to the doghouse!

v     “Take one for the team”

  • Be prepared to give and to give-in even when you are not in the mood

Most of all — enjoy playing!

Jewish Romance

Cupid is a nice guy, but there is no place for him in the Jewish view of love. Romance is far too important to be left to the little cherub with the mis-firing bow-and-arrow who haphazardly shoots his arrows and makes people fall in love.

Jewish romance and love is never left to chance. Show your husband/wife that THEY are the center of your world (and not you), that is romantic. When you do something or say something that shows your partner that you are trying to be less selfish and more selfless that is romantic.

To have a relationship with Gd you have to be willing to move your ego aside to make room for him. A marriage is the same. When you are willing to give up being ‘me’ you can become ‘us’, that is when your relationship will flourish.

Real romance takes planning and preparation, so starting thinking about how you are going to show your husband/wife that you are thinking about them. Choose a night this week when you can have a romantic get-away, find a babysitter or dog walker so you can disappear for the day (without cell phones). When you put more effort into the planning, you are making a greater statement that, “You are important to me, I love you and I want to be with you.”

Remember the only difference between united and untied is where you put the “I”.

You Don’t Have To Be Right To Be Right

I was out the other day and I heard a women say to her husband, “I have to get home now because I would like to make you that casserole dish you love. It takes an hour and I want to have plenty of time.”

I thought “ahhh that’s thoughtful,” but I couldn’t believe what I heard when her husband responded.

He said, “No it doesn’t, it only takes fifty minutes.” Ouch!!

Recently at a Shabbos meal I saw the following less than lovely interchange take place. Every time Peter tried to tell a funny story, his wife Claire would correct his punch-line. He would say, “then ten people cut in front of me in the line!” and she would chip-in with, “No, it wasn’t ten it was six.”

We all like to be truth seekers, when it suits us. Often we will correct our husbands or wives in the name of accuracy, but all it does is demonstrates a lack of respect and is a very damaging habit.

In both these examples the correction was totally not needed and took away the talkers joy in sharing. Ultimately the danger is that your spouse will stop sharing their stories, dreams and plans all together. Being right can not be more important than protecting the feelings of someone you love.

Enjoy each other.

To learn more about this or any other relationships issue please contact us at the Jewish Marriage Institute.

Everyone Has Something To Say

Some people never stop talking and some people just don’t say enough and most of us rarely say what we mean!

From out of all the chitter chatter in a relationship the types of conversation can be broken down into just three types. Everyone does them all and we need to be doing them all, but the third one in the list below is the only one that is going to make your marriage strong, healthy and long lasting.

1. CASUAL TALK. We do this all day long, these are the things that we need to say to take care of the business of everyday life. We need to know; who is going to shop for groceries, what time you will be home from work or who’s turn is it to change the diapers. This kind of talking must always be polite, respectful and happy.

2. CONFLICT TALK. This is the one that no one wants to do, where we deal with the inevitable conflicts and disagreements that come up between us. Conflict talk needs to take place only when both parties are ready and willing. It needs to be respectful and safe, without fighting and with trust. (Techniques for this will follow in future emails).

3. FRIENDSHIP TALK. This is the one that counts. Friendship talk is when you don’t need to say it to get through your day or week, so when you choose to communicate you are taking the opportunity to build intimacy and strengthen the connection between you.
This is talking about the things that matter to you or simply something that you want to share. Friendship talk is as simple as sharing what is going on in your day, at work of with the kids, or as significant as sharing your goals dreams and aspirations. It’s also listening carefully and supporting your mate when he or she is feeling vulnerable.
Friendship talking is what you did when you were falling in love and it needs to continue throughout your relationship. Without friendship talk you may forget what you brought you together and why you want to stay that way.

Keep talking and enjoy each others company.

Take Control – Of Yourself

Emotional maturity and emotional intelligence are essential ingredients in every relationship, by getting in control of them you will make huge steps to improving the atmosphere in your home.

A great first step is to take control of you moods, you spouse or partner does not need to have a lousy evening because you had a lousy day at work, at school or with the kids.

You ARE in control of your emotions, moods and reactions because you have the amazing gift of free-will. God gave us the ability to be in control of ourselves. No one and no thing can force us to feel or respond in a certain way. When you choose, over and over again, to live with emotional intelligence despite the ups and downs, despite the difficulties and obstacles of life, then God says, “I love you more than I love the angels.”

The opportunities to practice are constant and continuous. The easiest response to someone who shows us a sour face is to return the same look. Don’t fall into the trap of using the excuse that I had no choice or it is was instinctive reaction. Did you ever ask or feel “do you expect me to control my facial expressions too?.” Start using your free will and your emotional intelligence to take control.

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

“He was angry at me and started a fight, so I gave some of his own medicine.”
“She didn’t want to talk to me, so I showed her who could stay silent longer.”
“He thinks he is strong willed, I’ll show him!”

Take control of yourself, use your emotional intelligence to make your home the most peaceful and loving place it can be.

Remember You are Married to the Greatest Guy/Girl Around

In our marriages we have thousands of things to enjoy and celebrate about our husbands or wives, we just have to take the time to learn about them and to notice them. When we were dating and first married I am sure that you thought that your partner was the greatest, most wonderful and caring person in the world. If you still do that is great and go NOW and tell them. If that feeling has started to ebb away here are some tips to regenerate that admiration.

1 – List your partners three best positive characteristics.
2 – Talk about when you first met and what attracted you to each other.
3- Recall what made you choose this person over the rest of the world.
4- Look back and discuss some great memories of your lives together.
5- Think positive thoughts and back them up with an action:
e.g. Think: I am genuinely fond of my partner.
Do: List one characteristic each day for a week that you find endearing or lovable.

A Sense of Security

A feeling of security and stability is one of the most important factors is making any relationship or marriage last forever. Building an environment of trust and security in your home means “creating a safe emotional space for your spouse where he/she is not afraid to express his/her feelings and opinions.”

When you feel secure you long to be at home spending time with your spouse, and you do not find excuses to keep you physically or emotionally distant. When you feel secure you feel at ease to share your experiences or your emotions, you will not hold back from expressing yourself from fear of hurt or embarrassment.

Building trust and security takes time and effort, some great steps are to:
 Act with integrity.
 Share.
 Take responsibility – don’t blame.
 Never threaten to leave the marriage.
 Stay in control of your negative emotions to create stability in the home.
 Talk honestly – mean what you say and only say it if you mean it.
 Validate and accept your spouse for everything they are.
 Make boundaries and stick to them.

To find out more about this topic or anything else about marriage and relationships contact us at the Jewish Marriage Institute.

Forgive and Be Forgiven

Our relationships and marriages give us priceless joy and fulfillment but also leave us open to pain and sadness. At some time we all suffer some hurt in from our partners, it may be from discovering we were lied to or simply if they do not treat our feelings with enough sensitivity. At the time it is hard to think of forgiving but this is one of the keys of a successful marriage.

You need to take responsibility for your actions ask for forgiveness and forgive your partner for his or her actions or inactions. Forgiving is a process that takes time and results in giving up the urge to get even and only works if you let them out of the doghouse.

Think to yourself is there anything that I need to ask forgiveness for?

Here are five steps to make it work

1. state clearly what you did wrong
2. apologize, and make sure you mean it
3. accept that your behavior was hurtful
4. make a plan so that it will not happen again, you may have to make changes to your habits or behaviors
5. remember that your relationship is the most important thing in your life, even if you think you are right do it for the sake of your marriage.