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- May '02/Iyar-Sivan 5762

One of the most frequent "common denominators" that I see in my counseling work with troubled marriages is: people do not relate to the reality of the other spouse. They project from their own minds what they think the other one should be and do. This, of course, originates from the first partner's internal emotions, experience, background, shortcomings, perceptions, biases and neuroses within. Therefore, there is no or little overlap with the reality of the other person's feelings, situation, personality, needs and history. The "human reality" of the second person can thus be harmed by being ignored, rejected or abused. And, for sure, the first person is NOT RELATING with the second person. This, in varying degrees, is a typical foundation of marriage trouble. And, when both parties approach each other like this, it is all the worse.

Therefore, only when each in a couple relates and responds to the reality of the other, including responsibility for the impact of all behavior by each upon the other, and recognition that the genders operate very differently, can we even BEGIN to call what they have a "relationship." It may be hard work, but the Torah obligates man and wife to respect and relate to the "reality" of who the other is; of how each feels, what each wants or needs in each situation; to make each other happy, to help each other and to retain peace and calm at all times.

It takes a very big person to get out of him or her self and be there for the other in terms of who that other REALLY is and what that other person REALLY needs. There is no option. This is a major part of the maturity and responsibility required of married people. If this is asking too much, you should never have gotten married.

All MEN AND WOMEN MUST learn Torah regularly. Women have plenty of things that pertain to them such as laws of kashrus, modesty, nida, lashon hora, midos, chesed, shabos and holidays. Men must learn every day and women should go to shiurim two or more times a week. EACH MUST REGULARLY LEARN PRACTICAL MATTERS THAT PERTAIN TO RELATING, TO GROWING AS A PERSON, RAISING CHILDREN AND TO SHALOM BAYIS. I notice a high correlation between the degree of peace in marriage (or the ability to restore it when differences arise) and the sincerity of the couple's davening [prayer] - the man three times a day with a minyan and the woman twice each day (Shacharis and Mincha). If you study the grammatical root, the Hebrew verb for prayer, "lehispalel," actually means "self-judgement." People who truly know how to pray are constantly introspecting and evaluating themselves, exploring whether they merit the things that they pray for. The more authentic the couple's "relationship" is with G-d, the better their potential is for a good relationship with each other. The spirituality and civility of any marriage is impacted by the commitment to relevant learning and to proper davening BY BOTH.

When Hashem instructed Moshe to get the Jewish people ready to receive the Torah at Sinai, Hashem said (Exodus 19:3), "Say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel." "Say" means soft speech, "house of Jacob" means the women; "tell" means to speak firmly and "sons of Israel" means the men. Thus, the Torah teaches that we must speak differently to men and women: we are to speak to women with softness, feeling, sensitivity and respect; to men strongly, directly, analytically and logically. These accord with the nature, personalities and "wiring" with which Hashem created the different genders.

"Rav said, 'A man must always be careful with the paining of his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes quickly.'" "Said Rabbi Elazar, 'Since the destruction of the Holy Temple, the gates of prayer [in Heaven, where prayers have to pass] are shut, but the gates of tears are not shut.'" "Rabbi Hisda said, 'All the gates [in Heaven] are shut except the gates of pained feelings'...Rabbi Elazar said, 'All punishments come through an intermediary, but punishment for causing pained feelings comes directly and rapidly from G-d.'" [If any person is made to cry, the one who made the person cry will be brutally punished by G-d. If a husband hurts his wife to the point of crying tears, he is setting himself up for serious trouble and retribution. Since a woman is pained easily, a husband must always be extra careful to never wrong his wife and to never hurt her feelings]. "Rav also said, 'A man who acts upon his wife's advice will fall'...Rabbi Papaw expressed objection to [his colleague] Abayei, saying, 'Everyone says that if your wife is short, bend down and listen to her whisper [go out of your way to act upon the advice of your wife - a seeming contradiction with the authoritative Rav].' It is no contradiction [each has a specific domain of leadership]. He is the leader in religious matters, she is leader in household matters'" [Gemora Bava Metzia 59a-b].

Often men speak to women as men, and women speak to men as women. In marriage and dating; miscommunication, non-communication and blindness to the other-gender's "programming" leads to trouble and the disruption or ending of relationships. If men and women would learn to allow for and to accommodate gender differences, they would have fulfilling and blossoming relationships.

Sometimes gender difference plays a part in communication or problem-resolution difficulties. For example, some women in counseling express substantial emotional pain because their husbands have no grasp of what an issue means to her emotionally. He will typically make judgements or use logic to determine what he considers valid or allowable. Otherwise, in his mind, things cannot have emotional significance. He is blind to his impact on her, causing her extreme pain and distress, in the process. For her, the feelings are very real and, as a counselor, I see that they are usually valid and are a legitimate part of her female nature. Even if told repeatedly, he doesn't get it when she says she has feelings or that an issue matters to her. Since he doesn't grasp that her feelings about something exist, his shalom bayis will likewise not be allowed to exist!

A guy dated a young woman. She complained that after a five hour date he didn't so much as offer her a soda. He figured she would ask if she wanted something (he wasn't especially thoughtful). She never dated him again. One woman asked her husband what he would like for dinner. He said it wasn't important and thought nothing more of the subject. She was hurt because she wasn't simply asking what he wanted. SHE WANTED HIM TO DISCUSS WITH HER WHAT THEY WOULD HAVE TOGETHER. He thought "menu," she thought "relating." A woman told her husband she needed him to buy her new dresses. He protested, "But you have a whole closet full of clothes!" "Yeah," she answered, "but this one's out of style, that one I was seen in already two times, this one is the same as my neighbor has...". In her mind, she had no clothes. In his mind, she was overloaded.

A young couple came to me for counseling. He saw everything through logic, she through feelings. Because she could not hold a conversation from a logic vantage point, he came to despise and disrespect her. Because he was blind to her feelings, she was in excruciating emotional pain and terrified about his leaving her. She was a devoted wife who sincerely tried to give her all to him. She took care of all areas that mattered. She kept the home and herself attractive, she treated him with respect and attentiveness. But, she could not think logically. He had no idea how to regard or treat a woman or that he was sadistic and causing her massive emotional pain. He wanted to give numerous LOGICAL REASONS to not remain married and for her to not feel hurt; instead of ACKNOWLEDGING HOW MUCH HE WAS CAUSING HER HURT, appreciating the "maalos (good attributes)" she had, and recognizing how much he was missing about what a normal, mature and proper marriage is. It took many sessions to make breakthrough with him. He was emotionally undeveloped and had no grasp of or concern about the impact of his behavior on her. Even a logical man, when mature and healthy, has and understands emotions on some reasonable level and should be "reachable" when circumstances require his dealing with them.

Imagine if the fellow who never offered his date a soda would have asked the girl early on if she wanted anything, or if he had the "seichel" to say HE FELT LIKE STOPPING FOR SOMETHING AND HOW DOES SHE FEEL ABOUT THAT? so she would be comfortable about having something. Imagine if the couple had better communication when the woman was hurt because her husband answered her "to the point" saying that he wasn't concerned about the dinner menu. Remember to adapt for the other gender's nature and mind-set: speak softly, with sensitive emotion and consideration to women; be direct and specific to men. Be clear with and have respect for both.