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- June '02/Sivan-Tammuz 5762

Yaakov worked seven years to marry Rachel. At the wedding, her father, Lavan, disguised his other daughter, Leah, and tricked Yaakov into marrying Leah.

"And in the morning he saw that she was Leah. And he said to Lavan, 'What is this that you have done to me? Have I not worked with you for Rachel? Why did you deceive me?'" (Genesis 29:25)

Notice something about Yaakov as a communicator. His communication to Lavan was ALL QUESTIONS. Yaakov didn't scream. He didn't pick up a gun. He didn't even divorce Leah (he married Rachel ALSO). Yaakov did not fight, threaten or divorce - with a woman he didn't even know he was marrying. He was too nice to hurt Leah's feelings by rejecting her! How much moreso must you use questioning as a means of communicating to discuss something considerately with someone who you knew you were marrying!?

If you ask questions (instead of demanding or stating), you are not as likely to be perceived as: * attacking, * imposing your view, * accusing, * criticizing nor * judging. This psychological benefit applies with anyone, not just a spouse.

Questioning allows room for benefit of doubt and allows you to acquire information that will allow you to know the whole or real story.

If you: assume that you know, act like a "know it all," are judgmental, or make an attacking or presumptuous statement; doing so can escalate an argument, alienate, break trust and/or make you seem foolish. If you ask questions with a calm and polite tone of voice, you obtain information that comes in response to you from the person answering. This way, you have not accused or abused. The statement comes from the other person's reality, not from your attempt to jam your "reality" down the other's throat.

Lavan answered Yaakov that the custom in Lavan's society is never to marry off a younger sister before an older sister. Since Rachel was younger, Lavan felt it was impossible for him to marry off Rachel before Leah. Whether Lavan was justified for being a swindler is not our point just now. Note, though, that Yaakov obtained information he did not have before. Yaakov didn't have a fight. Yaakov was never thrown in the klink for a crime of passion. He asked questions. You should too.

Throughout the Torah, we see disagreements handled with questions and not with fights - by righteous and even evil people. When the G-d-fearing midwives Shifra and Pua disobeyed Paro's order to kill Jewish baby boys at birth, Paro asked, "Why did you do this, to let the male children live?" [Exodus 1:18]. When some people were not allowed to bring the Pesach sacrifice, they asked Moshe, "Why are we blocked from bringing a sacrifice?" [Numbers 9:7]. When the daughters of Tzelofchod complained that they had no inheritance in the land since their family had no sons, they asked Moshe, "Why should the name of our father be lost from his family?" [Numbers 27:4]. Rambam requires that when someone wrongs you that you ask, "Why have you done such and such to me?" [Hilchos Dayos 6:6]. There are very many more examples where questions are used to voice an objection and obtain information, rather than to presume or to verbally attack.

I tell couples with communicating problems never to assume that what each intended to say is what the other understood. The meaning, feeling and expectation can be different from what the other thinks that (s)he heard. When it comes to effective communicating, ERR ON THE SIDE OF MORE CLARIFICATION. PRACTICE CONVEYING MEANING ACCURATELY AS WELL AS RESPONDING TO THE OTHER ACCURATELY. VERIFY BEFORE YOU VILIFY! KNOW BEFORE YOU GO! CHECK BEFORE YOUR WRECK!

When there is any misunderstanding - or even a suspicion that there MAY be even a minor measure of misunderstanding - clarify, clarify and clarify. Practice by checking.

* "What I understood you to mean is A. Is that what you meant?" * "What I mean to say is B. Is that how you understood it?" * "In seeing you do C, it seems to me you are trying to accomplish D. Is this what you intend? * Why would you say/do that? I'm sure there is a favorable explanation and I give you benefit of the doubt. What do I not know about the context that would clarify or justify what you are doing? Could I have misunderstood your meaning?" Adjust this concept to your individual circumstances.

Use questions, with a SOFT tone of voice, because statements can sound harsh and be alienating or appear to be judgmental, critical or attacking. WHILE THE OTHER SPEAKS, LISTEN, LISTEN AND LISTEN; AND DON'T INTERRUPT! Convey respect and that the other may TRUST that you are seriously and fairly hearing and considering every thing (s)he says.

More important, be concerned that you achieve clear and successful communication IN TERMS OF WHAT YOUR PARTNER NEEDS AND UNDERSTANDS - SO THAT WHAT BOTH PARTNERS MEAN AND HEAR IS THE SAME EVERY TIME. But your aim is not a "victory," it is "relating" meaningfully and steadily.

The counseling experience for couples with communication difficulties includes having both of them ask what the other thinks certain things mean to the one asking. They each compare his/her feelings or understanding with what the other thinks (s)he is feeling or conveying. They gradually learn what events or their actions mean to the other. They gradually learn to understand the other's thinking process. When each speaks, they can better convey what they intend, while the listener can better understand what the speaker intends. They learn to resolve differences and allow for the other's individuality.

Sometimes a person behaves, reacts or speaks the way he does because of an underlying reason that has no ostensible connection with the subject at hand or its merits. The person may be too timid or insecure to speak up, too inarticulate to think of the words that accurately reflect the person's intended meaning, the person might have some demons or psychological baggage blocking an appropriate or "on-target" response to, or participation in, meaningful and useful dialogue. A person's self-image, psychological history or experience might impact the person's perceptions, positions or emotional composition. I very often find that, as a marriage counselor, one of my major roles is as "translator." Another role that I have to often fill is "explorer:" where does this behavior, thinking pattern, emotional intensity or association, response, fragility, rigidity, perceptive distortion, hostility, defense or escapism come from? Some people act because of what they believe others will think about their actions. The Mishna [Eduyos 5:6] says that it is good to be called an idiot by everyone for an entire lifetime when it means that you are NOT called evil by G-d for one moment. The meraglim (12 spies) were sent by Moshe to look over Israel [Kenaan]. The spies saw that the people there were huge. When they returned with their report to Moshe, ten of the spies said [Numbers 13:33], "And we were in our eyes like grasshoppers and thus were we in their eyes." The people became frightened upon hearing this and did not want to enter the "promised land" [this is when G-d decreed that they shall remain in the desert for forty years - as the people's punishment]. If the people in Kenaan were large, this could explain the spies saying they were as grasshoppers in the eyes of the Kenaanites. The Kotzker Rebbe said that the root of the sin was that the spies also saw THEMSELVES IN THEIR OWN EYES as small as grasshoppers. A Jew never concerns himself with what others think of him, especially non-Jews, Jews without Torah or anyone with subjectivity or self-interest. We only concern ourselves with what G-d "thinks" of us. In personal relationships, this shows how we must direct our concern to only behaving the way the Torah requires. Never be vicious, hostile, indifferent or impatient. If, for example, one partner is insecure or stressed, the other should ask and explore about what is "really going on" beneath the surface, so as to be supportive and caring.

I have even done counseling where the couple did not have a fight between themselves. One had a problem that was impacting the relationship and the other sought to be helpful but did not know how to go about it. I must give this couple credit. They were a "team" and "best of friends." The supportive one knew the problem was not the other's fault and they were working together on their common goal: seeking a substantive resolution together. Couples who come in harmoniously are beautiful and heart-warming to see and work with.

Your goal in communicating should be getting done all of the practical functioning that needs to be done AND to make each other feel pleased, loved, respected, peaceful and cared for every day of your lives together.

A MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP IS AS GOOD OR BAD AS ITS COMMUNICATION! If you want BAD communication, be totally sure you know better than the other what (s)he means. If you want TRULY GOOD communication, find out what the other genuinely means AND DEAL WITH IT - "FOR REAL" AND MATURELY! Start by asking question and NOT knowing everything!