One of the most powerful dimensions of a successful marriage is a couple’s ability to keep focused on each other’s good points and unique personality traits. Too often, people become fixated on the negative. They “sweat over the small stuff,” and forget about the positive points that brought them together in the first place.
When I’m told by couples married for ten or twenty years that they have lost their loving feelings toward one another, I respond by saying that it’s a matter of perspective. If they can change the way they view one another, they will also be able to change their feelings and actions.
For example, when couples get married, most have an abundance of positive feelings toward each other. They are attracted to one another on an emotional and physical level. Yet, after time, feelings begin to change. Emotional inertia sets in that leaves them with a gnawing sense of rejection and disappointment.
To get over the emotional hurdle, they need to shift gears and contemplate all the right reasons they got married in the first place. Ultimately, they need to focus on each other’s unique qualities and highlight their individuality.
In counseling, I also help couples focus on their unique points by going back to the beginning of marriage and recalling with them the enthusiasm and exhilaration both had for one another. Reliving the engagement period is an easy way to get started. Most couples will fondly recall the excitement of shopping for their engagement ring.
When they entered into the jewelry store, their eyes were drawn to the brilliance of precious stones, their unique sparkle, and the beauty of their settings, which captured and displayed their radiance. Eventually they chose a ring that called out to them and said, “This one is unique; there is none other in the world like me.”
The ring, I explain, is an appropriate metaphor for marriage. One starts a marriage feeling that they have chosen their special “ring,” one so unique that it will never be found again. For the first few years, the ring maintains its sparkle. However, after five, ten or fifteen years, the brilliance can diminish.
It’s a fact of life that the human eye becomes weary of even the most beautiful objects. When we see something all the time, we tend to lose sight of its beauty; we tend to take it for granted. And when we do, the secret to a long and successful marriage is for both individuals to remind themselves of the gem they found in each other in the first place.
Shmuel* 30 and Rivka* 28 came to speak with me about their troubled marriage. He was a law student and rabbi, and she was an occupational therapist. Each was at the top of their class. They were charming, talented, and full of life, but somehow over the years, they lost their “spark,” and were more focused on pointing out each other’s faults instead of finding their strengths.
A common interchange would revolve around her feelings that her husband had lost interest in their relationship and his feelings that she was overly critical of his behavior. They often fought about house cleaning, childrearing, and how money was being spent.
I suggested to Shmuel and Rivka that they needed to reexamine the reasons they got married in the first place.
To start the process, I suggested that even the simplest objects can be enjoyed. Take a rose for example and stare at it for several minutes. Look at how its petals are perfectly placed next to one another. See how each petal reflects varying shades of red and blends precisely to the petal that gently rests beside it.
You see, the more you look closely at something as simple as a rose, the more beautiful it becomes. So too, in a relationship, a husband and wife need to think about their spouse’s unique identity, and by doing so, begin to appreciate the special “one” that they married. They need to appreciate their spouse for who they are instead of what they expect them to be or not to be.
Think about all the positive qualities inherent in most individuals: Loving-kindness,
Sensitivity, Flexibility, Sense of humor, Capacity to grow, and Parenting skills. It’s all about focusing on the good in one another and using that reference point to develop a better relationship. Unfortunately, I have seen many couples that spend a significant amount of time nit-picking about each other’s faults. Instead, they need to change their lens of perception and view their spouse in a positive light.
To change your perception of each other, I suggest making a list of your spouse’s positive points. Here are some questions that can get you started:
- What unique qualities does your spouse have?
- What are his/her talents?
- What can he/she do that you are unable to do yourself?
- What tasks does he/she fulfill in the marriage that makes your life easier?
- In what ways does he/she help you develop your own identity?
- What acts of loving-kindness does he/she do for you, un-noticed?
With your new list you can review your spouse’s good points every day. I even suggest keeping the list in your wallet, and glance at it every night before coming home from work. The “individuality” list can gives couples the energy needed to grow closer together each day.
Relationship Test: Individuality
On a scale of 1 to 5, how often do you nurture your spouse’s awareness of his or her individuality?
1 = never; 2, 3, 4 = rarely, to occasionally and mostly; and 5 = constantly.
In the next article – Part 8, we’ll discuss the topic of Love and Friendship
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.