Sometimes you just have to wonder, “What were they thinking?” My wife and I speak on marriage-related topics to variant crowds. We know what we’re going to say, but we have no idea what the audience may offer. So, when we speak publicly, before we open the floor to comments or questions (which we welcome), we always preface with a cautionary word not to make any personal or disparaging remarks about one’s spouse.
Nobody wants his or her dirty laundry aired out in public. And no one wants the neighbors to be privy to his or her intimate goings-on.
A woman who attended one of my wife’s lecture series on enhancing marital harmony serves as a perfect example of the damage a few misplaced comments, delivered at the speed of sound, can cause. This (until then) respected woman aired it out in staccato fashion, spilling enough beans to render a public flogging of her soul mate. My wife cut her off as soon as possible but it was too late; her unexpected comments left the audience, who happened to be neighbors and friends from the community, aghast.
Why do that? Why let the genie out of the bottle? Once he’s out, you can’t put him back in. And even if you could, it won’t help much.
A story is told of the chassidic master, Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. Someone once came to him after having spoken lashon hara (slander). The person asked forgiveness. Reb Levi Yitzchak instructed the penitent to take a down pillow to the town square, open it and shake out all the feathers. The person did so and returned to the rav, who promptly said “Now, go back to the town square and gather up all the feathers.” The person asked incredulously, “How can I ever do that?” Reb Levi Yitzchak retorted, “That’s what happens when you speak libelously about another. Like you can never gather up all the feathers, you can never repair all the damage.”
On a speaking tour in New York, a rabbi related a very sad story of a couple who had previously attended marital counseling. During one of their visits, the psychologist encouraged the husband to open up and share his true feelings with his wife. The husband, fortified by the psychologist’s advice, or under his protective wing, told his wife that she was ugly, he never found her attractive and that her lack of beauty has always been a sore spot for him. He finished by telling her that he never really understood how he could have married her. (It was not a case of adding a touch of make-up…)
Needless to say, the wife was devastated. Imagine her hurt. No matter what he says or does in the future, he will never rectify the terrible damage he caused. Does anyone think flowers or chocolates will repair the destruction left in the wake of “just telling it like it is”? With such pain in her heart, will it ever be possible for them to attain true marital harmony? Simply because the therapist encourages a person to “let go” doesn’t mean that therapist is correct or that one must listen.
It reminds me of the 45-year-old man who went to a psychologist because he suffered incontinence problems; wetting even during the day, which caused him terrible embarrassment. After six months of counseling, the psychologist proudly announced, “Well, we’ve successfully cured one problem; you’re no longer embarrassed by soiling yourself. Now we only have to work on your incontinence.”
When we sit down with a couple, one of the first instructions we give them is the following: “We’re here to help but remember, when you walk out that door, it’s just the two of you. You’re going home with your spouse. You two have to live with the consequences of what you say here. Think before you make any statement and do not deceive yourselves into thinking this is the forum to even scores. Neither cruelty nor unbridled ignorance has any place here. No one comes here to destroy his or her marriage. Your goal and our goal is one; to improve your marriage.”
Thinking before speaking is key.