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Respecting A Parallel Reality


Kupfer-Cheryl

It goes without saying that the process of getting set up on marriage-oriented dates, going out several times and eventually making the decision that “this is the one” is emotionally and even physically taxing. However, as hard as getting to the chuppah may be – being happily and successfully married is even more difficult and challenging. Two diverse individuals with distinctive mindsets, shaped by their unique experiences from the minute they were born, must suddenly mesh their way of looking at things and their way of reacting to them.

To put things in a perspective – if identical twins, who were raised to a great extent in the same environment, have different opinions, attitudes, preferences and points of view – how much more so a young man and a woman who have been strangers for most of their lives.

It is very helpful that the two have similar haskafot in terms of their life’s goals, covering serious matters such as religious observance, child rearing, materialism, etc. However, while this basic compatibility is a necessary component to a successful relationship, it is just one stepping stone on the bridge to marital happiness. What is crucial as well is that each partner in the union have the ability – and willingness – to respect each other’s version of “reality.” Because the fact is no matter how much the two are compatible, and how much they see eye to eye on the bigger issues, there will be situations where they will have a different, even conflicting viewpoint, and each will expect – and need – validation of their feelings and perceptions.

Case in point: Two young women who have been friends “forever” go to exercise at the gym. “Leah,” a recent newlywed, is slim and athletic and goes often to work out. “Rachel” goes only occasionally and still is carrying 20 extra pounds from two pregnancies. Leah decides to try the new high intensity aerobic spinning class, while Rachel heads for a low impact, slow movement class, which is 15 minutes longer.

The two friends meet up in the changing room, both drenched in sweat. “What a hard workout,” exclaims Rachel as she tries to catch her breath.

“Not as hard as mine,” declares Leah, as she checks her pulse.

“What are you talking about, my workout was so much longer than yours! I’m totally wiped,” insists Rachel, who is still breathing heavily.

“How can you compare your workout to mine,” Leah says condescendingly, “mine was a killer. I almost quit half-way through it. But I pushed myself to finish.”

“So did I. I thought I would have a heart attack.” Rachel counters, her voice sounding miffed. “You’re used to this kind of stuff. It’s easier for you. I’m going to be sore for days.”

It is pointless for these friends to argue about who had the harder workout. Each feels theirs was the more physically demanding one. Each wants validation or recognition of this fact. The truth of the matter is – they are both right – based on where they are coming from. They have parallel realities that are not in sync with the other.

Trying to convince the other person that their perception is flawed or inaccurate is an exercise in futility. No one gets into a debate thinking they are in the wrong. Quite the opposite, a person in a dispute or on a larger scale, a nation that is at war, is convinced that they are in the right. They even insist that G-d is on their side. It is clear that they have conflicting “realities,” and what is so “obvious and evident” to one makes no sense or is “out of left field” to the other.

In a marriage, husband and wife will face situations in which each will insist that their assessment or version is the valid one. A husband, for example, comes home very late and expects some pampering and sympathy – because he had a very stressful day at the office. He is an accountant and it is tax season. His wife on the other hand shares her litany of woes as she tells him what her day was like: a colicky baby, a toddler who loves throwing his food up in the air and a four-year-old who threw-up twice.

This couple can do one of two things – argue over who had it worse and walk away feeling frustrated or resentful or they can respect and acknowledge each other’s reality and each say something that translates to, “I recognize your misiras nefesh on behalf of the family, and I ‘m sorry you had such a difficult day. I hope tomorrow will be better for you.”

The ability to validate that which you might not necessarily agree with will cement a marriage more than yichus, money or looks and is a quality that every person dating for tachlis should look for in a potential spouse.

It is important to remember that all human beings have a deep-seated need to have their “realities” recognized and corroborated. A child who loses his adored stuffed “teddy” – no matter how torn and ratty looking it may be, is as devastated by his loss as would be a woman whose favorite pearl bracelet went missing – the one her beloved Bubbi gave her when she turned bat mitzvah.

Perhaps in his parents’ eyes, the teddy bear is worthless and easily replaceable -not remotely close to being on the same level as the missing jewelry, but in the child’s reality, he has lost something priceless and his grief is very real.

That his parents acknowledge this, that they respect and validate his parallel reality – is crucial in building his self-confidence. In terms of a married couple, it is the direct path to shalom bayis.

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