We all bring some baggage with us into our marriages. We all carry some pain within us that needs healing. Each of us is imperfect and in need of character refinement. A crucial task of marriage is to allow yourself to discover your weaknesses and take responsibility for working on and correcting them.
Judaism maintains that God is the ultimate “shadchan“, matchmaker, arranging marriages made in Heaven. This concept has very deep psychological implications. Because God loves each of us and only wants good for us, we can assume that the person we marry was in a certain sense “meant for us.” This means that every couple participates in what I call a “shared destiny.” The essence of this shared destiny is to achieve shelamut, wholeness as a person. God puts us together with the person with whom we can grow the most. Rav Ezriel Tauber calls this growth experience in marriage, “polishing the diamond.” Therefore we should not be surprised or overwhelmed when we run into “problems” with our spouse. In fact, we should expect these challenges and learn to view them as a positive growth opportunity.
Good marriages do not just flow along nice and easy without a hitch. It is normal for a marriage to have its rough spots because it is only through the roughness that we grow and achieve personal wholeness. If we are to become masters of growth and healing, we need to free ourselves from the lie that a good marriage should be a comfortable and relatively painless experience.
Let’s be prepared for pain and embrace our problems, seeing them as opportunities for growth. As masters of growth and healing, we need to create an environment of acceptance and nurturing for each other’s inner pain. When we stop demanding perfection from our spouse and start accepting each other in a more realistic way, as a “work in progress,” then real growth and healing can take place.
Some of the most precious moments I have had have been with couples who stop resenting and blaming each other and start listening to each other, learning to understand and accept each other for who they really are. The hardness and defensiveness melts away and is replaced with softness and caring.
If you find you and your spouse are trapped in gridlock, here’s a tool that could help to making a breakthrough and begin an authentic process of growth and healing for both of you. Identify any chronic resentment or blame that you have against your spouse that leaves you feeling hopeless, powerless or angry. It may be that your spouse has his or her part in causing you this pain, which needs to be identified for him to work on. However we often miss our share of the problem. Oftentimes, at the root of our anger is some deeper emotional need that is not being met by our spouse. Gutman calls these deeper unmet needs “our unfulfilled dreams.” Usually these unfulfilled dreams have their antecedents in childhood.
For example, Sarah grew up in home with emotionally distant parents, and subsequently always hoped that the person she married would be emotionally warm and responsive. Much to her dismay, the man she married was similar to her father, somewhat distant and aloof. As the pain Sarah experienced in her marriage became more and more difficult to endure, she began to pick more and more on her husband. Her dream was to be spoken to and listened to in a warmer and more caring way. When she finally identified this unfulfilled dream, she was able to take responsibility for it and begin a discussion with her husband about what she needed and practical ways that he could give her what she needed. He grew as well, because he learned how to express his feelings and affection in more loving way.
Understanding and articulating the underlying need that is not being met is the first step towards taking responsibility for improving the negative dynamic and effectively working with your spouse on creating a stronger marriage.