By Miriam Adahan May 4, 2008
When teenagers fantasize about marriage, they are certain that their future holds only ongoing love and appreciation for each other. They do not expect to have conflicts or to experience doubt, jealousy, frustration, anger and disappointment. However, the reality is that those emotions will inevitably arise. It is wise to prepare yourself ahead of time for these times by noticing how you handle conflict and loss in your life today. When you marry, you do not suddenly transform into a patient, joyful, mature or responsible person. You must work on cultivating healthy habits now. The following exercises will help you gain maturity:
ONE: AVOID PERFECTIONISM. Perfectionism leads to unnecessary guilt and shame, both of which destroy relationships. The truth is that we all have limitations. This is part of being human. Love is about accepting and loving each other despite the disappointments. You cannot have a healthy, honest relationship with your spouse if you are always trying to prove that you are superhuman. You will be too exhausted to be nice if you are busy putting on a daily performance! At times, you must be able to say, “I’m sorry. I just can’t do this.” You may not make the kinds of special meals, be as cheerful or as organized as he would like. He will disappoint you in some ways as well. Practice accepting your own and other people’s limitations, such as roommates and family members, without getting angry at yourself or them for not being perfect.
TWO: SEPARATE YOUR INITIAL RESPONSE FROM YOUR SECONDARY RESPONSE. We all have a primitive animal brain, located at the back of the head, which contains violent, immoral and irrational responses to events – the kind any one- or two-year-old experiences when frustrated, hungry or over-tired. Thankfully, we also have a neo-cortex, located behind our forehead, which is responsible for controlling these urges. For example, you may sometimes experience the urge to attack because your spouse has hurt your feelings or was not available when you were in distress. Notice when you do not follow these initial responses. Be proud of these victories. Self-control is the basis of self-respect. You’ll have endless opportunities to practice! One of the biggest acts of self-control is to be silent when you cannot think of a respectful way to talk about your feelings.
THREE: ACT POSITIVE EVEN IF YOU DO NOT FEEL IT. The greatest antidote for depression, anxiety and rage is positive action. Women tend to have more mood swings than men. Learn to ignore them as much as possible; they all eventually pass. Do not over-share, as this can bring you both down. Instead, walking, cleaning or even smiling can put you in a good mood. You do not have to feel good to act good! No one likes a bossy person, nor a clingy, depressed individual who is too focused on her moods to function.
FOUR: GIVE UP TRYING TO CONTROL OTHERS. You start off your marriage with love for each other, but will kill those good feelings if you try to change each other! You may not realize it, but when you give advice, the underlying message is, “You’re stupid and inept. I don’t respect you.” So refrain from giving advice about what to wear, what to say, how to clean the dishes or how to think or feel, as this destroys self-confidence! Unless your spouse is doing something dangerous to your physical or mental health, resist the urge to criticize. Whenever possible, tell your spouse, “You make great decisions. I trust that you to know what to do.” Practice now, complimenting the people in your environment for doing their best, even if it is not up to your standards. And if people give you too much advice, practice saying, “I’m building my self-confidence by making my own decisions.” You did not get married in order to be “fixed.” You married in order to experience unconditional love; to feel accepted and respected as you are. Criticism destroys love.
FIVE: GIVE UP THE DREAM THAT YOUR SPOUSE CAN UNDERSTAND YOU 100%. No one understands anyone 100%. You don’t even understand your own self completely! Men and women have different needs, values and interests. Men like to solve problems; they generally do not want to dwell on feelings, as this makes them feel weak and needy. Therefore, men “bond” by talking about facts or their successes. Women, on the other hand, bond by talking about their problems, frustrations and disappointments. Rather than advice, they generally just want a soothing, empathetic response, such as, “I understand.” Few men like to talk about their feelings – at least, not for long. Unless he voluntarily supplies the information, do not ask your husband, “How do you feel?” He may take your question as an attempt to control, probe and belittle. Help your husband understand what you want by stating clearly, “I need empathy, which means that you just need to say ‘Aw…I’m sorry you’re in pain.'” Or, say, “I need advice.” Men love to be in the role of rescuer.
SIX: TALK ABOUT YOUR SUCCESSES. Men and women have a need for both closeness and independence. These two needs are essentially contradictory. You need closeness, which requires that you be able to be vulnerable and share your deepest feelings. On the other hand, you need the independence to develop your own personality and talents. Both men and women hold two major fears: a) marriage to a bossy, dictatorial type who destroys their sense of self-worth, or b) marriage to a clingy, depressive type whose needs are so great that their own growth is stifled. The best way to avoid being overly needy or overly dictatorial is to build yourself up in your own eyes and the eyes of your spouse. Talk about your successes. After all, if you keep putting yourself down, you are implying that your spouse made a poor decision in deciding to marry you. Tell each other about your difficult acts of self-discipline – how you went to work even though you were tired, controlled the urge to eat junk food or said a firm “No,” to the demands of a difficult person.
SEVEN: DO NOT SECOND GUESS. In the Talmud, (Pesachim 54,) we are told that, “No one knows another person’s thoughts.” When someone is in a bad mood or disappoints you, you may be sure that he or she trying to hurt you intentionally. Unless abusive or mentally ill, assume that the person is doing his best, but simply does not have the emotional maturity or skills to do any better. What distinguishes healthy guilt from unhealthy guilt is intention. We all inevitably hurt people, because it is impossible to fulfill all their needs or always know how to please them. And we all have annoying habits. If you accidentally cause pain to your spouse, simply apologize and say, “I’m sorry. I had no intention to hurt you.” Practice now by forgiving those who have no intention to hurt you. If necessary, clarify what happened.
By practicing these acts of maturity now, you will be better prepared to live with love and forgiveness in the future.Next Post »« Previous PostRelated Content:More Articles On: Shalom Bayit (Marital Harmony) (62), Marriage (864), Relationships (1090)
By Miriam AdahanDr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.