5 Traditional Marriage Tips You Need to Turn Upside-Down
The wedding shower was beautiful: flowers adorned each table, dozens of friends had turned out to celebrate, our hostess had planned a morning of games to entertain the bride-to-be. The first activity, she announced, would be something we guests had prepared beforehand: smiling, she handed a stack of notecards to the bride to read aloud. Each contained a piece of marriage wisdom the guests wished to impart.
The bride picked up the first card, and I recognized my own handwriting on it. “Don’t be afraid to go to sleep angry” she read with a giggle, then continued: “If you feel you’re going to have a fight, take a timeout, then discuss your differences at another time when you’re both calmer.”
“I can’t believe it!” one guest cried out with a grin: “I wrote the very same piece of advice. Don’t be afraid to go to sleep angry!” My fellow guest was a few years older than I and a pillar of the community. I felt glad that someone so wise chose the same piece of traditional advice that I had to turn on its head.
“I’ve always heard the opposite—that you shouldn’t go to sleep angry” another guest said, and the other woman turned to gently explain what she meant.
“When you are tired and upset and about to fight is not the best time to discuss things. It’s better to talk about differences of opinion once you’re both rested and in a better mood.” Soon, the room was full of women nodding in agreement.
We’ve all heard the adage “never go to sleep angry,” but taking a break when tempers are running high can be more productive and even prevent turning disagreements into full-on fights.
Here are a five other traditional pieces of marriage advice that are often better turned on their heads.
- Share and Share Alike
In marriage, there are times when it’s our turn to give with no quid pro quo. Approaching marriage with the expectation that we’ll get something back each time we give is unrealistic and can lead to resentment when one spouse feels that they’re not receiving as much as they should.
Instead, try adopting a goal of making your spouse happy and providing for him or her without keeping score as to what he or she has done for you lately. Think of the relationship between a parent and child: parents love their children and give purely for the sake of building up their kids. While parents don’t give in order to get anything back in return, their wholehearted, selfless giving in fact creates a bond like no other. While it might seem counterproductive to adopt such an attitude with an adult, a partner, the results might surprise you, bringing you closer than before. Instead of “Share and Share Alike,” consider replacing it with the famous dictum of the Talmud: “Treat your husband like a king, and he will treat you like a queen.” (And vice versa.)
- Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
This famous aphorism posits that in a loving relationship, everything is forgiven. There’s no need to apologize when it comes to those nearest and dearest to us.
This attitude buys into a common myth that apologizing somehow diminishes us. In fact, saying sorry shows strength, revealing that we are confident enough to admit when we’re wrong, and that we care enough about others to consider their feelings.
Judaism stresses constantly reviewing our actions, seeking ways to improve. If we have erred, then we apologize. Seeking to apologize to those we have wronged is part of teshuvah, which is usually translated as “repentance,” but literally means “return.” Asking forgiveness for our words and actions is a way of returning—of going back to the person we were meant to be. In this view, apologizing isn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. Asking others’ pardon is a sign that we respect them—and ourselves—enough to want to repair our relationships.
- It’s What’s Inside That Counts
A few years ago, I was asked to record a short lecture. After writing and practicing what I was going to say, I prepared to make the video: I put on my nicest top, spent time perfecting my makeup and got ready to record myself. Just then, my husband came home from work. He took one look at me, grinned, and said happily: “You look great!”
Instead of pleasure, I felt a twinge of guilt. When was the last time that I’d gotten dressed up just for him? I had fallen into the habit of not making an effort with my appearance. “It’s what’s inside that counts,” I might have said—until that very moment, seeing my husband’s delighted face.
While being beautiful on the inside is essential, making an effort with our physical appearance is a way of signaling that our spouses are important to us, and that we still want to look good for them. It’s one powerful way of signaling that we still care.
- Never Be Afraid to Speak Your Mind
While it can be tempting in a marriage to let it all hang out, there’s an old Jewish aphorism about the damage we can do with our speech: A bird that is freed may be caught again, but a word that escapes your lips is gone for good.
For this reason, the Jewish sages counseled to be very careful with speech. This goes for everyone we interact with, especially those closest to us, who are most attuned to what affects us and whose feelings can be wounded with a careless word.
Consider rebooting “never be afraid to speak your mind” with different advice. Think before you speak, particularly when you might be about to speak in anger. Adopt a strategy of counting to 10 when you’re upset, and think through the possible consequences of your words.
An alternate piece of advice is this: recognize that actions can be more effective than words. Or according to Rabbi Shammai: “Say little and do much.” (Pirkei Avot 1:15)
- Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
While sometimes a little distance can be healthy in a marriage, it’s easy to fall into the trap of developing very different schedules. One British government study into married couples’ use of time acknowledged this modern reality in its very title. It was called “Married at the Weekends,” reflecting the sad truth that for many couples, time together is a rare luxury. Instead of giving in to ultra-busy schedules, try carving out time together. Date nights, trips together, even time spent at home with all electronics turned off cause people to focus on each other. And that, in turn, gives spouses time to savor each other and grow together.
There’s a trove of wisdom to be found in our Jewish tradition that can give us wonderful new guidance and perspectives on marriage. Thinking critically about some of the worn-out pieces of advice that many of us take for granted can help open our eyes to new sources of wisdom and common sense.
Yvette Alt Miller, Ph.D., is a mother and adjunct professor of political science living in Chicago. She is the author of Angels at the Table: A Practical Guide to Celebrating Shabbat (Continuum, 2011).
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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