Rabbi Nachman of Breslov is often quoted in song as saying “Kol HaOlam Kulo, Gesher Tzar Meod,” (The entire world is a very narrow bridge). He then continued, stating that the main thing is not to be afraid – or the more accurate translation of his original writing, to not scare yourself. In relationships, as in life, fear is the obstacle which most blocks our way to happiness: fear of failure, loss of love, loss of money, death. And it is often our own thinking, not the reality, that creates the fear. Likewise, in changing our thinking, we can change our lives.
If we cross the narrow bridge always looking down at how far it is we can fall, we will indeed frighten ourselves. That fear can prevent us from crossing the bridge altogether, from reaching our goal, from getting to the other side. However, if we strive to look up to the Heavens, we can remind ourselves of HaShem’s presence in our lives and His desire for that which is only good for each and every one of us. To paraphrase Garden of Emuna by Rav Arush, emuna allows us to change our thinking about uncomfortable events in our life, knowing that if it is in our life, it is there for a purpose!
What purpose is there in pain? If we were to use the analogy of going to the gym after a long respite, working out hard and being barely able to navigate stairs for days afterward, the answer is clear: the pain is an indication that we are getting stronger – we are growing. It is much harder however, to have that clarity when the pain is emotional. Yet ask yourself: have you ever endured emotional hardship that has not made you stronger? So it is with relationships as well.
We all know that love is not as easy or as simple as portrayed by Hollywood. It takes work! When’s the last time you saw the leading-lady “lose it” because her Hollywood-hunk-hubbie left his underwear on the floor – again? Or how ‘bout the Hollywood-hunk-hubbie losing it because his lovely-leading-lady has once again told him he didn’t load the dishwasher correctly (and he thought he was doing something nice!)? We may not see it on the Big Screen, but we certainly see it play out in our lives.
In the moment, arguments may truly feel like they’re about the underwear on the floor or the “improperly” loaded dishwasher. But it goes much deeper than that. Based on our life experiences and memories encoded in our brain, we believe these actions have a deeper meaning. Imagine Husbandland and Wifeland as two separate worlds connected by one very narrow bridge. In Wifeland, underwear on the floor translates to “He doesn’t care/notice/ acknowledge everything I do;” or “He really does take me for granted.” And again, from Wifeland, the dishwasher is just more “proof” that he doesn’t care about what’s important to me, which of course, means, he doesn’t really care about me! In Husbandland, however, he thinks “Nothing I ever do is good enough!”
So who’s right? Like the old Jewish tale where a couple seeks counseling from their rabbi… the rabbi, after listening to their problems, says to the wife, “You’re right.” The husband yells, “How can she be right??” The rabbi then tells the husband, “You’re right too.” The rebbetzin, listening to this exchange from the kitchen, comes in and says to her husband, “But they can’t both be right!” whereupon the rabbi responds to his wife, “You’re also right!” We may all get a chuckle out of this, but the truth is, the rabbi in the tale was a very wise man. Yes, everyone in the story was right. How can that be? Because there are very few immutable truths in this world, besides Torah. In our little tale, the husband, from Husbandland, is 100 percent “right” in feeling the way he does — based on his life experiences and perspectives. Likewise, the wife, from Wifeland, is 100 percent “right,” based on her ways of seeing the world and interpreting people’s behavior. And yes, last but not least, the rebbetzin was also entirely “right,” based on her perception and understanding of the situation.
How do we proceed if both the husband and wife are absolutely and totally 100 percent right [based on their respective life experiences and ways of seeing the world]? Let’s return to the image of husband and wife, each in their own world, with that very narrow bridge between them. One must first realize that their partner is an entirely different person, separate from them, with their own thoughts and perceptions. The goal is to respect and honor those differences, and choose to cross the bridge into Partner or Spouseland, leaving all your emotional baggage on your side of the bridge and choosing to cross the bridge with a genuine curiosity to understand your partner’s perspective.
Of course there are huge challenges to this goal. First, you may not agree with what your husband says. As a matter of fact, you may think he’s entirely wrong. Believe it or not, that’s completely irrelevant. (Trust me, for now.) Listen to what he says and how he feels, trying to understand why he feels the way he does. It is of great importance that as you listen, you remember two things. First, though it will feel very personal, because after all, he is talking to you, his feelings actually have very little to do with you. Most of the way he feels, reacts and responds, has to do with his life experiences beginning long before you came into his life. And of course, that small part that does have to do with you, you will want to “own,” to take responsibility for.
The second thing to remember is that by listening to him, you are not putting a seal of approval on his perspective, opinion or memory of how things were, or agreeing that his truth is the truth. Your objective is to try to understand the situation through his eyes, his heart. By crossing the bridge into Husbandland, and leaving your [emotional] baggage in your land, you can validate your Husband’s feelings as important and reasonable.
As with prayer, ideally this connection, this crossing of the bridge, should be a spontaneous outpouring of the heart. But the rabbis recognized that we are not always at our spiritual, emotional or creative best. They provided a “script” in the form of prayers to serve to help us give shape to prayerful aspirations. Here too, a script can be useful. A sample Dialogue (based on Harville Hendrix’s Imago Dialogue (Getting the Love You Want)), can be found following this essay to assist you and your partner in creating a safe, caring and accepting space for each other. The most important points to remember are:
- Stay in the process.
- Stay in the process.
- If you fall out of the process, get back as quickly as possible.
The purpose of rules 1, 2 and 3 is to create safety. In co-creating a shelter of safety with your spouse, you co-create with G-d, a personal Beit HaMikdash Meyat (Holy Temple) for shalom bayis (peace in the home). The level of dedication, commitment and effort that is necessary to truly manifest peace and safety in our most important relationships, is no less than a holy endeavor. We are taught that our mission in Olam HaZeh (in this world) is to emulate HaShem on as many levels as possible. And one of His greatest attributes is His constant LOVE. Regardless of whether He is pleased with us, our actions or our interactions with others who He loves, He still LOVES us. May we all be blessed with the courage, the patience, and the faith, to emulate our Holy Father in his constant outpouring of LOVE to all His beloved children.
|1. Make an appointment:
“I would like to have a Dialogue with you. Is now a good time?”
|2. Permission to proceed now or make a future appointment:
“Yes. Now is okay.” or “I would prefer to talk about this __________ [when?].”
|3. Using short statements, tell your partner how you feel. Avoid “you statements” (You’re a ______, you always, etc.) and retelling the “story” of what happened. Stick to how you feel.||4. Hold up hand and mirror word-for-word:
“What you’re saying is …”
|5. Keep sending in short segments.||6. Continue to mirror until full message is sent. Then:
“Did I get you?” [If so, then:] “Is there more you would like to say about that?”
|7. Summarize: “In summary, what you’re saying is…”|
|8. Check out summary by saying: “Is that a good summary?”|
|9. If there is more, continue to mirror.|
|10. Validate: “I follow what you’re saying. What you’re saying is important to me. Your perspective is as valuable as mine. You make sense.” [This does not mean you agree with everything said, but that you hear them and respect their perspective.]|
|11. Make 1 or 2 “feeling” guesses: “I imagine you might be feeling …” and checks it out by asking, “Is that what you’re feeling?”|
|12. “Are there any more feelings?”|
|13. “Those feelings make sense.” “I can see how you could feel that way.”|
|14. Now the receiver becomes the sender: “I would like to respond now.”|