One of my friends’ daughters called me from seminary yesterday. She was writing an end-of-year paper and needed to interview two women to get some tips for a good marriage. “And you called me?!” was my immediate response. I know she called me because we are close, and, when I thought about it, I have been married, happily, for 17 years. So I took a few minutes and came up with some pointers. She was happy – and so was I.
One of the things I discussed with her was Rebbetzin Jungreis’ book The Committed Marriage. Rebbetzin Jungreis organized her book around a mishna in Pirkei Avos:
“Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai told his students, “Go out and see if you can discover which good path each person should follow.”
“R’ Eliezer said, “Look at everything with a good eye.”
“R’ Yehoshua said, “(Be) A good friend.”
“R’ Yose said, “(Be) A good neighbour.”
“R’ Shimon said, “Before you do something, think of what it will lead to.” (meaning that you should think of the consequences of your words and actions before you say or do them.)
“R’ Elazar said, “Have a good heart.”
Rebbetzin Jungreis dedicated a section of her book to the discussion of each of these points. In each case, she showed how very essential they each are for a good and committed marriage.
When you look at things with a good eye, you are really giving the benefit of the doubt. You are looking for the good in any given situation. So when your husband comes home without the milk you asked him to stop and pick up, you assume he forgot because he was in such a hurry to get home and see you. Rather than feeling forgotten, like the milk, you feel cherished and loved. By looking “with a good eye,” you have just strengthened your marriage.
Be a good friend. Think about what being a good friend means. Now, be that for your husband. Be there for him. Listen to him. Ask questions. Make sure you still know him as he changes with you throughout the years. Accept him and enjoy him for who he is. If we focus on the giving part of the relationship, it is incredible how much we end up getting.
Be a good neighbour. How do we treat our neighbours? We treat them with respect. We are considerate and thoughtful. We are polite. Do our husbands deserve any less?
Before you do something, think of what it will lead to. If only we would think before we spoke! When we take that moment to envision the effects of our words, we empower ourselves and those around us. We can avoid the rash reactions we spend so much time and energy regretting later.
Have a good heart. According to Rebbetzin Jungreis, this is the essence, the heart of the matter. If you have a good heart, everything else will follow. A good heart encompasses the other four attributes.
Rebbetzin Jungreis illustrated each element with real life stories. Stories that really brought the message home. Stories that showed just how powerful a subtle shift in perspective can be. The underlying premise is that marriage is meant to be a lifelong committment. In our fast-paced, throw-away society, we often forget this. We think we can just move on to the next relationship when things get difficult or uncomfortable. This is where we need to shift our perspective. We need to dig deeper into ourselves and learn what we need to do and say to bring the relationship back to a healthy and vibrant state.
The committment that is marriage, and the work it takes to make it good, better, amazing. That is what it is all about. This message comes through loud and clear in The Committed Marriage. This is the tip I gave my friend’s daughter when she called.