Einav Hita'aso: What is the Ikkar of Marriage?
Someone posted on the "Married Men's Forum":
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My wife is overweight and it's depressing. It really bothers me. (1) Is it possible to change the reality in my mind, and make myself think she is beautiful? (2) How can I at least grow from this nissayon? What is my avodah? To thank Hashem and accept it without knowing why this is my lot?
I actually spoke to Rabbi Arush (author of "Garden of Peace") in Israel and asked him for advice for my stress about this problem. All he said was "ze shtooyot" - "that is nonsense", and that if my wife would be pretty, then everyone would look at her and talk about her, and it would cause me a lot of stress too. Although I love his book and respect him tremendously, I am searching for a better answer - a solution.
Based on Rav Arush's amazing book, I think that when he said "zeh shtuyot", he meant basically that the ikkar of marriage is NOT what goes on in the bedroom. Theikkar is the EMOTIONAL and SPIRITUAL bond you can create between yourself and your wife, whom Hashem chose for you, who happens to be the other half of your neshoma.
Rav Dessler points out that LOVE is formed NOT from GETTING, but from GIVING.
Stop being selfish and self-focused and self-absorbed, stop doing things for your wife IN ORDER to get something physical from her. Stop focusing on her shortcomings, on her not giving to you what you think you deserve or expect. Stop thinking you deserve a different, more attractive wife, stop living with the expectation that your wife should look like someone else's wife or one of your fantasy movie stars, and resenting her for not living up to YOUR selfish expectations. And open up your Emunah to realize Hashem runs your life, and has given you this special woman for a purpose, for you to learn what's important in life. In short, GROW UP and be a MAN.
Start thinking of HER first, as a person. Put away ulterior motives. Stop trying to control her and your marriage in general. Be a GIVER, not a taker. Let sex become a preference, not an expectation.
1) Make a detailed list of ALL her good qualities. Do not dwell on anything negative. Concentrate and review and edit this list as you start noticing more things. make daily notes in your mind and then on paper when you see or hear of her goodness taking care of the home, kids, volunteering, chesed, baking for simchos, etc. See how she understands and deals with the kids much better than you do.
2) Look for and really FEEL her pain. Her happiness is in YOUR hands. Have you been letting her and HKB"H down somehow in your responsibility to make her happy, to be there emotionally for her? Think, be creative to figure out or ASK her what you can do to make her life easier. Wash the dishes, do the laundry, clean the toilets and wash the floors before Shabbos. Take the kids for a walk to the park to give her a rest. SHOW HER YOU CARE ABOUT HER, without ANY ulterior motives or agendas other than to GIVE to HER and MAKE HER HAPPY. No physical expectations at all. Make your relationship all about HER, and not all about YOU.
3) Spend TIME with her. Go for walks, not just to get healthier, but cuz it gives you alone time together. Play backgammon or Bananagrams (oh, please don't let her know that you MAKE SURE she wins more than you do). Initiate date nights where you both get out by hiring a babysitter. COMMUNICATE, try to get back to that sweet relationship you had when you were courting, or between the engagement and the wedding. Really CARE about her day, her feelings, and ASK, get to know the woman behind the choices she makes. And SHARE your feelings and trials with life and YOUR decisions, but always AVOID criticizing or condemning her. You don't have to discuss your addiction, but you can discuss your successes or anxieties with bosses, chavrusas, etc.
4) ABOVE ALL, BE HONEST and considerate of her feelings. NEVER criticize her or mention her shortcomings or even hint at faults. RESPECT HER and HONOR HER, do not belittle or treat her as a child. She is extremely sensitive, very intuitive (she can tell when you are faking it), and yearns for your love and respect.
5) Buy her gifts that will enhance her self esteem - jewelry for her ears and neck especially, a sheitel, or beautiful snoods etc., which will add to her beauty in your eyes from the chest up. Give her money if possible to buy something nice for herself, like a beautiful and flattering Shabbos Robe or outfit that will automatically encourage her to dress and make-up better. (And don't be stupid enough to suggest it yourself.) Then make sure you look her right in the eyes and TELL her how beautiful she looks in it, and PROVE it by going on a shabbos walk or visit - the more beautiful she is, the more time you want to spend with her, and she'll feel like you want to show her off. Build her self esteem, and she'll want to become healthier in mind and body on her own.
6) Eventually, the magic will happen, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. But it WILL happen that you will start to see and appreciate her NOT as your physical partner, but as the beautiful neshoma that she is. She will appreciate the new and better husband you will become, the more involved father, the closer friend, and her love for you will increase. You will begin to see her inner beauty, and the pleasure and purpose of your marriage will make your home a pleasant place, a place of contentment. You will be able to see what is truly attractive about her, and you will love and care about her more than you care about yourself.
That is the goal and that is our Avodah. And sometimes it takes a wife who we don't feel so physically attracted to - in order to learn these deep lessons of life.
After getting a lot of good feedback from the above post, Steve responded with the following:
Guys, it's all in baby steps. One moment, one day at a time.
I had an experience a few Shabbossim ago that I want to share. On the way home from shul Shabbos morning, I saw from not too afar a friend of mine out walking with his wife & kids. His wife is VERY attractive to me, in contrast to my wife who is very overweight. So of course, I started fantasizing about her as I had done in the past, before joining the 12 steps. Then I stopped myself and did like I'm trained now to do, and I asked Hashem, "OK, where are we going with this? What PAIN, i.e. what resentment or fear is going on in the back of my head that is causing this lust hit?" I know that if I refocus on resolving that pain through changing my perspective on it, the lust 'byproduct" will go *poof*.
I was really taken aback when I realized that, honestly, there was NO pain AT THAT MOMENT! I was actually HAPPY, I was not experiencing any pain that could be fueling the lust right then. So then I asked Hashem, "WHY? What was MISSING at that second that made me slip?" And that little quiet voice answered "you should not be thinking about someone else's wife, you should be thinking about your OWN wife. You don't appreciate her enough."
So I immediately began walking home with my eyes focused downward, and my thoughts focused inward, and I started listing my wife's good qualities and thinking about how good she is TO me and FOR me, and with our kids, etc, like I suggested before. I got more and more great feelings of love and respect for her with every step. And as I approached home, I saw her sitting on our front porch waiting for me, and I smiled widely and fell in love with her all over again, literally. I was SOOO HAPPY to see her, and to see that she was WAITING for ME; I was important to HER!! She asked me why I was beaming, and I told her the truth, that it was because I was thinking about how wonderful she is, and then I find her outside looking for me. Imagine how FANTASTIC that made her feel, and how good it felt for ME to be able to give her that joy! We had a VERY sweet, intimate moment right there, just enjoying feeling good together, standing 8 feet apart. I am getting chills even now, just reliving it.
That's what I mean. Absolutely NO physical expectations or agenda. Just GIVING to each other, one precious moment at a time.
Then I realized and THANKED HASHEM for putting Mrs. Skinny-Minny in my path, for me to learn this lesson through. And I realized how close I came to blowing His opportunity to connect with my wife. Imagine how I would have felt and treated my wife if I had spent those previous 2 minutes fantasizing about someone else's wife, then saw mine sitting outside. I would have been resentful, maybe even gruff, as I rushed into the house to avoid the contrast in my brain (as I had done many times previously).
Thank you all for giving me the opportunity to share and relive that.