I Used To Struggle To Figure Out What Self-Improvement I Needed; Then I Got Married
If my husband and I had tried to meet through an online dating site, it never would have worked. He would have said he’s looking for a woman who enjoys an active, outdoorsy lifestyle. I would have said I like to sit on couches. Indoors. I also like to sit on beaches (but only if indoors is nearby).
What happens though, if you never met through an online dating profile, but instead got married due to shared values, chemistry, and big picture goals? You might spend family vacations doing a wee bit of bickering. I like to take it easy on vacation. Sleep in, not move too fast. Regular life is about hustle and bustle. Vacation is about relaxation.
Well – not according to my husband. Vacation is a time to accomplish. There are so many things to see and places to go. How could you wake up late and saunter when vacation beckons you to move!!?
Around this time of year starting in my late teens (as I was becoming observant) I would try to conduct an honest appraisal of myself. During Elul, the Hebrew month dedicated to self-reflection and growth leading up to the high holidays, this is the sort of thing religious Jews do. Where was I falling short as a human being, friend, family member, and Jew? What should I focus my efforts on in an attempt to become a better version of myself?
I did my best to come up with the most glaring shortcomings I noticed in myself, but I always feared that maybe I wasn’t being intellectually honest enough. What if I was unknowingly causing harm to someone but had no way to discover when, why, or how? What if I thought my worst trait was X, when really I should be working on Y?
Well, folks, after recently celebrating my 19th wedding anniversary and spending vacation with a man who has a different vision of what vacation looks like, I can safely say that I don’t struggle to discover my imperfections any longer. And while I say that in jest, I also say it with gratitude. A healthy marriage means you have a built-in mirror to help you see the areas of yourself that need improving. And for many people, improving means understanding the world from someone else’s perspective, because it is so easy to only see your own.
A spouse should not, God forbid, be belittling, verbally abusive, or make you feel badly about yourself, but he or she has a front row seat to the story of your life, and if your spouse is a good and honest person, and wants to grow and help you grow, he or she is perfectly positioned to provide feedback when needed.
So many of the things my husband and I have fought about over the years (big and little) were due to not understanding how each of us experiences life differently than the other. My husband hates confrontation, I hate being fake. My husband would move mountains to avoid confrontation, while I would run marathons (see intro) to avoid being in a situation where I have to be fake. When we realized that his pain and my pain were equal and both valid – just exactly opposite – we could start to empathize with each other, as situations with potential confrontations or phoniness arose.
My husband loves the woods. I love the beach. He hates getting rushed away from the woods. I hate getting rushed away from the beach. Neither of us really get why the other one loves the woods or the beach so much. But now that we can replace each other’s favorite spot with our own, we can be more careful about how we plan our woods and beach outings.
My husband and I are both opinionated people, and I don’t see us ever getting past disagreeing, but that’s OK. Because as we grow as human beings and as a couple, we have learned to be better at arguing by stretching ourselves to experience each other’s perspective – both joy and pain. Under the wedding canopy, seven blessings (Sheva Brachos) are recited to the bride and groom, the fifth one is especially beautiful:
Let these loving friends taste of the bliss you gave to your creation in the Garden of Eden in our earliest memory.
Adam and Eve were one being originally. They shared the same pain, they shared the same joy. They shared exactly the same experience. In marriage, we often start out as polar opposites, and as we work through those differences, our worst traits can come out, and it can be a trying exercise. But with dedication, love, a sense of humor, and commitment, we can learn to view and experience the world from a vastly different place – ultimately reuniting with our beloved and becoming human beings full of empathy who are able to see and feel the perspectives of those all around us.
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