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    Dating and Relationship Advice

    Hi Rabbi and Shira,

    I’m looking for advice, I’ve been married for a few years and I feel stuck. I don’t think I’ve been the best of husbands to my wife. I find myself constantly upset and disappointed with her. I am very critical of everything she does, and I know she doesn’t deserve to be treated this way. She is a nice person who tries her best to make me happy. I want to start fresh, but I don’t know how. I want to get to be a better husband and be more positive towards my wife. I want to know her better as sometimes I feel like we are two strangers living in the same home. I feel so guilty and ashamed of how I’ve been acting and treating her. I’m not sure why she puts up with me. Do you have ideas on how I can be a more loving and caring husband, a spouse my wife deserves? 

    -Ashamed on Sheepshead Bay 

    Dear Ashamed, 

    Hi. It’s so brave for you to write in and we commend you on your self-awareness. In terms of working on your criticism of her. Human nature is for us to be critical. Many people see the negative before the positive and some never even get to the positive. When you come home from work each day, as you unlock the door, discipline yourself to say something nice to your wife. For example, “You look so pretty today. The house is so clean, I can see you how hard you worked. It smells so good, what are you making?” Even if you come into your home and see things in your home that you are not happy about, start off the conversation with something positive. Hunt for good things to say. The more you speak about things that are positive, the more positive and grateful, your thoughts and feelings will be. You will identify with the positive. The converse is true as well. If you come home in a negative mood, the atmosphere in your home will not be pleasant. In terms of getting to know your wife better, the Torah tells us Adam knew his wife. Jon Gottman, one of the pre-eminent couples’ therapists tells us that the best way to connect with our spouses is to get to know them. He recommends making love maps, which means to learn about each other’s inner world. Discuss with her what are her likes, her dislikes, her hopes, fears and expectations. Once you’ve “made a map” look for opportunities to act on that information. For example, buy her something that she likes. If she doesn’t open up to you about what she likes, and says she has everything, take her to a mall and see which stores she lingers at and what she picks up. Check in with her about how work is going daily and reassure her about her fears. Next, and possibly even more important, make and turn towards “bids for affection.” What are bids for affection? Gottman says that they are the smallest measure of movements of connection. They can take the form of a question, an expression or physical touch. It’s how we let our spouses know that we want to connect. They are often subtle because people are afraid to be vulnerable or put themselves out there. We refer to accepting their bid as “turning towards.” It is a small movement, letting them know that the bid is accepted, and responding “let’s have a moment of connection.” When you don’t acknowledge or even reject the bid, this is called turning away. We should try to accept 86% of the bids our spouses make. The connection implied in a bid isn’t a 3 hour date, it can be a 30 second conversation or a 5 second embrace. Ask yourself: What are your wife’s bids for affection? What are yours? What does it feel like when my partner doesn’t turn towards me? How can I get better at turning towards? Finally, forgive yourself. We all have ups and downs in life, easy and hard patches in our relationships. Understand that things are probably not as bad as you are thinking and every step you take toward working on things with your wife will be planting seeds. As our good friend Dr Benjamin Epstein always says, “We believe in the power of a little bit of good.” Look for good, and share it! Draw your love maps, make and turn towards those bids for affection, discipline yourself to be less critical, and we’re sure you’ll see more improvement. 

    Email us back at rabbireuvenandshira@gmail.com if you need us to clarify anything, or to tell us how it’s going. 

    All the best, 

    -Rabbi Reuven and Shira Boshnack