Chany, married 22 years, has finally figured it out. “I grew up in a very clean home — everything had its place and everything was in its place — or else! My father made sure we made our beds with corners tucked in army-style. You were never allowed to leave a cup on the counter; everything had to be immediately washed, dried, and put back in the cupboard. There was no such thing as leaving a wet towel hanging in the bathroom.
“I thought this is just what people do, so when I married Dovi, I was in for quite a shock. Not only did he come from a completely different home, but he himself has ADHD. He’s always getting distracted, so he puts his coffee cup down somewhere and two days later it could still be where he left it. He’s completely messy and disorganized.
“We used to fight about this nonstop. It never got us anywhere because Dovi just doesn’t have the brain for tidying up. Yes, he’s learned a few things from living with me, but I finally realized that he isn’t me and never will be. I also learned that I’m not my father and I never liked the way he dealt with the cleaning issue, so why was I imitating someone I didn’t want to be? And of course I didn’t want the kids to hear the constant nagging and arguing.
“So I hired a bit more cleaning help, and our house looks okay even if it isn’t perfect. I also learned that the planet won’t explode if a bed isn’t perfectly made. Actually, it’s a relief to know that.”
Our upbringing lays down strong neural networks for every aspect of our functioning. Although we only grow up in one home, it seems to us that this home represents and gives over the truth of how to be. Yes, there are millions of other homes and other ways of being, but we are basically blind to this. What we learned is the way it is and must be.
It’s no surprise, then, that so many couples spend their first years together debating “reality.” Each partner “knows” how things should be done and often tries to impose his or her views on the other.
“How can you submit taxes the day they’re due?? I always send mine in early. What if something goes wrong and you can’t do it that day? It’s crazy to wait till the last minute!”
People try to “help” their spouses see the light, to learn the “right ways” of doing things. Funny how spouses tend to resist all this generous assistance.
Chaim and Esther were shopping for a new kitchen table. Chaim had brought his trusty measuring tape and was earnestly measuring tabletops when Esther interrupted his activity. “Why are you measuring that one? We agreed we’re not getting one with stainless steel legs.”
Chaim was aware of that and was measuring the table only to compare the size with another table. He started to explain, but Esther cut him off to continue her point. “I really don’t like it when we discuss things beforehand and then you go and do your own thing. What’s the point of us shopping together if you’re just going to do what you want to do anyway?”
Chaim stopped measuring. And shopping. And talking.
For some reason, we act as if our marriage license is a license to correct, criticize, and control another human being. In fact, adults don’t like being told how to act, think, feel, or talk. We need to learn to stand back and let our partner do it his or her way, for the most part. We can certainly help when asked for assistance, but we should endeavor to avoid offering unsolicited feedback except in cases of emergency or absolute necessity. In the end, we’ll find this more relaxing, since we no longer have to micromanage another person.
Moreover, we’ll discover that if our partner decides to do something that doesn’t need to be done or to do something differently than the way we do it, the world doesn’t come to a complete stop. This knowledge frees us to free our partner and, even more importantly, it frees us from needing to constantly intervene. We’re on vacation at last!
Next time you’re tempted to help, refrain. See what happens. Repeat throughout your marriage!