4 Ways to Renew Your Marriage
Based on the meaning of the Jewish month of Elul.
The Jewish month of Elul is an opportunity to take stock of our relationship with God as we prepare for Rosh Hashanah. It’s also an ideal time to reflect on your marriage and build a new reality for the upcoming year.
The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (128:1) cites four verses which serve as acronyms for the Hebrew word Elul. All four signify different actions we can take that will create the change we want to see in our lives.
1. Make your home a refuge.
"God brought [it] about into his hand and I placed for you – Inah L’yado V’samti Lach” (Exodus 21:13). This verses refer to the cities of refuge where an inadvertent murderer would flee for protection. For many struggling couples, coming home can be a greater source of stress than work. Your home should be a safe space to protect you from the outside world. What can you do to make your home more calm? How can you dedicate yourself to making it an oasis that you both look forward to returning to after a long day?
For some it may mean designating regular quality time where you disconnect from your gadgets and focus on each other. For others it may mean being more careful about criticism. Dedicate this month to strengthening the security and sanctity of your home. .
2. Be the change you want to see.
"I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me – Ani L’dodi V’dodi Li” (Song of Songs 6:3).” This verse hints that our spiritual efforts in Elul. Commensurate with the efforts we invest in our relationship with God, our beloved, during Elul, are the fruits of our labor in the revealing of God’s Kingship on Rosh Hashanah (Likutei Torah, Re’eh). While a relationship needs the effort of both partners to make it work, you’ll be surprised about the difference you can make when you take action on your own.
Instead of harping on what you want your spouse to change, beat him/her to the punch and focus on what you can do to improve yourself and your marriage. Couples often reach a stalemate where both are afraid to take the first step out of fear that there will be no reciprocity. The truth is that when we make sincere effort, it is often reciprocated. When you focus on how you are for your beloved, your beloved will become yours again.
3. Open your heart.
"…your heart and the heart of [your offspring] – Es L'vavcha V'es L'vav" (Deuteronomy 30:6). This verse describes how God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring so that you will be capable of sincerely loving Him. You may feel like you love your spouse but the romance is gone. The secret to reawakening love and circumcising the barrier that is blocking your heart is through having compassion for your spouse. Your spouse may annoy you at times or even hurt your feelings. Instead of being judgmental and sending out negative energy, begin to look at your spouse from a different perspective. Look at your wedding album, or better yet, find a childhood photo of your spouse and imagine that innocent little child. Realize that he/she doesn’t really want to hurt you. Sometimes we react out of our own pain. Imagine your spouse’s story and possible motives for their behavior and begin to have compassion instead of scorn. While you should never be a door mat or take abuse, there are plenty of everyday grievances that can be viewed through the lens of compassion.
4. Practice acts of kindness.
"[sending portions] one to another, and gifts to the poor – Ish L'rei-eihu U'matanos L'ev-yonim" (Esther 9:22). This verse describes the mitzvah of sending Mishloach Manos, the two portions of food we are mandated to give a friend on Purim. These gifts serve to increase friendship and good will.
Caring behaviors are the perfect gifts to restore and increase love and goodwill in your marriage. They are specific behaviors that are done unconditionally to make our partners feel loved and cared for. With time, couples often become less generous with their actions. You may not give them at all or you may keep score and only give when you feel your spouse has “earned” it. Restore the positive feelings to your relationship by extending to your spouse the behaviors that used to make him/her feel cared for or loved. This Elul, bring back the friendship and warmth you once had.
Elul begins the 40-day period when Moses ascended again to Mount Sinai to write the second set of tablets, after breaking the first set. Even if your relationship feels broken, it’s an auspicious time to create lasting change through the four lessons hinted in the verses which symbolize this special month.
If your marriage requires more immediate assistance, download your free copy of Rabbi Slatkin’s new book, The 5 Step Action Plan to a Happy & Healthy Marriage.