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Putting Your Spouse First

May 8, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

Allowing the needs of another to take precedence doesn't make you a wimp. It's affirming the supremacy of the marriage over the individual.

"If you treat your husband like a king, he will treat you like a queen." This wise advice from the Talmud is not something we have an easy time putting into practice. We're afraid we'll get stepped on, become doormats, we're concerned our needs won't be met, we don't want to feel like shmattes, we don't want it to be about him.

Which is ironic because that is the key to a successfully marriage (and ultimately to having our own needs tended to) -- to put our partner first. It's not about me. The character trait of humility, this other-centered focus, is crucial to a healthy relationship. This often manifests itself in the seemingly small areas. We're both tired at night. Who gets up to make sure the doors are locked? To check on the baby?

These small things are not so tiny after all. They are the ways we express our caring.

But these small things are not so tiny after all. They are the ways we express our caring, the ways we contribute to the health and strength of the marriage, the way we tell our spouse that they count, their needs count, the way we put them first.

Another aspect of humility is the ability to cede your rights, to give it up and just let it go. So many things we fight about are so unimportant (forget that toilet seat already) and simply not worth it. And yet we let them erode our relationship. Just let it go; make it nonexistent.

The clothes on the floor, the cereal on the counter, the forgotten phone message, the baby's pajamas on backwards -- let it go.

And maybe even some more annoying qualities as well. We can feel that moment of choice, that moment where the frustration is just starting to build and we can either vent it in an unpleasant tirade or we can take a deep breath and move on. It's a choice; let it go and choose the marriage, choose your spouse's needs. Tomorrow you won't even remember what that burning issue was.

Allied with this is the clear recognition that marriage is not a competition and that being right is not the goal. Working together, creating a new entity together is. Ego has no place in marriage -- very easy to say and very difficult to live.

It's very hard to really let go, to really not care, to bite back the words as they are agitating to get out. We're not always successful. What's important is that we want to be.

Letting go is a positive affirmation of the supremacy of the marriage over the individual.

There's a mistaken and prevalent notion that we are somehow a wimp if we aren't constantly asserting our rights and needs. On the contrary. It takes real strength of character to step back, to concede, to defer, to allow the needs of another to take precedence. It requires security and clarity not to be threatened by this attitude and to instead take pleasure in the giving.

Letting go is not passivity, it is not opting out. It's a positive affirmation of the supremacy of the marriage over the individual, a clear recognition of priorities and purpose. The Talmud is a statement of reality, of both a Divine promise and natural consequences. If we treat our husbands like a king, he will treat us like a queen. And if we begin by treating our husband like a king, we have already adopted the behavior or royalty.

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