Cut Your Spouse Some Slack
We give our friends and kids the benefit of the doubt. Shouldn't we do the same for the most important person in our life?
One of the classic Jewish principles of interpersonal interactions is that we need to judge each other on the side of merit. We need to find a favorable explanation of someone’s seemingly hurtful behavior. We need to look with compassion when someone behaves in what appears to be an insensitive fashion.
This is drummed into Jewish children from a young age and used to diffuse playground taunts and, as they get older, challenges with friends.
As adults, we try to put a positive spin on that troubling conversation we just had with our friend or their seemingly inexplicable destructive behavior. If we're really working on it, we're usually pretty successful. If we're committed to not nursing a grudge and remind ourselves of all the good in the relationship, we're pretty successful.
So why do have a such a tough time doing this in our most important relationship – our marriages?
With our husbands, we are all too quick to get aggravated, to jump to a negative perspective – and even to attack.
When our children were young we were very strict about dinnertime. It was 6 o’clock on the dot, no exceptions. Luckily my husband’s office was close to home so the LA traffic did not get in the way of this mandate. He would go out to teach in the evenings but 6 PM was sacrosanct. Once in a very rare while, he got home a few minutes late. Once in an even rarer while, he got home a few minutes late and he didn’t call me to let me know.
Too often with our spouse we immediately go to that hurt or frustrated or accusatory place without giving them any leeway.
When that happened, I really lost it. Yes, I had a lot of little kids. Yes, I was frazzled and desperate for him to take over. But that was no excuse. Since he was almost always home on time and respectful of my needs, why didn’t I cut him some slack? Why didn't I judge him favorably? He used to say to me, “Haven’t I built up any credit for all those nights I was home on time? Or those few nights I called when I couldn’t be?”
And he was right.
Too often with our spouse we immediately go to that hurt or frustrated or accusatory place without giving them any leeway. We give our friends more leeway. We definitely cut our kids more slack. Why are we so hesitant with our spouses?
Perhaps we expect more of them because they’re adults (but again we’re better with our friends). Perhaps we’re too focused on our own needs; perhaps we’re too quick to assume that our needs are being trampled on or ignored.
The reasons don’t really matter. What counts is that is the most important relationship we have with another human being, and we are too often failing the test.
Our marriage is our biggest laboratory for working on our character, much as we may want to just let down our hair and relax. If we are willing to put in the effort to make excuses for our friends’ behavior, to judge our children favorably, we should be even more willing to do the same for our husbands (or wives as the case may be.)
It’s not always easy - not because of their challenging behavior (!) but due to our own knee-jerk reactions. But that’s where the effort begins and that’s where the true reward lies – for ourselves, for our spouses and for our marriage.