Honey, I Learned This in a Marriage Book
Should you tell your spouse you’re doing something because you got the advice from a book?
There are many books and classes on marriage, all offering advice on how to be a better spouse. They’re usually more of reminders than novel thoughts – a chance to refocus in our busy lives and recognize that this primary relationship requires greater attention that we have been giving it.
Frequently we need to listen more attentively, give more thoughtfully, be more patient, more sensitive etc. – you know the drill, I know the drill, we all know the drill. And yet we get so busy, so caught up in the details of our lives (some necessary and some extraneous) that we frequently forget. So we appreciate the books and the classes.
In one of the books I was reading recently (I’m finished with parenting books, but the need to continue refresh my focus on my marriage somehow hasn’t diminished) the author suggested that if we are engaging in new behaviors because of something we learned in a book or class, we should not let our spouse know. Our spouse won’t appreciate our efforts in the same way if he or she knows it’s something we just read or just heard.
What do you think?
I vehemently disagree. Many of us want to think that all gestures of love and kindness from our spouses are spontaneously generated because of their innate and romantic natures. And there is certainly a place for that. But, like in many areas of life, emotions can frequently let us down. The right ones are not always in place at the right moment, they are not as easily summoned as we would like. I prefer someone who is going to be giving and kind and thoughtful and loving not because they are caught up in the romance of the moment but because they are committed to an ideal of being that person, because they are driven to do what’s right.
That’s a person I can trust, someone whose emotions won’t one day bring him closer to me and another day, God forbid, drive him farther away. But it’s even more than that.
If my husband went to a marriage class (I can’t even imagine that scenario but that’s a different issue!) and was told that it’s appropriate to bring your wife diamonds every Shabbos (might as well think big!) and that Shabbos, he came home with beautiful diamonds, his present would not be diminished because he heard it in class. In fact, in my eyes, it would be enhanced. It would be magnified. Because it was evidence of greater effort and greater caring than a spur-of-the-moment spontaneous gesture.
I think it’s a greater kindness, not a lesser one.
He took the time to go to class. He made the effort to listen in class. He followed through on what he learned. And he did all three of those activities which were probably way outside his comfort zone because he wanted to do something for me. I think it’s a greater kindness, not a lesser one.
When we are kind because we are in the mood to be kind, it is still lovely but it doesn’t say a lot about our character or commitment. When we are kind when we are not in the mood, when we are grumpy or distracted or feeling frustrated or discouraged, then we are truly elevating ourselves, then we are choosing this relationship above our own self-interest. That’s significant. That’s a deeper, harder choice.
All relationships are challenging at times. No one is always in the mood to lift out of themselves and give to the other. It’s fun when we’re both in the mood. But it’s meaningful when we’re not and we do anyway.
I think it’s fine to tell our spouses that we took a class to try to make our marriage better. They will be touched, they will be flattered. And I think it’s good to tell them the actions that we are doing as a result. They will know that we are seriously trying to up our game. They will know that our commitment to them is so important that we took time out of our busy schedules to attend this class. They will appreciate that we took the ideas seriously and acted on them.
So go ahead and tell your husband you learned this new act of giving from a great marriage book you’re reading. Then leave it on his nightstand!