If you could ask for anything in your relationship what would it be? I imagine your list would be pretty long. Yet, even if you were to cross off all of those items, you are likely to see more pop up. Focusing on your wish list will only leave you stuck and unfulfilled. Only by bypassing the symptoms of your discontent and heading directly to the root cause, can you fulfill your relationship dreams. What is the root from which all conflict stems and in which lies the solution to meet your needs?
How to Get Your Needs Met
The answer is connection, or lack thereof. We are very good at getting caught up in the details, you know that list we were talking about. We are so brilliant at focusing on our list of complaints and dreams that we have forgotten what we really want; connection.
The purpose of the Torah is to have a relationship with G-d. Each mitzvah is a way to engage in that relationship and connect. It is important for us to be aware of the big picture in all of our relationships, otherwise we can get so wrapped up in the details that we forget about why we are doing what we are doing.
But if we ignore the details how do we get what we want? Do we resign ourselves to merely “settle” for the spouse we have? The prayers of Rosh HaShana provide excellent insight into how to get exactly what we want. Rosh HaShana is a day of judgment, yom hadin, a day when important decisions will be made regarding the upcoming year. Who will live, how much money will we make, etc . . . This is reflected in our prayers multiple times when we ask to be inscribed in the book of life. Yet, there are some sources that (Tikunei Zohar, Tikun 6) frown upon those who fill their prayers with personal requests, referring to them as barking dogs shouting: “give us food, a livelihood, forgiveness, life…” How do we get everything we want if we aren’t supposed to ask for it? Furthermore, we repeatedly do ask for life in the Rosh HaShana liturgy!
The One Thing to Ask for
The answer lies in our understanding of what life is all about. When we ask for life, what we are really asking for is connection with G-d, as the Torah says, “But you who cling to Hashem, your G-d, you are all alive today (Devarim 4:4).” This is what we mean when we pray to be inscribed in the book of life. One commentator writes that (Yosher Divrei Emes, Chapter 54) ‘the inscription’ is the imprint of connection to the Divine that is etched upon our souls. The judgment is on our desire to connect to G-d. That is where all the details of our earthly needs will be determined. Thus, there is one thing that we ask: to truly be in relationship.
Once the connection is there, all of the blessings, can flow. But without that Connection, we won’t receive them, even though G-d wants to give them. While we may have a list of requests, things we want this year, things we want G-d to do for us or to change, there is only one request that needs to be made, for when that request is granted, everything we need will come.
The same applies to your relationship with your spouse. The list will continue to mount, frustration will be felt. Once one problem is solved, another will pop up. To have a successful and fulfilling marriage, the focus must be on the connection. When couples are connected they will want to give to each other because deep down they desire to give.
How to Connect
Many requests from our spouse play on our fears and insecurities. We go into fight/flight mode, relying on our survival defenses. We don’t see a loving wife or husband, we unconsciously see an enemy who is threatening our existence. We often reply irrationally and our spouse is left feeling frustrated that we will never change. We can remove these stumbling blocks by retraining our brain to react differently. We do this by slowing down and learning how to communicate with each other in a more intentional way. We talk to connect and although we express frustrations, the frustration is not what is most important.
The focus of any relationship repair must be the relationship itself. Instead of only being preoccupied with solving problems, the goal is to create and cultivate connection. Once that is done, couples often forget about the particular issues at hand as their real need is being met. Sometimes the requests will get taken care of on their own. Other times, one spouse will be moved to stretch and do something he/she was previously reluctant to do.
Going straight to the root cause of frustration and nourishing that root is the most powerful way to affect change in relationship. When we view all of our relationships from this perspective and ask for what is most important; connection, all of our other needs will be resolved. May we all be blessed with a sweet year of connection in all of our relationships!
With best wishes for your relationship success,
Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin