The couple had barely completed their brief intake papers, which included a small handwriting sample, when, her eyes blazing with fury, the wife pounded on the small table between us and yelled, "He has to grow up! I need a husband who is a real partner, not a lazy good-for-nothing who won't take responsibility and is totally clueless about my needs!" Her husband sat hunched in his chair, looking like a hapless cat that had somehow survived the spin cycle on a washing machine.

"How exactly do you want him to change?" I replied, knowing that she would provide me with a list of demands I've heard so many times.

"He should understand my feelings and know what I want without me having to spell it out to him like a first grader, and he should appreciate what an incredible wife he has."

"I do appreciate you," he whimpered.

"No, you don't. You are totally unreliable and unpredictable and you are always running away from me!"

My heart broke for both of them. There she was, heavily pregnant, feeling abandoned and alone. "I understand your anger," I said, to which she responded angrily, "I'm not angry! I'm just fed up and I want him to change!"

"I understand," I said, "I'd like to help you calm down, and help him become more reliable. But growth comes from love, not force."

"That's not true," she glared at me. "I have gotten him to be more responsible, and that's because I don't let up on the pressure!"

"But everyone is paying a big price," I said. "How do you think your hostility affects your children?"

"At least they'll learn how not to act," she snapped back.

He looked broken, lost in his own world. I sighed as I glanced at his tiny, broken, almost autistic scribbles and her huge, overpowering handwriting. "I'd like to help you both grow from this situation in a way that is safe and respectful to both of you."

"I don't have time to wait," she said tersely, "And, anyway, I'm not the one who needs help."

After an exhausting hour, in which I saw that she was not ready to take responsibility to deal with her loneliness and pain in a more kindly manner, I finally said, "I'm sorry. I don't think I can help."

"That's what they all say," she responded, and went on to list the distinguished rabbis and therapists she had schlepped him to. And then added, "But you're all wrong! I'm not giving up!"

I ushered them out of my office, refusing payment, for I had certainly failed to deliver the goods, as she had rightfully accused. They had just left when the phone rang. A man, whom I did not know, launched in quickly, "What can I do with a wife who doesn't act like a wife?" When I asked for an explanation, he said, "She has no enthusiasm for me and hates when I try to be affectionate. I try so hard to please her, helping with the children and the housework and always asking her what more I can do. But she just turns a cold shoulder to me. She gets excited when she talks to her sister, but for me, nothing. This is not the way a wife should be."

"How should a wife be?" I asked.

"A normal wife is excited to see her husband. She should crave affection and be happy that I try so hard to please her. Instead, she is so cold and distant. What can I do? I need love and communication! I want you to talk to her and get her to change." My heart broke for him – and for all the couples who live in loneliness and strife, craving what they cannot get.

It is human nature to try to get people to change and be what we want them to be, especially our spouses, parents, children and siblings. And most of us try an endless variety of tactics to make our dreams come true. We nag, demean, denounce, scold, complain, tear our hair out, lecture, scream, talk/refuse to talk, get passive/aggressive, sigh frequently, cry, beg, bribe, insult, criticize, coerce, accuse, run after/run away from, talk endlessly, try to induce shame and guilt, check up on, threaten to commit suicide, slam doors, deliver ultimatums, stomp around, lie, hint, act submissive, give oodles of compliments, do anything to please no matter how difficult or disgusting it is, enlist the support of rabbis, call family members to tell them how awful it is, drag them into counseling, drag them out of counseling, hurt them back so they'll know how it feels, suffer in hostile silence, have children in the hope that they will change, go crazy, get thin, get fat, get addicted to the internet, try endless medications, write letters to them, monitor their reactions, hound them, lock them in, lock them out, try to teach them lessons and shake them up, provoke, peek in wallets, search the cell phone, try to figure out what caused them to be like this, analyze what caused us to marry them, give up and then try even harder and then blame ourselves that we didn't try hard enough. (If I have forgotten anything, please add to the list.)

From childhood, we are trained to think of men as saintly, loving individuals who honor their wives and listen to them with infinite love and patience. And we are trained to think of women as kindhearted, ever-smiling, organized and wise, with boundless energy and compassion. We read hundreds of books and articles about how the ideal man, woman and marital relationship "should" be.

Thus, when we are faced with a different reality, we are shocked to find that we cannot mold others to fit our fantasies and make them more loving, spiritual, attractive, communicative or smart. We are determined to get them to fit those images, certain that we have the power to fulfill our needs if we just try hard enough. Isn't that what all the advisors tell us? "Be loving and respectful and you'll be loved and respected." When the reality doesn't fit the fantasy, we get angry at the person, or G‑d.

The greater the gap between the fantasy and the reality, the greater our pain. Anger fills us with the hope that we can mold others. We fear that if we stop being angry, we will fall into utter despair and unbearable aloneness. We think we have no choice but to be either enraged or depressed. The fantasy of molding others into living up to our expectations – a fantasy often encouraged by therapists and writers – does nothing but create more pain and heartache.

So how do we handle the pain? First, it is important to realize that love, understanding and appreciation are like rain; the amount we get is up to G‑d. When we learn to accept G‑d's will, we calm down and can think more clearly. Second, we must allow ourselves to feel the normal feelings of frustration and grief which accompany an unfulfilling relationship. Third, we must find where this pain is pushing us. Therapy is certainly an option, but if, after years of discussion, there is no growth, it is best to look at other options. Due to their loneliness, many unhappily married people write books, get degrees, become involved in community projects or services.

We are told that "G‑d is close to the brokenhearted" (Tehillim 34:19). This is because the brokenhearted have nowhere to turn but to G‑d. And that is the ultimate reason for the trials and tribulations we all suffer.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe said, "Turn your pain into a project." I took that as my motto and encourage others to do the same. One of my projects was the creation of 39 "coping cards," which I used myself to help me accept G‑d's reality. On these cards, I wrote all my favorite phrases from our sages. Like the 39 different works which were necessary to build the Holy Temple, I worked hard to internalize these 39 messages and build a temple in my own heart, struggling to create faith, joy and love despite the presence of people who were not on the same spiritual path.

It is not easy to accept G‑d's will. But clinging to a fantasy which can never be fulfilled is far more painful. May G‑d soothe all the broken hearts and help us feel His love.