Couple's therapy often begins with a statement like, "My husband can get very angry over the smallest things. He doesn't scream or yell, but he reacts by withholding affection, not talking to me for days at a time and not taking care of his responsibilities. He claims he's not angry, but just needs time to recover from our argument. I just don't know what to do."

With some prodding, the husband may reply, "You know, it doesn't matter how much I give or how hard I try. It's never enough. She always wants more from me. She's always nagging. So, yeah, small things make me angry because it's just one thing after another; they build up. It never stops. I shut down so it doesn't blow up into something really ugly."

The couple is facing a seemingly intractable conflict of perspectives. Any attempt to justify feelings and encourage acceptance of the other's point of view typically goes nowhere, because each of them is convinced that he or she is right – and from their own perspectives, they are.

By definition, the blending of two distinct personalities into a functioning unit will involve struggle. But, the construct of marriage is truly the focal point of creation and needs to be expressed in a healthy way in order to fulfill G‑d's plan. It is the central relationship in the family and therefore central to life. Every time a man and woman join together, they recreate the primordial union of Adam and Eve by reuniting two halves of a soul separated at birth. While we are irresistibly drawn together to fulfill a cosmic purpose, G‑d deliberately created the two halves to be at odds with one another. Apparently there is something about the resolution of this conflict that pushes creation towards its climax.

It has been my experience - both as a husband and as a therapist - that conflict is best resolved by shifting focus away from the problems created by differences in personality and perspective, in favor of what works in the relationship. The goal then is to build on existing strengths. Even the worst relationship has its good moments when the couple is relaxed and getting along. But each partner can behave very badly indeed when they start to feel their buttons being pushed. If they are going to get anywhere they need to find a way to decrease their mutual feelings of vulnerability.

Healing starts when husband and wife recognize one another's soft spots and take responsibility for them. They need to find a starting point – at least one simple activity that won't trigger a bad reaction from either spouse; maybe even something neither of them has ever experienced before. This mutually enjoyable interaction creates a safe space for them to connect and frees up energy for problem-solving and healthy compromise. Because couples in conflict tend to focus on their differences and what sets them apart, it is of primary importance to rediscover what they have in common. They can learn to be loyal and stick up for each other when an opportunity arises and to show that they are somehow special to one another. Finally, they can start showing love by putting aside their personal desires in a way that demonstrates their intimate knowledge of their spouse. When they relate to each other in ways that reduce tension and reactivity, there is hope for improvement in the relationship.

I have seen this approach work many times because it realistically acknowledges that there are two sides to every story and that both partners have legitimate needs to be addressed. It is often a difficult (even agonizing) process, but G‑d is cheering us on and hoping we can deepen our relationship and become His true partners in creation.