For the last ten years, when writing the secular date, we have written the number 2 and then added two zeroes. Then came the year 2010. How long has it taken for your fingers to subtract that one zero? It takes time and effort for an old, automatic response to be erased in the brain and for a new response to take hold. This conscious, deliberate effort of incorporating new responses is how we engrave new information in our brains. There is no magic. It takes time and effort. And it doesn't matter if we are talking about not eating sweets after a meal, or not getting angry, depressed or anxious in response to an upset.

In order to stay in the calm zone when dealing with relationship frustrations, we must train ourselves to overcome our negative automatic response patterns. Take a minute to think back to a scene from childhood when you didn't get something you wanted, or made a mistake. How did you, and the people around you, respond? If you grew up with saintly parents, then when you got a poor mark on a test, made a mess, broke a dish or lost an item, someone said something like, "You're far more important than that item." Or, "Everything G‑d does is for our best." When you were in pain, someone responded with compassion and empathy and guided you through it. The reactions of the mature adults in your home taught you how to handle losses.

However, if you did not grow up with people who were so proactively working on their character traits, then you may have learned that the way to deal with stress is to slam doors, scream angrily, eat junk food, or freeze in depressive silence. The result is that now, when you feel helpless, ashamed or angry, you fall back on your old patterns, such as cursing, yelling, eating, sulking in despair, or freezing in anxiety. Get mad, bad, sad, sick or crazy. Many people never outgrow these patterns. They are as deeply ingrained in our psyches as our mother tongue.

However, we can slowly train ourselves to stay in the calm zone when we are frustrated or disappointed. Yes, it will take time and a great deal of effort, but the results will be a sense of personal empowerment and self-respect. Just like putting one zero after the "2" instead of two zeroes, you can train yourself to respond with logic, compassion and faith.

The Training Program:

The next time your spouse does something you don't like, ask yourself the following questions. It will require a huge degree of humility to answer honestly. Focusing on the answers will help you stay in the calm zone when you are disappointed in your spouse.

1. What do I want that I'm not getting?

2. What will be the effect of not getting what I want?

3. Is he or she purposely depriving me of what I want? Can I know with 100% certainty that they are acting this way due to deliberate malice against me? Or, are they doing this out of lack of intelligence, insensitivity or immaturity?

4. If, in the midst of an angry retort, someone were to offer me $10,000 for giving the benefit of the doubt and staying calm, would I be able to control myself?

5. Can I know, with 100% certainty that my spouse could do better and could give me what I want – at this moment?

6. Can I know with 100% certainty what is motivating their behavior, including the effects of their childhood programming or level of emotional/intellectual intelligence?

7. Can I know with 100% certainty that G‑d wants me to get the love, understanding and appreciation which I crave from this person? (This is the hardest one!)

Why doesn't G‑d give us what we want? Is He just being mean? Why so much suffering? Why can't people be more saintly? Why are people so stubborn, insensitive, immature, nasty and apathetic? Relationships are difficult because every person is at a different place in terms of his spiritual growth. And when the gap is great, we feel so alone and frustrated that we think it will be helpful to preach, scold or admonish. In order to maintain dialogue, it is helpful to:

1. Listen in Order to Learn: Find out about your spouse's motivations, what gives them pleasure and why they are making the choices they make.

2. Borrow a Wise Face: Picture a revered rabbi, hero or mentor whose wise, patient, compassionate face can inspire us to remain calm in times of pain. Some of them survived the Holocaust or experienced numerous losses, yet responded to provocations with dignity. Try it the next time your spouse is critical.

3. Have Compassion For Yourself: We're not going to get all we want in life. "No one dies with even half his heart's desires fulfilled" (Ecclesiastes). If you don't get all you want, trust that G‑d gives us everything we truly need – not necessarily all we'd like to get.

4. Have Compassion For Others: We are all imperfect and limited in our grasp of reality and our ability to satisfy others' desires.

5. Thank G‑d for reminding you of your existential aloneness. Let the pain carve out a place which can be filled with Him.

6. Thank G‑d for giving you a chance to work on your character traits. If we were surrounded by saintly people, life would be far too easy! The challenge is to act saintly when those around us make us feel like tearing our hair out!

Our ability to discipline ourselves and stay in the calm zone will arouse the respect and trust of those who are capable of being respectful and trusting. By listening respectfully to your spouse, you demonstrate to him or her how to listen to you. Unless the person is abusive or emotionally disturbed, you will have an effect on your spouse and, hopefully, find a way to resolve conflicts in a mutually respectful manner.