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What Comes First--Love or Respect?

September 28, 2010

A Jewish marriage begins with the signing of the Ketubah (legal marriage document) in which the groom pledges to be a good and faithful husband. The opening paragraph states that the husband has committed to his new wife, saying, "I will work for you, respect you and sustain you."

An important word that seems to be missing from this commitment is "love." One would think that a successful marriage is one in which the husband and wife love each other deeply. Love is what binds them together and creates a deep and harmonious union. So why is this critical marriage ingredient missing from the marriage document?

To understand this we need to examine the development of relationships. Babies are born incredibly self-absorbed, seeing themselves as the center of all existence, and during their first years, children continue to focus on themselves. This is an intentional part of the design of creation – the formative years are there for us to discover ourselves and create our own identities.

But as we grow older, we begin to form relationships. In these new experiences, we must learn to go beyond ourselves and consider other people. After establishing our own identities, relationships offer an amazing opportunity to broaden our experiences and strengthen our personalities by connecting and relating to people who think differently, feel differently and see the world in a very different way than we do.

For this to work, we need to respect and value the other person as a unique individual outside of ourselves. We need to acknowledge that their needs and perspectives bring a new dimension to the relationship that we cannot provide. For the relationship to develop and thrive, we must learn to respect, value and maintain the individuality of the other person.

Love on its own can be egocentric. Sometimes what appears to be intense love is really an expression of self-interest and pursuit of pleasure. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to see relationships that begin with intense romance deteriorate rapidly as soon as one person realizes that other is not the perfect human being that they initially thought. For love to be real and long term it must be built on a foundation of deep respect. Only when we genuinely respect the individuality of the other person can we truly love them.

The Ketubah lays the foundation of the marriage. The goal of marriage is love and connection. But for true love to be achieved, respect must be there first. When the foundation is built with healthy respect, the love will be lasting and blissful.

Is This Relationship For Me?

September 3, 2010

Uncertainty in relationships is very common. Over time people date and build relationships with apparent compatibility, common values and love. But making the final decision becomes very difficult with the nagging question: How can I know without a doubt that this relationship is for me?

The answer to this complex issue is to understand that there is a problem with the question. Perhaps the focus should not be on "is this relationship for me" but rather "am I for this relationship."

It is no secret that relationship breakdown has reached epidemic proportions. Many statistics report that close to fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. The cause of this sad reality is puzzling. It is difficult to accept that half the population are such bad judges of character that they get it wrong and cannot tell that the person they are dating is the wrong one.

Compatibility, chemistry and shared values are critical for a lasting relationship. But even when all these ingredients are present, there are much deeper and more fundamental questions to explore: Am I really ready for a relationship? Am I coming into this relationship with the tools and an understanding of what a real human relationship is about? Am I ready to constantly put in the effort to nurture this relationship and make it work?

The Sages tell us that before the creation of the world, G‑d's infinite presence filled all of existence and there was no room or space for a finite physical world. So G‑d chose to withdraw his infinite light to make space for a more finite existence – the universe.

Making space for something else is therefore a G‑dly power, a trait which He then invested into the human being. Animals cannot make room for others. They can only protect themselves and behave in accordance with their natural instincts. They cannot put their needs or desires aside to accommodate another perspective or appreciate the needs of a different animal.

The great Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk observed a disciple eating fish. "Why are you eating fish?" he asked. "I love fish," the student replied. "If you really loved fish," Reb Mendel replied, "you wouldn't be eating it. It is yourself that you love, not the fish."

This is the core of the issue. Many relationships today are "I love fish" relationships. People enter into them purely to satisfy their own needs and enhance their own pleasure and gratification. They are there to serve their own existence and not to welcome that of another. An ego-based relationship is on very weak ground. As soon as any issue arises that threatens the self-centered goals of the relationship, it begins to breakdown and disintegrate. A relationship based on true love is one where both partners have the ability to give, understand the needs of the other, compromise and make room for each other with mutual respect.

When you are ready to make room for another, then you can ask if that other is for you.

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