Negate anger, validate affection.

A Rebbe and his attendant had journeyed all day through the countryside. The Rebbe instructed his attendant, Reb Chaim, to prepare for their night's rest: "Please set up the tent near that stream, draw some water, lay out my bed clothes and the bedding, and prepare a light meal."

During the middle of the night, the Rebbe suddenly woke Reb Chaim and said, "Reb Chaim, look above you at the magnificent stars in the heaven, and tell me what do you conclude."

Reb Chaim answered, "We mortals are so insignificant in the face of G‑d's creations."

"No", responded the Rebbe, "You have missed my point. While we were sleeping, someone stole our tent."

Marriage has been compared to a tent. The Talmud (Yevamos 62B) teaches us that a man must be married if he is to have four essential components in his life: a real home; an inspiring protective moral influence; ultimate joy; and wisdom.

We often begin a marriage with an ecstatic appreciation (or at least an expectation) of our new "tent." That ecstasy, which may occur spontaneously during dating and the first years of marriage, is "unearned." It is a gift from G‑d to show us how wonderful a relationship we can create.

How do we expand that joy during our marriage?

There are two ways: (a) avoid the bad; (b) create the good.

In marriage, the primary "avoid the bad" means learning to rid yourself of anger. (In a future article, I'll elaborate how one detoxifies anger and acts assertively without anger). To be able to follow the five steps suggested below, you will first need to be able to let go of anger.

Assuming that one has a "reasonable" marriage, what can we do to move it from "reasonable" to "wonderful?

Step One: Remember the times in your life when you felt ecstatic about your spouse, or to think about the couples you know who appear committed, or to imagine ideally what you would like the relationship to be.

Step Two: Decide that you expect to have those kinds of feeling occurring in your current relationship. These feelings are not only for newlyweds.

Step Three: Make feeding that passion a conscious priority. "A constant fire must burn on the altar" (Lev 6:6); if we keep the flame burning on the altar, negativity is extinguished. In marriage, we can feel preoccupied by our responsibilities. But what is the ultimate point of earning a living, cleaning a house, and educating our households, unless our children experience caring between mother and father?

Step Four: Move that consciousness into action. What do I do on a regular basis that makes my spouse feel that I am happily dedicated to them? Do I teach my spouse how to do the same for me?

Do you look with "a good eye" to "catch" your spouse doing something good that you can acknowledge?

Here are a few examples: Do you look with "a good eye" to "catch" your spouse doing something good that you can acknowledge? Do your words and actions acknowledge your spouse? Does your spouse "overhear" you praising him/her to the children or to friends and family? Do you pick times when you visibly put your spouse's desires ahead of your own. Do you look for gratuitous small gifts? Are you sometimes extravagant in buying for your spouse? Do you pick times to give in to your spouse, even when your spouse is wrong? Do you sometimes surprise your spouse by completing "their" chores? Do you take the time to gaze at your spouse lovingly.

Step Five: Assess the impact of Step Four. Did I succeed in "touching" my spouse? Is my spouse open to receiving genuine affection from me? When I see that my spouse appreciates me, does it energize me to continue in that path? This approach works for the majority (though unfortunately not for all) marriages.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has written (Likutei Sichos, 34:209) that it is not enough for us to do the things that G‑d asks us to do. We need to anticipate and perform that which would please G‑d, even without being asked. Can you apply this principle to your marriage?

We need to continue to furnish "our tent" and not neglect it while we "sleep."