Hebrew, the holy language, is unique in many ways. Not only does each letter express itself also as a number (aleph=1, bet = 2, etc.), known as Gematria, but words that have the same letters have a connection that is often profoundly meaningful and instructive.

Take the word regesh, meaning feeling. If you change the letters around, you get the word gesher, meaning bridge. What's the connection? Well, simply, if you want to make a bridge to another human being, you need to understand their feelings. Yes, simple, but not easy. We are often afraid or ashamed of feelings, our own as well as those of others. We are uncomfortable with sadness, grief, fear, anger and shame. We don't know what to do with such feelings. And so, we distance ourselves in an effort to protect from such storms of emotion. Unfortunately, in that process, we distance ourselves from our loved ones, as well.

In previous blogs, I discussed what can be controlled (i.e., "secondary" thoughts, speech and action.) I would like to focus now on what cannot be controlled – i.e., feelings, body sensations and first (initial thoughts). They cannot always be "fixed" or changed or relieved at the moment. We often just need to experience them and understand that they have their own life, coming and going, rising and falling, at their own rate and intensity, just like waves in the sea. The only thing we can do is give them the gifts of a listening ear, non-judgmental responses, and enough patience to work themselves out.

We do this automatically with infants. With a newborn, we are so quick to attend to feelings. We hear a cry and immediately we mobilize all our resources to attend to the child. We strengthen our connection through our attention, which gives the child a feeling of security and safety. We also do not hesitate to complement, notice and become emotionally overjoyed with every little accomplishment. We are excited with the new little person, and find it easy to encourage, praise and support.

Does the need for this type of attention ever stop? Do we reach an age where we no longer need someone to hear our feelings and have the patience to give us a loving response? Usually, we will use these words less and less with our children somewhere around the beginning of their school years, around the ages of five to seven years-old. Because of the stress and demands of everyday life, we find ourselves overwhelmed with commands and frustrations. "Hang up your coat, wash your hands, do your homework, stop fighting with your sister/brother." There are so many rules and regulations, so much "micro-managing" that is a realistic and necessary aspect of raising children. But, all too often we forget the other part: the emotional connection through words of praise, encouragement and acknowledgment. We forget to be excited or interested in what's happening in their world of feelings. We don't slow down long enough to truly listen, on a deeper level.

This phenomenon came through very clearly with a couple I recently dealt with. Both Yael and Yosef (not real names) are very fine people. Basically they have a "good enough" marriage; children, job and community were all in order. What was the problem? They don't experience closeness, depth or connection. Their marriage felt boring, and on automatic and they were both concerned and feeling lonely as a result of this disconnection. Whenever they did find time to be together, the talk usually drifted to problems and negativity. Their mood reminded me of another word association: choshech, which means darkness and shachach, which is forgetting. Why does it become dark or depressing in relationships? Because we forget to make time to attend to the priorities, to first and foremost make the bridge to the feelings.

In discussing their individual homes of origin, it became apparent that neither Yael nor Yosef came from a home where feelings were acknowledged and positive verbal expression was encouraged. Their parents did not relate to one another with a special nurturing vocabulary. What took precedence were the facts, not the feelings; it was intellect over emotion. Accomplishment at school, cleanliness, dress and food were all emphasized at the expense of more meaningful connections. As the children got older, they were expected not to need the emotional support or the proverbial "pat on the back." Feelings had to be hidden or suppressed under the pressure to "grow up, be a big boy, be brave and get over it."

We all work for some kind of wage, whether it is monetary or otherwise. What motivates all human beings, our "minimum wage," is to be acknowledged, heard and appreciated. For some people, this is an automatic part of their giving nature. For others, it must become a learned ability, and it takes a great deal of practice. But once you make it a part of your life, you will find it to be the easiest (and least expensive!) way to enhance your marital harmony.

Yosef and Yael began to practice some interchanges that at first felt awkward and staged. (It was!) It was like learning a new language with foreign words. They both laughed embarrassingly at their difficulty. And the fear was that it sounded so mechanical. Would it ever become natural for them? Well, again nature is teva, and drowing is tavuah. If we don't work to overcome our natural habits, they will, indeed, drown us in our old habits.

Yosef and Yael were grateful to find out that their problem could be softened through some introspection and reality checks. We investigated such questions as: "What's difficult about learning to compliment?" "What are YOU feeling when your partner expresses feelings?" "What is non-judgmental listening all about?" "What beliefs keep your emotions suppressed?" "Which communication roadblocks prevent your partner from expressing him/herself honestly?"

These are a few of those "roadblocks" that make it unsafe to express feelings:

1) Minimizing: "Oh that's ridiculous/not important…"

2) Maximizing: "That spells disaster/danger…"

3) All or Nothing: "The whole trip/day/event is ruined…." "You always/never…"

4) Perfectionism: "It's never good enough/right enough….."

5) History-izing: "You've never….you always….."

6) Comparison: "My mother/father….. never did it that way….

7) Denial: "It's not true…"

Yael and Yosef also had many opportunities to increase their own practice by implementing their new skills with the children by remembering to listen attentively, receive feelings and to support and praise whenever appropriate. Over time, as the children became confident that they would not be judged or ridiculed, the atmosphere in the home became calmer and more respectful.