The Choice is Ours

According to Rabbi Eliezer, a Talmudic sage, one of the most important traits that a person can develop is "a good eye" (Ethics of Our Fathers, 2:13), which means the ability to interpret our world positively. The way G‑d made our world, however, makes positive interpretation quite the challenge. There is evil and darkness all around us, problems at all levels from political to the personal. Neither nations nor individuals find it easy to live in harmony. Our imperfect worlds and relationships give us much to complain about and much negativity to focus on. It's always easier to see what is glaringly wrong than to see what is subtly right. And yet, the "right" is only subtle when we relegate it to a small corner of our universe. We do have the option, should we desire, to promote it to a front and central location where it can become the focus of our attention. Engaging in this act is what constitutes the development of our "good eye."

Choosing the Right Lens

In order to see what is right in our world, we must choose the right lens. First, we have to discard our default lens – the one that immediately zeros in on faults and failings. When it comes to marriage, wearing our default lens brings us acute pain. It is one thing to note that the world is an imperfect environment (in a general way) and another thing completely to zoom in on the imperfections of an intimate partner. After all, we see this partner daily. If all we can see is the wrong, we are sure to be miserable. It is depressing to look across the table and see a large lump of inconsideration, sloppiness, indifference, impatience, selfishness, irritability or whatever. It makes us sad, alone, frustrated and miserable to have to spend our time with such a "loser."

Of course, this same partner was once amazing in our eyes. That's why we agreed to marriage in the first place! She or he was clever, dazzling, funny, interesting, warm and wonderful. What on earth happened since the wedding day? Did we somehow suck the life from our partner, turning him or her into a shadow of a person? Or did that just happen by itself?

Funnily enough, others can still find that wonderful side of our spouse. People are often astonished to find that their unfaithful spouse managed to attract someone! How can such a terrible person be appealing? Of course, what is happening here is that the positive attributes are ever present. For someone else, they are in sharp focus. For a spouse, they may become too fuzzy to notice. Only the bad traits are visible.

Expectation Affects Performance

Research shows that teachers who expect their students to get good marks (because they were told that the students were very bright) end up with students who achieve highly. The teachers who "have a good eye" bring out the best in their students. It works the same way in marriage. Having a good eye brings out – and maintains – the best in one's spouse. In order to cultivate a good eye, imagine that you are trying to "sell" your spouse to someone else (i.e. imagine that you never married him, and now you have to find him/her a spouse – I know it's a little crazy, but try it!). Imagine that your future happiness depends completely on this sale. How would advertise your spouse? Think hard! Try to recall those good points.

Do the exercise daily. Eventually your good eye will become stronger. And when it does, you'll be happier, as will your spouse, and your marriage will thrive. Rabbi Eliezer's words of wisdom ring down through the ages.

It's up to us.