Many years ago, there lived a holy man who was known to have the ability to read other people's thoughts. One day a student asked him, "Rabbi, how can you say your prayers in public around all these people with their unholy thoughts? Aren't you distracted from your prayers by knowing what's in their minds?"

The rabbi replied, "When I was a child my parents taught me not to look where I wasn't supposed to."

Why do we think that "getting close to someone" means we have to know their every private thought? We're insulted when those we love won't tell us everything. We accuse them of "hiding" from us, and we're hurt. But if you try to peek behind the curtains of someone else's privacy, you won't get any closer to that person. Quite the opposite: you'll become estranged. If a person doesn't want to reveal a part of himself or herself, then to look there is wrong.

When we are invited to become a part of someone's life, we have to be careful not to violate the other person's privacy. The respect that we have for another person's privacy—however that person has chosen to define it—enables us to nurture an intimate relationship. As soon as we trespass where we haven't been invited, we destroy the boundaries and dissipate the intimacy. In such an environment, our relationships cannot flourish.

Jewish law has great respect for privacy. If you want to build a home overlooking another home, you cannot do it in such a way that you would be able to see into your neighbor's courtyard from your window. It would be an invasion of privacy. Gossiping about others or making judgments about their behavior is also prohibited because it means you are looking into an aspect of their existence that is not open to your scrutiny. It's private, between them and G‑d; and if you judge them, you're trespassing.

When a poor man knocks at your door and says, "I'm hungry," and your first thought is, "Why can't you get a job?", you've invaded his privacy. Why would you need to know why he can't get a job? He didn't come to discuss his inabilities or bad habits; he came to discuss his hunger. If you want to do something about it, feed him. But don't probe where you're not invited. Don't look behind the curtain he so carefully put up to protect himself.

In marriage, our most intimate relationship, respect for privacy is fundamental. A husband and wife have the right and the need for a curtain that says, "Yes, you can come into my life, for better or for worse, till death do us part, but don't peek where I don't want to be seen. Don't look at what I'm not comfortable exposing about myself. And don't expect from me what I don't want to give."

If we want to create an intimate relationship, we have to remember one simple rule of etiquette: "Be thankful for what you get, and do not expect what the other person doesn't have."

Many relationships break up not because anyone is doing anything wrong—no one is sinning, no one is cruel, no one is mean—but simply due to unfair expectations. Having unfair expectations means failing to recognize and respect another person's borders. And that constitutes an invasion of privacy.

A husband might complain about his wife: "I could understand if my wife weren't capable of meeting my expectations, if she were handicapped or paralyzed. But she can, so why doesn't she? She's so good at everything else; how can she not be good at this? If she really wanted to, I know she could, because some-times she does."

Instead of appreciating the times that she does, those times become the poison arrows with which to shoot her: "Aha, you can! You did last month! So why don't you do it now?" He grumbles to himself, "Since she is nice sometimes, its upsetting that she's not always nice. It would be easier if she was never nice." That's an ugly argument, and an invasion of his wife's privacy. She is comfortable being nice most of the time, but he has to go looking into those other times. Why?

Men and women do not forego the right to a private space just because they are married. We all have the right to a place where we can draw our curtain and say, "No further." Anyone who enters this space, even our spouse, is an intruder.

Where do we need more protection, more curtains, and more privacy than in our weaknesses? You can appreciate the importance of your own privacy, and your need to protect and preserve it. Your husband or wife needs that as well. To look at your spouse's weaknesses is the same as passing judgment. It's an invasion of privacy. You can't build an intimate relationship if you don't respect your spouse's borders as well as you do your own.

We are what we are, for better or worse. A wife asks, "Why isn't my husband a better person?" Ask his mother, his father, his teachers. The reply will be, "Because that's who he is."

What drives us to invade another person's privacy? Why do we need to know everything?

Maybe we're insecure. If we could know everything that was going on in every part of our spouse's personality, we would feel more secure. We don't suspect that our husbands or wives are secretly horrible people. We're not afraid of evil, just surprises. We don't want to be caught unprepared.

Or maybe our own life is so unsatisfying that we feel we have to borrow from somebody else's life. We're like the mother who must know everything her daughter says, thinks, and feels because she lives through her vicariously.

Or perhaps our motivation is a need for power. Knowing everything about the other person gives us the illusion of power. A voyeur, for example, gets a sense of power when he can see what we don't want him to see. That makes him stronger and more powerful than we are. If we can't protect our private world from his view, he's overcome us.

Some people get a real thrill out of tearing people's masks off. A wife, for example, may realize that her husband has a very strong defense mechanism. He doesn't open up and allow her to come in. By his actions, her husband is saying, "I need my curtain here; that's my defense. I cannot tolerate if you look past this curtain."

But she can't live with the fact that he won't share his most intimate thoughts, so she says, "Well, that's not healthy; I'll help you tear it down."

He protests, "I don't want to tear it down. I need you to leave it alone."

But instead of respecting his boundaries, she takes the offensive: "Those are just your facades, your defense mechanisms. I want to see who you really are."

So she tears down his curtain, and she tears down the marriage at the same time.

If we are going to preserve the intimacy of our marriage, we must recognize and respect the needs of our spouse. We should actually nurture them. Suppose you've got company over, and one of your friends brings up the one subject that is your wife's weak spot. You might say to yourself, "Good, that will force her to face the issue and tear off her mask. She needs this."

But she doesn't. Think to yourself, "They are wrong in bringing it up," but never think that your wife is wrong about her feelings. Your reaction ought to be, "Sorry, we don't talk about that here. Change the subject because it isn't a subject for our family."

Since you know that your wife has a sensitive area, a certain defense mechanism, a certain facade, a certain curtain that protects her, help her defend that curtain. You defend that curtain. Don't impose yourself on her, but be there if she needs you. Don't write off that part of her life; don't become indifferent. Be there for her, but on her terms.

If she doesn't want to go beyond a certain point, then that point becomes sacred and inviolable. Don't worry that she isn't letting her real emotions show. Leave that to the therapist.

If it's something immoral, something she shouldn't do, leave that to the clergyman. Or leave it to G‑d. Your job is to protect her privacy for her, whatever she chooses that privacy to be.

We look at our grandparents and great-grandparents, and we wonder, why did they stay together? How could they? How did our grandmothers not see our grandfathers' glaring faults, inabilities, and handicaps? How could our grandfathers not see our grandmothers' failures and weaknesses? Most of the time, they didn't. If they noticed them at all, they looked away, because it would have been an invasion of privacy.

Today a husband might ask, "Can I just let my wife go on making her mistakes and committing sins? Is she allowed to get away with it?"

No, she's not allowed.

A husband is not responsible for his wife's morality. For this G‑d introduced a novel idea—civil law. If a husband became responsible for his wife's morality, they would get divorced. It wouldn't be an intimate relationship; it wouldn't be even a friendship.

To preserve friendship and intimacy, you respect the other person's privacy. You don't look at his or her faults. If you accidentally trip over them, you look away.

Many years ago, in a small village in Europe, a woman committed adultery. She was very worried, because she had heard that if you commit adultery, you're not allowed to stay married to your husband and you're not allowed to marry the person with whom you committed adultery. She went to the rabbi and said, "Rabbi, what should I do? I committed adultery."

The rabbi answered, "I have to think about it. Come back tomorrow."

The next day, she returned. She said, "So, Rabbi, what do you think?"

"About what?"

"About what I told you yesterday."

The rabbi said, "I'm sorry, I don't remember." She repeated her story, and he told her to return again the next day. She kept telling her story; he kept forgetting.

The moral is that even a rabbi has to sometimes behave like a husband. When the woman said that she committed adultery, he either didn't hear, or forgot, or dismissed it. He looked away.

Husbands and wives, however, should never try to play rabbi to one another. You can't confuse the two. Yes, there are moral obligations. But are you her rabbi or are you her husband? Are you his mentor or are you his wife? If you can help the other spouse not sin and not do what is wrong, that's wonderful. You'll grow together. But that's not your main responsibility.

The fact that your spouse isn't perfect shouldn't be your problem. If your husband or wife were perfect, then you wouldn't need any talent or wisdom. The idea is that this person isn't perfect, and it doesn't bother you. It's not your problem because you accept your spouse unconditionally.

We are not talking about dangerous misbehavior or physical violence, just normal, human imperfections. You don't have to just tolerate your spouse. When your husband or wife continually rubs you the wrong way, eventually that friction will start a fire. So it's not enough simply to tolerate your spouse's faults. You have to be like the sons of Noah and not see them.

The Bible tells us that one day, one of Noah's sons entered the tent where Noah was sleeping, and saw that his father was naked. When he came out, he told the other brothers.

The other two brothers entered the tent, covered their father, "and their father's nakedness they did not see" (Gen. 9:22-23). They saw that he needed to be covered. If someone is uncovered, you simply go and cover him. You see what needs to be done, but you don't look for faults. You might see the condition, but you don't judge the person. Noah's sons didn't see a nakedness in their father.

If there is something your husband or wife doesn't want you to notice, you don't look. You don't think, "I see my spouse's faults, but I'll bite my tongue and not say anything." That's not going to last long, and you'll end up with a bloody tongue.

The happier thought is, "I know my spouse isn't perfect, but I don't notice anything wrong. I'm not being a martyr, I'm not putting up with anything, I'm not long-suffering. I like what he or she is."

The reason you don't notice is not because you're so kind, so wise, and so magnanimous that you overlook your spouse's faults. It's not overlooking; it's having respect for your mate's privacy.

That's how so many great-grandparents could find contentment with each other. They looked where they were supposed to, at what they were invited to see, and not where they weren't invited.

So, in your marriage, appreciate what is there and, don't worry so much about what isn't. Don't focus on the difference but on the things you agree upon. If you don't notice her faults, you'll love her for what she is. If you don't notice where his opinions aren't your opinions, you love him for his inner self.

You're not waiting, you're not counting, you're not keeping score.

You're not being a martyr; you're simply being decent. You're not settling for less; you're getting more.

You're not being noble; you're simply respecting borders.