Dear Rachel,

I'm in my first year of marriage and I’m having difficulties coping with my husband. I find that I am always criticizing him and I really don’t want to be but it is as if I can’t stop. I want him to become more mature, more reliable so that we can be happy together. What should I do?

Laguna Beach, CA

Dear S.R.,

The first year of marriage is one of the most tumultuous times we experience. For however many years until now, you have really only been responsible for yourself, and he for himself. To suddenly find yourselves not only in a relationship but in a life long commitment changes everything and can be scary.

It is normal for couples to experience a variety of “growing pains” during the beginning of their marriage. (Notice that growing always seems to be accompanied by pains).

Unfortunately we live in a society that places incredible focus on the wedding, and much less on the marriage itself. It is as if once you leave the chuppah that the hard work is over, all those months of planning finally finished and now you can relax. Wrong. The work begins the minute the chuppah is over, and it continues for every single day of the rest of your lives.

It reminds me of a friend of mine who was pregnant with her first child. During labor, which like many first labors was difficult and long, she made the comment that labor was the hardest thing she had ever been through and she couldn’t wait for it to be over so that she could relax. I chose not to burst her bubble during that time, but I laughed to myself thinking that she thought that labor was the hard part of having a child. Little did she know that her life was now changing forever and would require constant work on her part.

Basically, anything worth achieving, anything worth having requires work. But what is great about this kind of work is that you don’t only have the success when you reach some end goal, but every step of the process is rewarding as well. Every time you try hard to work out something properly with your husband, every time you are kind and patient rather than snapping, you will have a husband who is warmer, kinder and more receptive. And guess what, when he is, he is also a lot less likely to annoy you. Not to mention he will hopefully be a lot more motivated to work on making you happy.

It is easy to find faults in others and harder to sometimes see them in ourselves. You are newly married and there is a lot about this person that you will need to get used to and need to learn about him. He is not you and he will do things different than you. But that is OK. And likewise, there are things about you that he will need to get accustomed to.

So then how do we deal with the situations that really bother us? When our partner annoys us and we find ourselves lashing out or being critical?

The Baal Shem Tov teaches that when something bothers us in another person, the first place we are supposed to look is in the mirror. This accomplishes two things. One, we need to take a deep look inside and try to understand why we are so sensitive to this action or behavior. Maybe it is our issue? Maybe we are overreacting? Sometimes we discover that our partner is merely mirroring something we don’t like in ourselves, and when we see it displayed so prominently, we react.

Other times, even when we are convinced that it is not our issue but truly something that the other person is doing, merely by having taken the time to look first within, we often find ourselves being much more able to be patient and understanding. We all have faults and when we can recognize our own weaknesses it enables us to be more forgiving of the faults of another.

Remember always that you are married to another individual and he is not supposed to just like you. At the same time he is the other part of your soul, and as we all know, it is the opposites that attract. Before being critical, try and understand why he is doing what he is doing. And try to think about all the things that you do differently than him. Chances are you would not want him being critical of you, so be sensitive and think about how you would respond if your very own criticism was being said to you.

And when it comes to communicating the criticism, there is not only what you say but how you say. And as you will see in a moment, the most important element being WHY you are saying it.

If you are annoyed, chances are that he is aware, and chances are that he does not want to be annoying to you. But unless you speak to him about the issues, he has no opportunity to work on the problem. (It goes without saying that there is simply no place for rolling your eyes or raising your eyebrows…).

The word in Hebrew for rebuke, for criticism is “tochecha.” Our sages teach us that the word tochecha is to be understood as toch ahavah meaning “from within a place of love.” Criticism is sometimes necessary, but only when it is motivated from love and said with love. If you have something you need to discuss with your husband, that you want him to work on, that is fine. But only if you are doing so to better your relationship. Only if you are speaking to him because you love him.

Try thinking about all the reasons you fell in love with him, all the reasons you married him. I bet you they will far outweigh whatever it is that is bothering you. And when you focus on the positive, the negative has a way of getting pushed away. As Chassidus teaches, all it takes is a little light to push away a lot of darkness.