Jody’s husband, Ari, came home from a business meeting, and he happily announced that he had brought her a treat: some cheesecake. She thought this was a little unusual, but sweet of him and went to open the fridge. There she found a see-through container with the very small, sunken remains of a piece of cheesecake. Strange, weird, funny, yet also vaguely insulting, even hurtful.

This was the gift? She picked it up, looked atStrange, weird, funny, yet also vaguely insulting, even hurtful it from a few angles, and, trying to be lighthearted, said to him that it wasn’t the kind of gift she appreciated; in fact, it wasn’t great or sweet of him at all. He looked at it and agreed that it wasn’t amazing—OK, his friend had taken some of it, and yes, it had collapsed in a little heap, but he still had thought of her and brought her something; his intentions were good. She kept quiet, not wanting to make a fuss and feeling silly to bring it up as an issue, knowing that Ari would anyway be annoyed, defensive and dismissive. This was their way. Gottman would call them a “conflict avoidant” couple. They had respect, humor, companionship; they worked well together as a team and didn’t fight; they were a solid couple, but something fundamental was missing.

Later that day, Jody was speaking to a dear friend on the phone—someone she could and sometimes needed to confide in. Jody told her friend Lynne about the cheesecake, apologizing for being petty. She described what had happened and said that it wasn’t really about the dessert; she felt that this annoying piece of cheesecake was symbolic of her relationship with Ari. She said she knew that he cared about her and the kids, but she felt that his work and business meetings came first, and that she (and the family), got the “crumbs,” the leftovers of his time, energy and attention. Yes, he did think about her, but in a distracted, half-hearted way. This had become the flavor of their relationship. She told Lynne that she was probably at fault for not sharing more with him, but she said that when she tried to he didn’t listen attentively, and she found it really hard to talk to anyone who wasn’t tuned in. Sadly, she had accepted that this was the status quo, and after all, it wasn’t so terrible.

Unbeknownst to Jody, Ari was at home and had heard the entire conversation! Ouch!

He left, but messaged her, “I’m sad that that’s how you see us.” She answered, “Yes, it is sad.”

He came home later very angry and hurt. “I feel betrayed. How can you talk behind my back like that? With Lynne, it always has to be negative, the darkest view; you lose perspective and don’t see the good. I support you and the family ... what about all that?”

“That’s not altogether true; I don’t see only bad. I’m sorry you got hurt. I didn’t intend for you to hear that conversation. I didn’t know you were home, but I am entitled to talk to who I want, and to express what I truly feel and to be heard.”

“So, it’s a facade when we’re getting on well? Things seem OK, but they’re really not?”

“I guess you’re right,” I agreed. “There is a kind of facade going on.”

“So why don’t you tell me? I ask how you’re doing, and you say fine. You don’t talk.”

“I sometimes try, but you’re not present; your phone is your main companion. I’d rather talk to people who are really interested in me. Either you’re not listening, or you get angry and defensive.”

Jody felt bad for talking about Ari and being so harsh. But this was the most honest conversation they’d had in ... who knows how long? Ari’s overhearing Jody talking to Lynne was a clear, unadulterated version of her truth—very painful, but also very real, expressing what was really going on, which he hardly ever heard or even thought about. He was generally too busy, and also quite used to taking up the space and time to talk about what he needed. Ari was the “maximizer”—the loud, talkative one who jumped in, eager to be heard—while Jody was the “minimizer,” comfortable with listening and not inclined to fight for attention.

Thus, the pattern had continued and solidified over time. A pattern that worked and went with the natural flow of their personalities, but which truly was emotionally disconnected. For such a dynamic to change, both partners would have to work against their natural predispositions. Ari would need to focus his attention away from his phone and himself to be present to see, hear and be interested in Jody—to be prepared to ask questions to draw her out to show that he really did want to hear the answers. Jody would have to stop only listening and being present, which was natural and easy for her, and move towards taking more of the space, sharing, admitting to feelings that were uncomfortable and confronting issues between them that were easier left untouched.

The Torah teaches that “man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and become one flesh.”1

Rav Hirsch explains that this can happen only if they become one mind, one heart, one soul, and if they subordinate all their strength and effort to the service of G‑d.

Among the many ways of serving G‑d together isFor the pattern to change, both partners need to work against their natural predispositions the direct effort of working on one’s relationship: together! Therefore, intimacy in marriage is not just a wonderful state to strive towards in order to feel good and to give to each other, but it is a mitzvah, a commandment, something G‑d expects of us. So going against one’s natural path in order to create unity and understanding is a fulfillment of becoming one flesh, and is part of a bigger purpose we are expected to achieve.

Later that evening, after Ari came home, he was still feeling bruised, but calmer and still open to listening. He asked Jody if she’d had any thoughts. She said yes; she thought she needed to be more honest, and open up more about what she was really feeling and what was going on in her life. They spoke for a while before drifting off to sleep.

It felt like a time long ago, where they used to share, talk and listen. So basic, so easy, but for them, it had become such a mountain—such a solid block built over many days, weeks and years. A block of wood, stone, concrete, ice? It would be hard to chip away at; it would take consciousness, work, consistency, courage, effort and commitment to go against a comfortable, established pattern.

Is this what renewing vows was all about? Emerging was a kernel of fragile, tentative hope—maybe things could be subtly but monumentally different? A way forward to intimacy and connection that could just as easily or more easily not be.

Tips for Ari (Maximizers)

  • Try to create an awareness of Jody (i.e., the other). There is another person with needs, feelings, thoughts, experiences. Simple questions like. “How was your day?” would be helpful.
  • Listen to her response with interest and attention.
  • Put the phone away at “together” times, such as during dinner or when issues need to be discussed.
  • Before sharing, asking advice or venting, check in with Jody to see if it’s a good time. Is she in the middle of something? Exhausted, stressed, needing space?

Tips for Jody (Minimizers)

  • Share, talk, engage. Push a bit; talk about your day, the kids, whatever, even if Ari is not perfectly in tune and even if this is hard. Make peace with less than perfect.
  • Express your needs and feelings, even if he can’t relate to them 100 percent.
  • Tell him when you’re unhappy with him (in as nice a way as you can). Explain how he could be doing things differently or better. And on the flip side, let him know when you have really positive spousal and parenting moments.
  • Most of all, appreciate all the good things Ari does ... and then tell him so.