Our actions, especially in marriage, have long-term consequences
Shlomo didn’t get it. He was trying everything to get Shevy’s attention, but she seemed completely uninterested.
“I picked up her favorite chocolates last week. She barely said ‘thank you.’ Two weeks ago I suggested we go for a walk after dinner — something she’s been asking for practically since we got married 25 years ago. I thought she’d be thrilled. She didn’t even want to go! And tonight I asked her if she wants to play Boggle, and she told me she’s too busy, maybe another time!
“I don’t understand. This is the stuff she’s told every marriage counselor we’ve been to that she wants in her marriage and when I do it, she acts like she doesn’t even care.”
Shlomo isn’t imagining things. It’s true that Shevy doesn’t care. “I would’ve loved all that stuff a long time ago. I begged him to make me feel special, to show some interest in me. But instead of doing what I asked him to do, he’d say things like, ‘I bring home money, don’t I?’ or ‘I keep my learning seder and daven with a minyan. That’s what a husband is supposed to do. We’re not in shanah rishonah; you shouldn’t be asking me to waste time on nonsense.’
“He made me feel stupid for wanting his attention. We struggled unhappily along for a while, and we went to a few marriage counselors. They’d recommend ‘date night’ and daily quality time and all kinds of stuff, but Shlomo thought it was because they didn’t understand what a real marriage was all about. ‘They went to some non-Jewish school,’ he’d tell me and of course, he never followed anyone’s advice.
“So, after 15 years of chasing after him, I stopped. I got busy with the children, community activities, classes, my friends, and even some hobbies. I guess he noticed eventually (I think it’s taken him ten years) that I wasn’t engaged in the marriage anymore. I’m not really sure what got into him, but yes, he seems to be trying more lately.
“Does he think I’m going to get all excited about his little efforts now? I’ve closed my heart. I’m tired of being hurt. I’m not going to let myself be vulnerable again.”
Young people don’t always realize that their actions can have permanent consequences. For example, if a 22-year-old constantly arrives late to work at his first job, quits without giving proper notice at the second one, and forges someone’s signature at the third, he might in his youthful naivety think that the fourth job will present a brand new start in his career. He doesn’t yet realize that the past trails along with us on the journey of life. Our successes build an inspiring resumé, and our failures warn others to be wary of our promises.
This is particularly true in marriage. Hurtful actions we took during the engagement period, and into the first year of marriage can burn a hole in the heart of our spouse. Nothing is forgotten, even if it has been forgiven. Mistakes we made in the first decade leave their scent on subsequent decades. Neglect we perpetuate today can change the future character of our relationship.
Even when we do a complete turn-around, correcting our behavior above and beyond what anyone might have expected, one almost-slipup (even when we catch ourselves in time) will often re-awaken the pain and trauma that our earlier behavior created in our partner’s heart.
There is simply no going back to a state of innocence before the hurt occurred. Causing our spouse to feel lonely, betrayed, disrespected, abused, or otherwise deeply hurt, always has enduring consequences.
Is there any hope for healing wounds in which a spouse has virtually given up on her partner? Yes! Our hearts are always eager and hoping for love.
However, when we’ve been let down again and again, being willing to trust again will take time. A partner who’s been neglectful will have to work extremely hard, without reward, for a long time, in order to build a new road into his partner’s heart. Eventually, he will see a beautiful return on his efforts.
But the easier way for young couples is to do it right the first time around. Save yourselves the effort that is involved in trying to heal long standing wounds. Look to the future — you’ll see the long-term effects of your actions.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 723)
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