Our spouse’s flaws are a reflection of our own
There’s a concept expounded by the Baal Shem Tov and others that what we notice — and dislike — in others are actually flaws we ourselves have. Hashem shows us the other person’s
weakness so that we can correct that same problem within us.
Of course that isn’t how we tend to view things in the moment; when someone acts badly, we focus on how alien that person is from ourselves. “I would never act like that,” we say.
Chaim, for instance, is repulsed by his wife’s stubborn behavior. “If there’s one thing I can’t stand,” he explains, “it’s a person who’s rigid and inflexible. Everything has to be exactly the way she wants it. Especially when it comes to the kids, she thinks she’s the big expert who knows everything, and she completely dismisses my opinions. There’s no discussing it — she knows and that’s it.”
Chaim sees a strong-willed woman who insists on things going her way. He isn’t wrong; she’s like that. But why is she in his life? There are no accidents. Hashem put her there, with all her flaws, for him to learn from (along with other reasons, of course!). He’s supposed to see himself in her and work on his own weaknesses.
How It Works
Our eyes look outward. It’s easy for us to see what’s wrong with our spouses. It’s harder for us to see what’s wrong with ourselves. Love is blind, they say; we love ourselves too much to be able to see what’s wrong with us.
In the early months of marriage, we may even be so in love with our spouses that we can’t yet see what’s wrong with them! Time will soon fix that.
Once we do begin to notice flaws in our partners, we’ll believe those flaws have nothing to do with us. In fact, the problematic behaviors and traits that our spouse displays may be abhorrent to us, as if we ourselves are on the exact opposite pole of the trait. How then does our partner mirror our own flaws?
Chaim has diagnosed his wife as being “strong-willed.” For instance, Ruthie wants their small children to go to sleep before the meal on Friday night. If he says, “Let the kids stay up late on Friday night,” she says, “If they don’t go to sleep at their regular times it will completely ruin their schedules.”
If he responds that he himself stayed up late on Friday night when he was a child, she explains that the kids need to stick to their schedules. He typically gives up and concludes that she’s extremely stubborn. He raises the issue again the next week and regularly thereafter.
If we look closely, we see that Chaim himself is not “Mr. Flexible.” If he were, he wouldn’t have continued to press his point every time she pressed hers. She would explain that the kids need their sleep, and he’d say, “Oh, I never thought of it that way. Okay then.” And the conversation would be over. She wouldn’t have to keep repeating herself, and he would never have seen the “stubborn” side of her.
However, if every time she says “black,” he says “white,” it will seem to both of them that the other person is rigid. Or, they could both ask themselves, “If my spouse is demonstrating an annoying trait, is it possible that I have it too?”
It’s a real shame that this question hasn’t yet become popular among the masses. Were it to be embraced, just imagine the growth that we could all experience! We’d all be saying things like the following:
“I lose it when my spouse loses it! Losing it is my flaw.”
“My spouse always has to have the last word, whereas I want to have the last word! Needing to have the last word is my flaw.”
“My spouse isn’t ready to leave when I’m ready. She wants me to run on her schedule, whereas I want her to run on my schedule. My flaw is that I want her to run on my schedule.”
It won’t always be easy to spot our flaws, but if we look for it we have a chance of finding them and, most importantly, an opportunity to fix them. And then we could honestly say that our marriage has helped us grow.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 748)
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