Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Soul Mate Search

Men often say that they are mystified by what women think, but sometimes women may wonder what men think -- at least what they think of marriage. In VoiceMale, Neil Chethik explores what husbands think through surveys and individual anecdotes. The book contains insight, as well as practical advice.
Among the subjects it touches on is the ideal of marrying a soul mate and the ramifications of that expectation. Chethik refers to The National Marriage Project's 2001 report, State of Our Unions. Among its finding is that nearly all agree on is the ideal of the One: An overwhelming majority (94%) of never married singles agree that "when you marry you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost."
The "Someday my prince will come" idea popularized by Disney movies also extends to men's expectation of their own soul mates, as 88% "think that there is a special person, a soul mate, waiting for you somewhere out there." .
On p. 216 of the book Chethik points to the potential problems that can arise from a fixation on soul mates: "There's nothing wrong with high hopes. But unrealistic expectations can kill a marriage." He quotes one man as saying: "'Your wife may be your soul mate, but not every minute of every day. There are going to be hard times, down times.'"
This is important to remember for Jewish singles who have absorbed society's obsession with "the One" into their spin on finding their "bashert." Both reflect a belief that they will find a person who is a perfect match, meaning that they will "just know" they are right, feel they are right, and have everything proceed smoothly from there.
Expecting everything to work out on its own just because you've married Mr. or Ms. Right is not the way tobuild a successful marriage. As Popenoe, one of the authors of the Marriage Project study, says, marriages would be better if men and women "focused 'less on finding the right mate than on being the right mate.'" (p. 25)
for the article on what bashert does mean, see

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Know it all?

Leah Hager Cohen wrote a piece entitled "The Courage to Say I Don't Know." She ends as follows:

In Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Émile: Or, Treatise on Education,” the philosopher writes, “I do not know is a phrase which becomes us.” Too often we fear uttering these words, convinced that doing so will diminish us, will undermine our status and block our advancement.
In fact these words liberate and empower. So much of the condition of being human involves not knowing. The more comfortable we become with this truth, the more fully and unabashedly we may inhabit our skins, our souls, and – speaking of learning – the more able we become to grow.

All true. Her words reminded me of what Rabbi Meiselman said in Passaic  a dozen or more years ago. My husband relayed that one of the men in the audience said that his six-year-old daughter asked him what it mean that Hashem said to bring a kapara for Him for having made the moon smaller.  Rabbi Meiselman responded that he didn't have an answer. The man then said, "How can I tell my daughter that her father doesn't know?"

 Rabbi Meiselman said that then she would learn that fathers don't know everything.

BTW if you really do want an answer to this question, the Maharal offers an approach (a bit lengthy to summarize here)  in his Chidushei Aggadot  and Gur Aryeh.  But machshava is not everyone's cup of tea, which is why it eluded Rabbi Meiselman.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Measuring improvement

With election around the corner, the usual question of "Are you better off now than four years ago?" appear. There are even data visualization activities that allow you to enter the information with which to answer that question, like here:

Are you better off?
by CNNMoney.

It occured to me that the key questions for being "better off" always center around material goods. As you can see, the first question is "Are you making more money?" That's understandable because it is focusing on the usual measure assigned to standard of living. 

It occurred to me, however, that this is not the ultimate measure, and that we really could be "better off" now than in the past if we measure progress in another way. As we are now winding down from the first month of the new year, it is something to consider. When we measure where we are versus where we were, can we say that we are doing better? And I do mean doing.

Are we doing more mitzvos than we were in the past? Are we demonstrating a greater love for and commitment to Torah, Shabbos, Yomim Tovim, our fellow man, etc? Do we appreciate what we have that is not measured in dollars and cents: health, a good marriage, children, etc?

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the Gold Coast

Sands Point Preserve is a nice place to visit on a nice fall day. -- with the opportunity for a bounty of colorful foliage.  But do be aware that the information on the sites associated with Sand s Point Preserve are out of date and represent the entry fee as half of what it is now. I fill in that bit of information, as well as other details in my post. 

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Marriages may be made in heaven, but their success depends on what you do on earth

Dr. John Gottman is  famous for his research on relationships, particularly for his success at predicting whether or not a marriage will last. It’s not a parlor trick but the result of analytics, which he explains with formulas  in his latest book, What Makes Love Last? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal (Simon and Schuster, Sep 4, 2012). 

The background for all of Gottman's work is to get beyond the assumption that you just can't quantify the fuzzy feelings that underlie relationships. There are real, measurable actions and attitudes that indicate how in sync a couple are, and you don't need to go through all the Greek letters in the equations to understand the point of them. 

At the basis of all successful relationships is trust:  "Trust is not some vague quality that grows between two people. It is the specific state that exists when you are both willing to change your own behavior to benefit your partner" (6).   He clarifies that he doe snot mean that one has to "always put the other's need ahead of their own," but that the couple's "happiness will be interconnected" (7).

Another important measure of a couple's togetherness is attunement, which he defines as :the desire and the ability to understand and respect your partner's inner world." (31). That doesn't mean that you share it, necessarily, but that you don't dismiss it as irrelevant to you because it is your spouse's.

Gottman also likes the word "ATTUNE" because the letters work out to represent the division of the speaker and listener's jobs in what he calls "the Art of Intimate Conversation."
The speaker must use Awareness, Tolerance, and Transforming criticisms into wishes and positive needs.  The listener has to employ: Understanding, Nondefensive listening, and Empathy. (114) He goes through examples of each and points out how negative reactions can trigger additional conflict rather than communication.

One key predictor of remaining married is turning toward each other during “sliding door moments,” the bids for attention that one extends to the other. “When one partner expresses a need for connection, the other’s response is either to slide open a door and walk through or keep it shut and turn away.”  Being attuned to the other’s needs makes one more likely to offer the right response, which strengthens the bond; ignoring the opportunity could weaken it (23). 

The book also includes practical practical guidelines for choosing to say or do what will enhance trust and closeness. One of them  is to identify five things your spouse did this past week that you appreciate. It doesn't have to be something grand; it can be as small as bringing you a cup of coffee or not getting upset when s/he might have (113).

The book offers a number of quizzes to test the state of your own union. You can take one  of them online  at the Gottman Institute Blog, which urges you to retake the test after reading the book.

For more  on Gottman's work, see

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