One of my favorite teachings from the Talmud is a marriage-related lesson. Aside from its psychological insight into how men and women operate differently, I love this teaching because it sheds a world of light on how to behave toward people in general—not only husbands to wives or wives to husbands, but towards everyone we encounter.
“A man must always be careful to never pain his wife. Because her tears come readily, her pain comes quickly.”
Notice the wording.
It doesn’t say be considerate to your wife. Nor does it say be nice and sensitive to her. Because your definition of consideration or sensitivity might be very different than hers. And your way of being nice might not be what she needs or craves.
Nor does the Talmud tell us,
“She might be oversensitive, so just do your best, but in truth it’s really her problem.”
Instead, Rav teaches us,
“She cries easily, so it’s your responsibility to be extra careful.”
It is your obligation to make sure you don’t do things or say things that distress her.
You might feel, hey, this is silly. She’s being petty; she’s overreacting. A little constructive criticism never hurt anyone. Eventually, I’m sure she’ll come around.
But if she feels offended, the Talmud is saying, make sure you don’t do it. Because her tears and her feelings are imperative.
What a lesson on how to regard another individual. Especially the most central other in our lives.
So often we judge others by our own standards—I wouldn’t mind having unexpected guests drop by, so you shouldn’t either. Or, I enjoy sharing, so you must also. I appreciate a good joke even if the joke’s on me, so there’s no reason for you to take offense. We tend to think that as long as we treat the other in the same way that we like to be treated, we’re doing okay.
The Talmud, however, teaches us to take ourselves out of the equation and view the situation from the other’s perspective.
A friend who has experienced many challenges, including raising a child with special needs, commented that some people give too much significance to trivial issues. After overcoming real hurdles, she had a low tolerance level for someone who “sweated over life’s small issues.”
“But, Susan,” I disagreed.
“For that individual, at this point in his life, it is a big issue. For him, this is something tragic.”
The first and most important principle in relationships is learning to value one another—on each other’s terms.