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How Perfection Almost Ruined a Perfectly Good Marriage: A True Story

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

Striving for improvement is one of the most important things about the human condition. And the need for perfection is a way to mimic the perfection of G-d. But perfection can ruin a perfectly good marriage.

At a job interview, one of the favorite questions asked is to name a negative quality that you have. And one of the favorite answers is to reply, "I am a perfectionist!" This is of course a negative quality, which for an employer can be a great asset.

But the strive for perfection in a marriage can cause destruction and havoc. Let's take Mrs. C. for an example. She came to me because she was convinced that she had a terrible marriage. After an initial session, where I asked her to rate in percentages how satisfied she was with her husband, she answered, "85 percent." True story! He lives up to 85 percent of her expectations, but that 15 percent that he's lacking causes her real and untold misery! She is not exceptional, most of my clients will give their husbands or their marriages a rating of over 50 percent.

There is a teaching that I love from the Sages of the Talmud that I shared with Mrs. C. (I learned this idea when I was a student of Rav Weingarten in Michlalah Jerusalem College, and teachings that you remember over 25 years later are surely powerful!) The angels ask G-d, "What is it about the Jewish people that you love so much?" G-d replies, "I told them that they should make a blessing over food when they are satiated ("ve'achalta, ve'savata, u'verachta"), and the Jewish people bless Me even when they are not sated (on only small amounts of food- kezayit or kebeitza).

G-d is saying that the Jewish people know how to acknowledge a blessing that is imperfect and show gratitude to G-d for that too. They know how to bless and thank G-d when the situation is only partially good.

What an amazing and important lesson about gratitude and imperfection in our lives! This is a lesson for all of our relationships: Count your blessings and bless the people who are responsible for them. Look at the cup that is half full and bless that cup!!

"Mrs. C.", I said, "Look at how great your marriage is! Your husband fulfills 85 percent of your expectations of him. Wow!! That is an extraordinary blessing. Let's put aside the missing part. We will work on that as well; we certainly won't forget your grievances. But let’s concentrate on the cup that is half full. Show your husband gratitude for where he has fulfilled your expectations. Bless and thank him."

And of course, as the Sages taught in our Midrash, the reason for G-d's love of the Jewish people is this behavior pattern that they exhibit. And this is the case in earthly love as well. Showing your husband love and gratitude for what he is, for what he has done, instead of constant criticism of his imperfections will cause him to deepen his love and affection for you. And this will create a positive cycle of appreciation, gratitude, and love which will affect the whole marriage."

This is one of the most important building blocks for a happy marriage. When you realize and focus on what you do have instead of what you are lacking, the whole world looks different and the imperfections often fade into the background.


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