In Sacred Marriage I tell an old rabbinical story, but as I reworked the book for the new edition, I realized I may have originally missed one of the main points. Let me re-tell it with that point made more clearly.
There’s an old rabbinical story about how the spot was chosen for God’s holy temple. Two brothers worked a common field and a common mill. Each night they divided whatever grain they had produced and each took his portion home.
One brother was single and one was married with a large family. The single brother decided that his married brother, with all those kids, certainly needed more grain than he did, so at night he secretly crept over to his brother’s granary and gave him an extra portion. The married brother realized that his single brother didn’t have any children to care for him in his old age. Concerned about his brother’s future, he got up each night and secretly deposited some grain in his single brother’s granary.
One night they met halfway between the two granaries, and each brother realized what the other was doing. They embraced, and as the story goes, God witnessed what happened and said, “This is a holy place—a place of love—and it is here that my temple shall be built.” The holy place is that spot where God is made known to his people, “the place where human beings discover each other in love.”
Marriage can be that holy place. The site of a relationship that proclaims God’s love to this world…
Notice what makes this story so moving, two individuals who had greater empathy for the difficulties the other faced rather than their own. Selfish marriage is the opposite: each partner feels their own pain more intensely and are either unaware or calloused in regards to their spouse’s pain.
What if you asked your spouse this simple question: “What makes your life most difficult?” Or perhaps, to start things off, you could imagine what must be difficult about their life and then bring it up: “I bet it must be really difficult for you to….”
As they respond, your sole aim is to truly understand the challenges your spouse faces on a regular basis. For the purpose of this exercise, don’t try to solve the problems. Avoid counseling your spouse as well. Certainly, do not try to convince them that whatever is bothering them shouldn’t—as if they are over-reacting or being unreasonable.
Just listen and try to understand.
This single question may sound too simple and too small to have any impact, but it can generate more feelings of intimacy than you might imagine making your spouse feel much closer to you.
Just try it, and you’ll see.