A Jewish matchmaker talks the benefits of Mussar in romantic relationships

I am currently reading Everyday Holiness – a book about the Jewish spiritual path of Mussar by Alan Morinis. It’s an intriguing formula for self-growth that is beneficial in all areas of your life, including your relationships. Mussar and romantic relationships are a shidduch made in heaven.

I work with Jewish singles who are seeking their lifetime partner, so I’ve got relationships on the brain 24/7. It’s no surprise that while reading this book, the connection between Mussar and romantic relationships – specifically, how to be a better partner through the tenets of Mussar – would spring to mind.

What is Mussar? According to Morinis, Mussar is “a spiritual perspective” and “a discipline of transformative practice”. In my own words, Mussar is a set of practices that connect you to your inner stillness, your inner truth, your innate being. Imagine if you could lose the emotional baggage that most of us act and react from and instead, act and react from a place of emotional wholeness and health. It’s a way of life that can be traced back to 10th century Babylonia. Using meditation, retreat, and journaling, Mussar aids in bringing the subconscious into conscious awareness in order to take an honest appraisal of one’s true character. Strengthen certain traits and you strengthen your character. Strengthen your character and you strengthen your relationships.  

There are 18 traits or middot in Mussar which can be balanced in oneself by adhering to the practices mentioned above. It is these 18 Middot that directly affect the quality of our romantic relationships. I will focus on 9 of those traits in this article and the remaining traits in next month’s blog. You will quickly see the incredible benefit and connection between Mussar and romantic relationships.

Humility: “Occupy a rightful space, neither too much nor too little. Focus neither on your own virtues nor the faults of others.”

Humility in romantic relationships points to a balance between your needs and self-expression and the needs and self-expression of your partner; no one is more important than the other. Is balance visible in your relationship? Is compromise two-sided? Are you able to recognize that both of you have positive traits and negative traits or do you focus on your positive traits while complaining of your partner’s negatives? Humility in relationships places no one above the other and allows ample space for both to fully ‘be’ themselves.

Patience: “In those moments when I am good at being patient, I live in the here and the now, without struggling against reality.”

Bringing the quality of patience to your romantic relationship can be the difference between a steady “shalom bayit” or a roller coaster ride of tiny irritations. Give your partner room for error. Don’t expect everything to happen on your timeframe. Allow that your partner moves through life at his/her own pace. We are not automatons synced to the same rhythm. Mistakes happen, people run late, plans change. Impatient people create nervousness in their environment which is uncomfortable for most people. Be the one who can go with the flow of the moment.

Gratitude: “When you open yourself to experience the trait of gratitude, you discover with clarity and accuracy how much good there is in your life.”

How often do we focus on all the things our partner isn’t doing “right” and lose touch with all the things he/she is doing right? Gratitude is about shifting your focus to the myriad of blessings in your life and away from lack. Focusing on what your partner isn’t doing will only lead to frustration and dissatisfaction – the negative vibration is palpable. Say ‘thank you’ for the generous and considerate actions your partner is doing for you every day. Gratitude will transform and elevate your love and your relationship.

Compassion: “Judgment assesses a person based on the reality of who he or she is now, while compassion recognizes as well a person’s soul nature.”

We enter this world without a handbook; we make “mistakes”. We fall short of our ideal every single day. Be gentle with your partner, let your partner make mistakes without criticism. Like gratitude, compassion is about a shift from judgment to acceptance and understanding. Your partner is a child of the universe, as are you. Let things slide; don’t sweat the small stuff; cut your partner some slack. Always lead with compassion.

Order: “Disorder is often the child of a rebellious ego that resists humbly occupying a rightful space.”

Are you habitually late? Are you messy and disorganized? Does your partner complain of cleaning up after you? Being prompt and organized shows respect for other people. Make an honest evaluation of yourself in this regard and strive to show your respect and appreciation by being organized and on time. Humility plays a big role here. A humble person is consciously aware of the burden that is placed on others by their own tardiness and slovenliness. Order can also be taken to the extreme; no need to be a perfectionist. With perfectionism comes criticism and judgment and this is also harmful to romantic relationships. As with everything, balance is crucial.

Equanimity: “…your emotional state at any moment is not determined by the intentions and actions someone else (or life) sends in your direction.”

Do you fly off the handle easily and frequently? Are you calm and collected one moment and suddenly burst out in frustration or anger?  Being in a relationship with someone who has disregulated emotions and mood swings is exhausting and potentially traumatic. Strive to remain in equilibrium during life’s ups and downs and don’t let yourself (or your partner) be taken on an emotional roller coaster ride. Remaining calm, composed, and steady is a sign of emotional stability. If needed, seek a qualified therapist to help resolve any underlying issues that are contributing to your emotional swings before they do permanent damage to the relationship. 

Honor: “Honor all people simply because they are the handiwork of G-d.”

Honor your partner for the perfect creation the he/she is. Honor your partner’s space, needs, perspectives, life experience, desires, and dreams. Your partner is not you, nor is that the goal. Genuine love is about accepting someone exactly as they are without projecting your want of who they should be.  So many enter relationships thinking they will “change” their partner. This is wrong thinking. Sure, we can improve on our character – that’s the intent of Mussar, but each of us can decide for ourselves what needs improving. Honor the beautiful soul of your partner exactly as it is right now and respect their journey.

Simplicity: “Whoever seeks more than he needs hinders himself from enjoying what he has.”

Are you content with your life and your partner or are you always seeking more? Are you in a constant quest for more money, more stuff, more acknowledgment, more attention?  A major contributor to the high divorce rate is a feeling of lack – both in life and in relationships. Countless memes describe all that you should be “receiving” from your partner; few memes focus on all you should be giving. Does your partner listen to you, respect your ideas, consider your needs, and perform acts of loving kindness? Humans need love, affection, compassion, and understanding. If you are receiving these on a consistent basis, rejoice in your lot. Simplify your needs and enjoy your blessings.

Enthusiasm: “The natural tendency of the heart is to be passionate and energetic.”

I speak regularly to singles who are dating and have lost all enthusiasm for the process. Even more so when you’ve been with the same partner for years and have grown comfortable in the relationship. It’s easy to seek outside stimuli to get excited about. Turn your attention back to your relationship and look at your partner with fresh eyes – there is much you still don’t know about this person. Get excited about your time together – about the gift of sharing time with this person. If you’re in a rut – get out of it by infusing the relationship with new outings and activities – or simply spend more focused time together. You chose this person as your life partner – it was a big choice! Let your energy and passion confirm daily to your partner that you would choose him/her all over again. How can love not thrive in that environment!

Check out this site for more information on Mussar.

Click here to read last month’s post.