A Jewish matchmaker continues her discussion of Mussar in romantic relationships…
If you haven’t read the first part of this two-part series, please start here.
As I discussed last month, Mussar is a practical discipline of 18 traits (middot) to refine and elevate your soul. Basically, Jewish self-improvement. As a Jewish matchmaker, my love is bringing Jewish singles together for lifelong relationships, and lifelong relationships are empowered by emotional maturity and authenticity. The practice of Mussar cultivates both. In this way, Mussar and romantic relationships are a perfect match.
I covered the first nine traits in part 1; below are the remaining nine.
Silence: “Only in silence is it possible to hear.”
“Silence is golden.” “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” These are not empty phrases. How many times have we said something in haste only to later regret the damage we’ve done with our words? How many failed relationships have you looked back on and wished you could take back some things you said? It’s important to be silent and listen to your partner without judgement and without defensiveness. It’s also important to bite your tongue when your ego or temper insist on the release of a few choice words. Mussar in romantic relationships encourages you to listen more than speak and to refrain from hurtful words – both are relationship strengtheners
Generosity: “When a parent loves a child, or spouses love each other, the gifts that are given spring from the soil of love.”
Mussar discusses two types of generosity: 1) t’rumah – which is giving a gift because your heart is moved to give, and 2) tzedakah, which is giving from obligation. Both types of giving contribute to a strong and healthy union. Giving a gift from your heart is spontaneous and selfless – and can include material gifts, the gift of your presence, or the gift of emotional support. Financial support of the family could fall under ‘obligatory giving’, as could the chores associated with running a household such as doing laundry, cleaning, and cooking – even buying your spouse a birthday present could be considered obligatory. Infuse both types of giving with love and a healthy dose of gratitude for being given the chance to show your love through even mundane actions.
Truth: “The signature of the Holy Blessed One is truth.”
I love that statement. To me it says that anywhere truth is spoken, you will find the presence of G-d. I’ve never been a fan of little white lies. I believe they can quickly undermine a potentially good relationship. For me, they are like termites undermining something that was once strong and sturdy. From my experience, most people lie out of fear – fear of looking bad in the eyes of the other and/or fear of the emotional reaction – neither of which come from a state of emotional maturity or self-confidence. Strive to be honest and authentic in your romantic relationship – it’s the only way to truly be heard, seen, and LOVED for your true self. And if you can’t expect honesty from your partner, well, who can you expect it from?
Moderation: “The Jewish tradition has been very consistent in raising as much opposition to asceticism as it does to self-indulgence.”
Would you seek a workaholic spouse who is rarely home? How about a shopaholic spouse who has no concept of money and can’t stick to a budget – or the opposite, a spouse who won’t allow any spending outside of the bare essentials? Creating a balanced and moderate lifestyle from your various responsibilities and recreations makes you a more stable and reliable partner. It might look boring when written, but stability and reliability are key elements in a healthy long-term relationship. Applying the Mussar trait of moderation in your romantic relationship will likely also mean that a well-balanced, moderate person will be attracted to you.
Loving-kindness (chesed): “True chesed involves offering without any expectation of return, even of gratitude.”
How many times do we complain that we did something for someone “and they didn’t even say ‘thank you’.” In the Mussar tradition, the trait of loving-kindness (chesed) is all about opening your heart to engage in acts that sustain the other person without demanding or expecting anything in return – not even gratefulness. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘tit for tat’ mentality in a relationship; I did this now he should do that. What an insidious mindset. If you go into a relationship with that attitude, you are bound to be disappointed and grow resentful. Personally, I feel this is one of the biggest killers of relationships – keeping track of all the things your partner doesn’t do and all the things you do for which they are ungrateful. The Mussar trait of loving-kindness does not entertain this quid pro quo mindset – and neither should you.
Responsibility: “Taking responsibility for others in their physical and emotional needs is nothing less than the method to free ourselves from the grip of ego that is always clamoring to be satisfied and yet never is.”
Feeling responsible for another can be daunting and scary – but it’s kind of what grownups do, right? As parents, you are responsible for the mental and physical welfare of your children. I dare to say that when you commit to another person, you also commit to a responsibility for the mental and physical welfare of that person. It’s often hard for the ego to accept that role; the ego wants everything for itself and doesn’t like feeling obligated to another. A good partner is someone who not only feels responsibility for the care for their partner, but also takes responsibility for how their own actions and decisions affect their partner.
Trust: “Blessed be the one who trusts in the Lord and the Lord shall be his source of trust.”
Trust is a biggie in relationships. I find it disturbing when I hear someone say they love their partner, but don’t trust him/her. I don’t think that love can exist without trust and a trustworthy partner will become bitter with a partner who is constantly suspicious or accusing. According to Mussar, the trait of trust is specifically connected to “trust in G-d” – so that is where I will direct you. If you find it challenging to trust mankind, put your trust in G-d. Trust that G-d won’t let anything happen that you will not be able to handle. Trust that even if your worst fears come true, it is all according to G-d’s will and always toward the good. Nothing is guaranteed in this world and human nature is fickle. Surrender to the universe and a greater power – bring that power into your relationship and to that power secure your trust.
Faith: “Faith is believing that something is true.”
Trust and faith are often used interchangeably, yet I do feel a difference. Trust is relying/depending on something or someone; faith is believing in something or someone. You can have faith that G-d exists, but not trust that G-d is caring for you. In relationships, trust and faith support each other. Have faith that your partner loves you and wants the best for you. Have faith in his/her inherent goodness and honestly. The more faith you have in your partner, the easier it will be to trust.
Yirah: “In reverence is wisdom.”
The Mussar trait of Yirah is defined in two ways: 1) fear and 2) awe. Both of those have their place in romantic relationships. I don’t want you to fear your partner – but to have a healthy fear of the consequences that might come out of a choice you are about to make can be a healthy way of avoiding bad decisions. Optimally, you want your partner to be faithful out of a desire to be intimate with only you, but choosing to be faithful out of fear of damaging the relationship or losing your love is also an acceptable reason.
To be in awe of the life that you’ve built with someone and the love that you feel for that person and the very fact that the two of you were brought together in the first place is just about the most perfect perspective from which to view your relationship. If both of you are gauging the relationship from that lofty position, I don’t think there is anything that will break you apart. A little fear and a little awe in the Mussar tradition might be the glue needed to keep your relationship intact in the roughest of seas.
For more information on the Mussar tradition click here.