Relationships are our ultimate challenge for the same reason that they are our ultimate joy. Relationships are about growing, expanding, and giving. This process, when sincerely engaged in, challenges every fiber of our being.
To give an illustration of how the family dynamic can broaden its members, I want to tell you a true story about family friends of ours, the Greens. Although Seth Green had been an active member of the counterculture, he had a quirk. He didn't believe in piercing ears or any part of the body. He felt strongly that the body is holy and that piercing it is a form of mutilation. When he and Donna got married, they agreed that they would not let their children pierce their ears.
This conviction did not pose any problems until their daughter Tovah turned fifteen. One day Tovah came home from school and announced that she was the only girl in her class without pierced ears. That's why everyone considered her a nerd. She begged her parents to let her pierce her ears, but Seth was adamant and Donna chose not to oppose him on this issue.
Some time later, Tovah overheard her parents talking in the kitchen. Her mother was saying that she really needed a vacation, that they never went away without their four children, and that a vacation with the children was no vacation at all for her.
Tovah decided to surprise her parents. She enlisted the help of both sets of grandparents, and arranged that they would take turns staying with the children. Then she made hotel reservations for her parents. She and her siblings pooled their savings and presented their parents with a surprise vacation.
Of course, both Seth and Donna were extremely moved by the love and caring the children, especially Tovah, had shown. They enjoyed a wonderful vacation. While driving home, they passed a shopping mall and decided to buy presents for the kids. Seth asked Donna what she thought Tovah would like. Donna suggested a bracelet with her name on it, such as was the style just then. Donna went off to buy gifts for the other kids, while Seth went in search of a bracelet.
When they met back at the car, Seth showed Donna the gift he had bought for Tovah: a pair of pierced earrings. Tovah's selfless love for her parents had moved Seth past the place of his egocentric identity and his pet peeves to a place of empathizing and identifying with his teenage daughter. He was able to relinquish his lifelong aversion to pierced ears because he had achieved a larger, more expanded identity which included his daughter. Rather than being diminished by giving in to his daughter's desire, Seth had become bigger and more loving. This is the kind of attainment which family interactions makes possible.
The purpose of marriage is to present both partners with the maximal opportunity for giving. God created man and woman as inherently different so that each could give to the other what the other lacks...
Men and women have different needs within marriage. Although both want love and respect, in general a woman's need to be loved and understood is primary for her, while a man's need to be respected is primary for him. Of course, their needs vary with their individual natures and with the time of life in which they find themselves.
The greatest obstacle to each partner's giving unconditionally to the other is what Western society views as the Eleventh Commandment: "Thou shalt not let thyself be taken advantage of." Many married people fear that if they give to their partners unconditionally, they themselves will lose out.
We must understand that the economics of giving when seen from a spiritual perspective are very different than when evaluated from a physical standpoint. Physically, the more I give you, the less I have. Spiritually, the more I give you, the more I have. Physically, the act of giving diminishes my stock (of money, time, energy, etc.). Spiritually, the act of giving expands my self. When both partners understand and adopt this spiritual perspective, they will give without fear, and they will be willing to reveal their vulnerability, which will allow their partner to give without fear...
For the most part, the basic challenge of marriage is the challenge of becoming a giver. Inherently, the soul is a giver and the body is a taker. At birth, an infant is 100 percent taker. She needs to receive everything for her very survival.
Gradually, parents try to teach their children to share, the first step in giving. At some point all children learn that if they want to get, they need to give. When five-year-old Yoni goes to Eitan's birthday party, he brings a little gift, not because of his largesse of character, but because he knows that if he doesn't bring a gift to Eitan, Eitan won't bring Yoni a gift on his birthday. This kind of giving, whose ultimate goal is getting, may be as far as some people ever develop...
Well over half of all divorces are attributed to friction over money. This despite the fact that (or because) we live in the wealthiest society the world has ever known. The first thing to admit when approaching this issue is that financial disagreements today are virtually never about absolute necessities. Probably none of you reading this book has ever experienced real hunger, unless you were on a diet or neglected to pack enough food for a trip. None of you has ever experienced having nothing to wear, except in the most dithering and superficial sense. So why is money such a volatile issue that it can rip apart marriages?
In truth, money quarrels are quarrels about power. We equate money with power because money does indeed buy a lot of things that are nonphysical. It buys comfort, security, and freedom.
We rarely stop to realize, however, that money, too, has its limitations. Money and what it buys are always external to a person's essential self and can, in fact, never alter that essential self. Relationships, on the other hand, can affect and expand a person's essential self. Money cannot fill up the empty space inside. Only a loving relationship can fill that void. Therefore, relinquishing a marriage over the power issue of finances is ultimately a no-win choice.
We are granted money by God to use to expand our potentials. This means that a person's relationship to money should ideally be to give it away. Whether giving money to oneself, one's spouse, one's children, or causes or charities one wishes to further, money is there to be given. Even when money is saved, the purpose of the saving is not in order to hoard or to feel the false security of money in the bank, but in order to be able to give it to oneself or one's family at some future point...
When two "takers" attempt to negotiate, the discussion devolves into an endless process of haggling, something like an oriental bazaar: "I want to join the health club, and in order to get this, I'm willing to let you buy a new evening dress." "If I agree to a vacation in Hawaii, even though I can't stand the beach, will you agree to letting me redecorate the bathroom?" The result of such self-oriented bargaining is that both spouses reinforce their identities as takers. They may get what they want, but they lose an opportunity to become more than they were.
What happens if the wife is striving to become a giver, while the husband remains in his unenlightened taker state? In most cases, the wife's attitude of giving will eventually awaken empathy in her husband. If she feels that he is part of her, he will also feel that he is part of her, and he'll want to find a way to express this bond.