The Butterfly Button
I would like to admire my husband

Question from category:

I got married a few months ago at a relatively mature age. My husband has an exceptional personality. A heart of gold, generosity, patience and genuine fear of Heaven, and is accepting, loving, happy to help and loves learning Torah and the Torah way of life. Our communication flows and he is well mannered. Because I am not so young anymore, I made a courageous choice that also entails quite a few compromises. We have an intellectual gap. He is simple and uneducated, and over the years I have managed to earn a few academic degrees. He is insightful, sensitive and attentive, and I appreciate him a lot. Still – there are levels on which he cannot be my equal. It’s a bit difficult for me that I have to explain things to him on a more elementary level. I very much wanted an admirable husband whom I could look up to and receive content, depth and interest, which are so important to me.

The second thing, which is the most troubling, is that I cannot get used to his external appearance. It bothered me on our dates too, but his personality and the pleasantness that he radiates made me believe that with time my attitude would improve. In the meantime that is not happening, and that scares me. He doesn’t repulse me, G-d forbid – just the opposite, I am attracted to him. He is well-kempt and nice, but his facial features unsettle me, and I also feel uncomfortable with myself that that is what I feel despite all the good that he showers on me.

I don’t want this to overshadow this new and beautiful relationship. I want to love him completely, without seeing any faults in him.

Do you have any advice for me?

Answer:

Respondent:zipi|

Dear

Your question is very specific. You describe delicate feelings and worded them wisely and with good taste. I thought about your question a lot, and put significant effort into making my answer match the prudent question you asked. I hope I understood you and that what I say will be right for you.

It made my happy to read that you are married! You know all too well about loneliness, the anxiety and fears that accompanied you in all the years you were single. I hope and pray that G-d will continue to guide you and bless you with kindness.

Many people are young when they make the choice to marry and are not even sufficiently aware of what it entails. You, on the other hand, chose it from a mature and sober perspective, and I am sure that you needed a lot of strength to make that decision.

You took a courageous and admirable step, and I want to encourage you in this decision to make a commitment to someone, to live your life in a relationship of trust, giving and love. A life with mutual commitment is a wonderful gift and is also a choice that is not always simple. Especially when you make that commitment at an age that is not youthful, lighthearted or lacking judgment.

This situation reminds me a little of the covenant that Abraham made with Hashem at the at age of 99. When a baby is circumcised, he grows up in that reality, but at a mature age, a person needs so much strength and faith to go through with such a step.

I appreciate your understanding that a friend with whom you can live your life is such an important gift, to the point that you consented to parting your personal Red Sea for this gift.

In singlehood (and before every major decision in life) we can theoretically achieve everything. In our imaginations we can live together with all the opposing factors and all the good traits of mortal man. In choosing to marry one specific person, we are always forced to compromise on some of the traits we have dreamed about. Still, it’s worth trying to remember that before the decision, in our imaginations we had everything, but we actually had nothing, and only when we find the inner courage to forgo some of the imagined traits, all the rest of the dream starts to come true.

Now to your question. 

You wrote that you wanted very much to marry someone whom you could look up to and admire. Let’s discuss for a moment admiration and looking up to someone.

The feminine experience of looking up to someone is a good thing, that makes the husband want to give and to have a positive influence. Years ago, in a world in which the man supported his wife and took care of all her needs, and she needed him to protect her from enemies and help her navigate the big wide world, the dynamics of the influence and the acceptance were simpler and more existential. Today, on the other hand, when women are quite educated and independent, and the couples partnership and the differences between a husband and wife are more subtle, this dynamic can have a different form, more abstract and nuanced.

In order for there to be influence and acceptance, every couple has to concoct its own special recipe that meets the needs of them both. Both spouses have to direct themselves toward one another and search together, in a wise and sensitive fashion, for common ground on which one can look up to and admire the other. Sometimes the influence and acceptance occur within the comfort zone, exactly as both you and he imagined. Quite often, however, they require more space, which can make the influence and acceptance be more fundamental. In other words, when the man influences an aspect of his wife that she was unaware of, and she grows in new directions.

Notice that the dynamic of influence and acceptance is not at all dependent on the question of who is smarter or more successful. There are women who do not feel that they can look up to their husband, just because he is so absent-minded and he misses the bus. On the other hand, there are women who feel the can look up to their husband, because, for example, he knows how to buy them gifts that they love, or shops for the best bargains, or makes them laugh, or anything else, no matter how strange it may seem to outsiders. What I am trying to say is that the dynamic of influence and acceptance, or in your words, “looking up to” is an avenue that requires searching and adjustment. Creating this dynamic is a conscious choice; searching for a place in which I want to and can accept, and in which my husband wants to and can influence me.

Now to the main subject of your question:

Complete love without seeing faults

You wrote that you want to love, without seeing faults

Is there such a thing as loving without seeing faults? No. Unless a person is very superficial and one-dimensional. After all, no one is without faults. Even so, however, I truly understand your question, and identify with you. I also want to see my husband as a perfect man, and similarly want my husband to see me as a perfect woman.

I read and reread your question several times, and felt that I need to think, to search deeper and examine my own feelings, to give you an answer.

I thought that perhaps you are afraid that it is “not okay” that you do not love his appearance completely. Maybe your perception that you need to love him without seeing his faults is what is bothering you.

In other words, perhaps you are more bothered by the fact that his facial features bother you, than you are bothered by his face itself. 

If that is the case, in that regard I would like to say that there is nothing more natural than that something bothers you. There is no expectation from a woman who gives and receives love, that she should see no shortcomings in her husband.

If you don’t like a certain part of his facial features, and you think that in certain areas you are more successful than he is, that’s perfectly okay. You have chosen and still choose to be married to him. You have chosen to invest your most precious resource – yourself – in the relationship with him. The two of you can be a wonderful couple even if until he is 100 you think that his ears are too big, or that you understand certain things much better than he does. Accept that you are not exuberant about the shape of his nose. Take a deep breath and you will see that everything is fine. You two are still loving and happy and that doesn’t overshadow your relationship with one another. 

You want one another, appreciate one another, and are both investing in this relationship, in this covenant.

What will happen if you are at peace with being allowed to see his faults? Will his facial features continue to harass you every day, and seriously hinder you every time you are together. Or is what bothers you the very fact that you see a fault in him? Is it possible that if you feel that it’s okay for you not to think he looks perfect, you will absolutely be able to continue your wonderful and charming relationship and feel good about yourself? Could it be that what is burdening you is the fear and the thought that a loving relationship should not be like this? That you’re supposed to think he is perfect?

The above idea, however, is not enough. I want to offer you a more precise explanation.

You have good reason to expect yourself to love without seeing faults. We all have secret fantasies of perfect love.

Now I’m going to ask you to think for a moment about fantasy’s place in the couple relationship.

We have this fantasy that someone will see us as perfect, that someone will think that I am a beauty queen with the wisdom of King Solomon, and that our spouse will be the world champion in every field.

Similarly, I might want to hear from my husband that he wants to be with me all day, and the only thing he thinks about is how special and wonderful I am.

How are we to relate to such a fantasy? Is it nothing more than a nighttime dream? After all, in real life couples get up in the morning and go about their daily routines, thinking about many more things apart from one another. And yes, they also see each other’s shortcomings…

So the answer is complex: The fantasy is not without merit, but it is still a nighttime dream.

What does this mean?

There are two types of love, that could be called daytime love and nighttime love. They are both important, and it is possible to invest in and work on both of them.

Nighttime love, the fantasy love, exists in certain contexts, in romantic moments, in love letters, while gazing at the sunset… the fantasy is not an ephemeral image that has no attachment to reality, but is a deep truth that has a place in a person’s soul, which is eternal and has no faults.

The beauty of the fantasy can be felt by occasionally going out on a romantic date and thinking about how wonderful it would be if we could be together all the time…

But in our daily routines, we live with the daytime love, the other type of love, in which we are two separate individuals, with shortcomings, with disagreements, with good and bad intermingled with one another.

There are couples who have more fantasy moments, and couples who have fewer such moments. These are moments of beauty and pleasantness, but they can never be the face of love in its entirety.

In contrast to the fantasy, real love is a reality in which we both try to accept, respect and be happy with one another, be faithful to one another, choose to be forgiving of one another’s shortcomings, focus as much as possible on good traits, and think as little as possible about the things that enthuse us less.

It is also important to realize that in a good and loving couple relationship it is possible to see shortcomings, and to try, out of loyalty, to focus more on the positive qualities (here I must note that your emphasis of the good qualities is very pronounced in your letter).

When I think about how my husband relates to my shortcomings, I hear two voices. One is from the fantasy, the nighttime love: I want my husband to think I am perfect and have no faults. The notion that he restrains himself regarding a shortcoming of mine is even annoying…

The second voice comes from the reality, from the daytime love, and tells me the simple truth, that I have faults. And I realize that he probably has noticed more than a few of my shortcomings (even though it’s not fun to delve into them). Still, I expect him, as a person who loves me and invests in our love, not to delve into these shortcomings, and to try as much as possible to see my good qualities and focus on them, and to attribute as little importance as possible to my faults.

I can see your desire not to see shortcomings, and I think that that desire should and can exist during certain moments, but you need a measure of calm in order for your husband’s faults and the difficulties in your relationship with him not to interrupt the thoughts of semi-imaginary perfection during your romantic moments.

It is quite possible that the ability to relax and feel romantic love that gives us a temporary feeling of perfection in one another’s eyes, depends on our peace of mind in the knowledge that we are allowed to see shortcomings, and it is okay and rational that we do not view our spouse as perfect.

In great appreciation,

I wish you a life of love and happiness,

Tzipi

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