Interpersonal Relating & Mitzvos




















At the beginning of the Torah, G-d describes His creation of Heaven and Earth and everything in them. The pinnacle of creation is man. The Torah describes giving man life by saying that G-d made man into a "nefesh chaya" (living spirit, Genesis 2:7). Targum Onkelos is the Aramaic translation of TaNaCH (Bible) and is part of the oral Torah. The Targum gives us nuances of meaning to add to our understanding of the Hebrew. It translates "nefesh chaya (living spirit)" into "ruach memalelo (speaking spirit)." By modifying the meaning, we are taught that the ability to speak is the single most differentiating and elevating quality of the human being. Onkelos could have translated literally or chosen any other quality that sets humans apart from the rest of creation (intellect, spirituality, the ability to build, etc.).

The Jerusalem Talmud (Nedarim 9) says that the mitzva, "Love your fellow Jew as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18) is the most crucial principle in the Torah. People are born with their subjectivities and faults. In all interpersonal scenarios in general, and close relationships in particular, people approach each other with each one's shortcomings, agendas, feelings, perceptions and thoughts. Each person developes a mental reality based upon such individual factors as background, experiences, sensitivities, biases and interests. When two people approach each other, especially in a close relationship whose impact and consequences are significant, the stakes are high. When, for example, a married couple have problems, each in some way or other commonly approaches the other on the basis of his or her own inner "mental reality." If their two realities are sufficiently incompatible or dissimilar, they collide. Their relationship can be abrasive at best, war at worst. This is typically because one or both cannot go beyond the limits of his/her own mind, so one or both is mentally locked in a box (imagine someone with a steel safe locked around his or her head)! The person sees and recognizes only what is in his or her small, dark, self-oriented box, as if there is no world out there beyond that tiny self-imposed limit. When trying to relate to someone who is outside of one's mental box, or worse - when two people come at each other locked within two different separate "mental boxes," each is force-feeding his or her reality on to the other person's unique reality. This brings collision and a conflicted relationship that has about as much constructive two-way interchange as you get from a steamroller or warring army. They are "talking AT each other, not WITH each other." Here, you have the basis for much relationship trouble.

King Solomon (Proverbs 18:21) writes, "Death and life are in the hand of a tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit." If one speaks evil; for example slandering, fighting or embarrassing; this can bring to harming or killing people, possibly including oneself. If one speaks good things; such as Torah, peace and kindness; this is constructive and brings reward. When in a loving context in a family, this literally promotes life in this world (bringing children and a happy life for the couple) and in the eternal world (Gan Aiden). A spouse and children should be one's highest priority; for halachic, moral and practical reasons. A person's state of mind depends upon his or her closest relationship - marriage - the quality of which has profound effect on one's life. A one-sided view of a two-people relationship is "erasing" other person. The other was not born to be erased. When you are in your own "mental box," you impose your reality on the other, negating the other's reality. Little in life is more hurting and alienating than this. Unless the couple works, each will remain in each one's own distinct reality.

Interacting with others is a practical, ongoing and central element of life. "Love your fellow Jew as yourself" is the most crucial principle of the Torah. This automatically means that pleasant, peaceful, loving, constructive, humble, thoughtful and respectful interaction is central to living Torah life. People are subjective and imperfect. There are mechanisms which G-d built into the world for genuine interchange with others; compensating for human deficiencies; training people to be objective, decent and reality-based in relating to other people; and enabling people to have pleasant interaction, loving interchange, peaceful resolution of differences and healthy overlapping of different people's lives. The mechanism for all this is COMMUNICATION.

Of all the components and wonders in the universe, the most differentiating, central and elevating thing that Onkelos identifies for us is the human ability to communicate. Man is the pinnacle of creation and on-target communication is the pinnacle of the pinnacle! Chazal tell us that G-d created the world that there be a Jewish people who accept His Torah, that love between Jews is the Torah's most fundamental rule, that the obligation to love applies to the person one is married to and to give aggressively of oneself for the other's good in order to achieve and build love for people.

People overcome separateness and meaningfully link themselves together by communication. It is the mechanism for getting out of your self and growing beyond your own perceptions, feelings, agendas, limitations, subjectivity and selfishness. It is how you learn what a genuine and functional relationship is and requires of you, how to not mistreat the other, how to correctly treat the other and how to do so with a pleasant attitude. Communication is the means by which people learn how to recognize, be impacted by and respond to the other's needs, mental and emotional reality and what matters to the other person. This is the basis for promoting a true, satisfying and lasting relationship; relating so that the Jew succeeds in the most FUNDAMENTAL relationship (marriage), accomplishes what G-d considers to be the most FUNDAMENTAL principle in His Torah (giving-based love), achieving the most FUNDAMENTAL purpose in all of creation (the Jewish people fulfilling G-d's Torah).



Trouble that married couples have is commonly due to, or includes, their inability to effectively communicate. Often, as a marriage counselor, I have to play the role of a translator for the couple. By learning to communicate, people learn how to link up in meaningful, effective and fulfilling ways.

A major and typical problem is that each one is locked in his and/or her own mental reality. This sets up a serious barrier to dealing with who the other person truly is and to getting along peacefully, happily and steadily. Being locked in one's own inner mental reality essentially causes the "human erasure and negation" of the other person. This is painful, rejecting and destructive to a relationship. It is, therefore, imperative to learn to substantively recognize and deal with each other's separate and different reality; including feelings, needs, values, upbringing, habits, perspective and what each issue means to the other. Through sensitive and on-target communication, one can learn the wrong things to NOT do, the right things to do, and how to do things in the nicest way and with the nicest attitude.

In my research, Torah learning and work experience doing private counseling and public workshops, I've learned much about communication and linguistics. I will share some representative techniques and ideas to help people who want to relate and link up more successfully.

Speak in private, especially when saying anything that might embarrass either of you or show discord. Always show others peace, happiness and unity; especially in front of your children. Speak from the heart, from real inner person to real inner person. Don't put on an act. Be sincere, straight and "down to earth." The midrash says that when you approach a person for a subject that is of interest to you, open the conversation with something first that is of interest to the other and then draw him softly to your subject.

Speaking harshly or disrespectfully builds natural resistance, defensiveness and barriers. No one wants to feel bullied, trampled, belittled or insignificant. Therefore, no matter what the situation is, effective communicating requires speaking gently and politely at all times. This makes the other person recognize that you are in control of yourself and, therefore, are open to WHAT THE ISSUE REQUIRES rather than seeking to force onto the issue what you require, and that the person you are talking to matters and is important. Steadily and sincerely speaking respectfully, in a soft heartfelt voice, evokes the psychological perception that you, likewise, matter and are an important person who has concern for the other's good and has consideration for the other's feelings and side to the story. This engenders the needed two-sided atmosphere, credibility, trust and the good and unblocked feelings necessary for a genuine and constructive dialogue. If the subject matter is (or might be perceived to be) critical or confrontational, make sure you speak in a soft voice and convey absolutely no ill-will nor anger.

Work actively together on building a two-way frame of reference for the relationship. Learn what each other's thoughts, needs, perspectives and feelings are; and what matters to the other - even for things that do not matter to you or things that you don't understand. IF THE OTHER PERSON MATTERS TO YOU, WHAT MATTERS TO THAT PERSON HAS TO MATTER TO YOU! If you can't understand why your wife wants perfume, buy it anyway - and do it with a smile! Recognize the impact of your actions, attitudes and positions on the other; factor in, respect and respond to the reality of the other. Go beyond your own reality for the sake of constructive and peaceful outcomes. Give on behalf of the other's feelings and good (as long as it is allowed by Torah).

When you have any reason to feel suspicious, have kaf z'chus (benefit of doubt). Never attack, criticize, be judgmental nor jump to conclusions. In Torah law, you may not deem someone to be bad or guilty without substantiating the case by approved methods, such as kosher witnesses or chazaka (HALACHICALLY ESTABLISHED "track record" or status). Obviously, you each must be honest and trustworthy at all times as a matter of standard course.

When you have doubt about something, rather than accusing, presuming or "knowing it all," gently ask information-evoking questions. "Wasn't the arrangement supposed to be that other way?" "Is such and such what is happening?" "Why did you do that?" "Did you get my phone message?" Check and verify communication so as not to risk unclear or inaccurate understanding. "What I hear you saying is X, is that correct?" "What I mean to say, in other words, is Y. Is that how you understood it?" Know the other's side of the story as well as your own side before so much as forming an opinion, never mind reacting! Mature and civil handling of differences builds trust and closeness, and strengthens any relationship.



You can say things in ways that are constructive, neutral or destructive. The Torah is always concerned with expressing itself with the utmost possible brevity. When a wording is longer than need be, there is always an extra lesson there. When the Torah refers to unkosher animals, it says "lo tahor (not kosher)." Why does the Torah not say "tamay" (the one-word Torah-term for "unkosher")? When Rambam wants to say a behavior or lifestyle is evil, he says "lo tov (not good)." Why does the sage not write "ra (evil)?" Why do Chazal refer to a blind person as "abundant with light?" Why does halacha require us to call an ugly bride "beautiful and charming?" The Torah wants speech to only be in the nicest, cleanest and most tactful possible way; even if it means being less precise, efficient or concise. "Each person should always get along sweetly with all other people (Kesuvos 17a)." The Torah (Genesis 37:24) says that the brothers threw Yosef into a pit that "was empty with no water in it." The Talmud (Shabos 22a) asks why the Torah states the seeming redundancy of 1. empty 2. with no water in it. The Talmud says that the pit was empty OF WATER only, but the pit contained snakes and scorpions. Rabbi Zalman Sorotskin, late head of the Vaad HaYeshivos in Israel, explains that snakes and scorpions are a distasteful thing, so the Torah words itself in a nice way: "there was no water in the pit." This teaches us that when we speak about people, we should only speak about what is good about them, and never speak about what is bad about people. How beautifully it would affect marriages if partners only saw the good in each other and only spoke well of - and to - each other!

When King Avimelech took Sara from Avraham (thinking she was his sister), G-d threatened to kill him if he would not return Sara untouched immediately. Avimelech defended himself saying, "I did this with innocent heart and with clean hands." G-d replied, "I know you did this with innocent heart (Genesis 20:5-6)." Although Avimelech was innocent at heart, in that he did not know Sara was married, he did act with lascivious intentions - with "filthy hands." Hashem merely omitted reference to Avimelech's "alleged clean hands." This was enough to make the negative point, while only using words that are positive.

What is truth?...what G-D WANTS! Generally, G-d wants peace, unity, love, respect, pleasantness. The Torah (Genesis 18:10-13) reports that Heaven sent three angels to visit Avraham when he was 99 years old to tell him that he was going to have a son in one year. Sara, 89, was right behind and heard. She laughed within herself and said that HER HUSBAND was too old. G-d came to Avraham and said that Sara said that SHE was too old to have a child. If G-d was interested in defining truth in marriage as "accurate reporting," He would have quoted to Avraham what Sara TRULY said: HER HUSBAND is too old to have a child. Marital peace is so important that G-d Himself changed Sara's words so as to not in any way diminish peace between Avraham and Sara (Yevamos 65b).

Consider how important marital peace is. We have a couple who were 99 and 89 years old. They'd been married for decades. On top of that, they were uncle and niece - family even before marriage. Didn't they know each other and have a secure relationship already? Even so, G-d Himself, with their established and deep relationship, manipulated the report so as to accord with ULTIMATE TRUTH, G-D'S TRUTH: PEACE COMES BEFORE ACCURACY - IN DEFINING OR SPEAKING TRUTH.

How we speak impacts how we are understood. In 1930, Poland's Minister of Education declared that any religious ordination would require a college degree. For yeshivas, forced secular education would be a catastrophe. The Torah community asked the elderly Chafetz Chayim to appeal to the minister. When the sage finished speaking (in Yiddish), the minister told the translator that he needn't bother explaining. Because the Chafetz Chayim SPOKE WITH SO MUCH HEART AND SINCERITY, the minister understood - and cancelled the law.

The order in which you present elements can impact communication. After Avraham's binding of Yitzchok, Avraham sent a messenger to Sara to explain why they left suddenly for several days. The messenger said, "G-d told Avraham to sacrifice Yitzchok, it turned out to be only a test of Avraham's loyalty, so Yitzchok is fine." However, when Sara heard that G-d told Avraham to kill Yitzchok, she went into immediate, total shock. She never heard that her son was fine. This is how Sara died and why the story (in the Torah) of Sara's death follows right after the story of the binding of Yitzchok. We learn from this - in the communication domain - to FIRST say that a thing worked out just fine; when an element of a statement is frightening, negative or disastrous.



We continue with our discussion of communication techniques, skills and advice; based on my years of research, Torah learning and work experience doing private counseling and public relationship-topic workshops.

"Unexpressed words are not words [Kidushin 49b]." Things that you do not say cannot be assumed to be understood by another. In bais din, a witness must give precise testimony. The dayanim cannot assume a meaning other than the witness' actual words. In marriage, if a husband does not express heartfelt appreciation for what his wife does for the home, marriage and children; she will be heartbroken and feel cheap, resentful and taken for granted. He cannot assume she "knows" he appreciates her. "It is not possible for one person to know another person's thoughts [Pesachim 54b]."

A frame affects the impression one has of a picture. Similarly, in linguistics, there is a concept that people "frame" their communications. For example, your tone can make our conversation seem to be an argument or a chat. Your attitude can make you seem like you are my equal, an arrogant superior or a meek inferior. You can appear to be neutrally discussing a subject, or asking for or offering advice. People's reactions can be determined by how our communication is "framed." Words account for only seven percent of the perception created in a communication. There are numerous other factors that can weigh more heavily than the words on how a communication is perceived; including tone, emotion, voice speed or volume, timing, atmosphere, body gestures or motions, facial expression, sensitivities, neuroses, the history of the subject matter or of the relationship and a person's background.

Look for things to get your spouse's input on. When your spouse sees you acting on his or her advice or views, this will make your spouse feel important and happy and will make your marriage closer. More important than the issue itself, you use such opportunities to let your spouse be right, good, validated and expert. You can practice alliance, respect, appreciation and open communication. You can attribute importance and value to your spouse each time you get - and act upon - your spouse's feelings, advice or opinion.

When having a difference, approach each other as if the other were sage counsel with a wise and weighty opinion to be seriously considered. Consistently discuss differences with gentleness, adaptability, humility, open communication, respect and calm. Always together work out a long-run resolution that will be peaceful, amicable, practical and mutually agreeable.

Another "twist." It would be extremely valuable and useful to find as many successful role models as you possibly can (e.g. learned rabbis, happy couples). Get to be close with them. Spend time with them. Use every opportunity that you possibly can to be with and socialize with as many couples as you possibly can...couples who are successful relaters. Watch them. Learn from them. Absorb what they do and how they do it. See how they relate to each other, speak to each other, respect each other, interact with each other, communicate with each other, emote with each other, are thoughtful towards each other. Pick up all their skills and the way they do things, so that you too can become a successful marital communicator and relator.

Working in a gentle and ongoing way, a couple can build love, rapport, understanding, trustworthiness, sensitivity, communication, closeness and warmth. A couple has to spend time to build a bond and a sense of connection. The time must be spent regularly; and in a respectful, affectionate and considerate fashion. Part of the value in this is giving the wife the secure sense that she "owns" regular quality time for building the relationship with her husband. A recommended part of this should be regularly speaking to each other about how each one's day went, and speaking to each other whenever there are things which are of concern to either partner. Know when to "back off," also. When speaking, hear and be attentive to what the other has to say.

Study together the subject of "relationship" regularly. Working together on a successful relationship and spending mutually satisfying "quality time" (to deepen the relationship and to know each other more and more "accurately") throughout your entire married life is an obligation, even if you have to sacrifice some of your earnings on your job to do it. "Better is a meager meal of vegetable with love there, than a rich luxurious meal without love (Proverbs 15:17)." Be prepared to trade some wealth in the form of money for wealth in the form of love, respect and peace in your life.




When couples come to see me for marriage counseling, or when one comes in alone because the other refuses to come, some of the cases involve extremely and rigidly one-sided behavior. One of the things I see often, in one way or another, at the root of a couple's marital trouble is: one or both members of the couple have constructed a reality in their head which exclusively factors in that person but does not factor in the reality of the other one. When that reality produces something (a view, demand, goal, idea, bias, feelings, etc.) for that person, the person's mind has no concept of how there is no overlap between his reality and the other partner's reality. Each is blind to the other's reality. Therefore, they force and steamroll their reality onto the other. Since the other has a separate reality, there is a major collision of interests, perceptions, demands, energy, direction, etc. The result is war.

One of the major tests of readiness for marriage is the ability to recognize, accept and adapt in honor of another person's separate reality. Part of the "single-person mind-set" is "I am all there is, I am all that matters." Another word for this is: infant. An infant opens its mouth and wants a bottle produced on demand. Case can't debate with an infant. The only different between the infant who one-sidedly clashes with a spouse and the kind in a crib is how much proof the content of his bottle is. Such a person is equipped to be successfully married to one person: himself.

Sefer Alay Shor (analyzing Proverbs 5:15-16) writes that a baby is born with all of his attributes in the form of potential. The baby entirely needs others to give to him and to take responsibility for him. As the child grows, there are progressive stages during which he increasingly learns that he is not alone, that the world does not center around him. The ratio of others giving to him and taking responsibility for him gradually diminishes in relation to his gradually giving and his assuming responsibility for himself and others more and more. He gradually becomes socialized and tamed. He can't put his finger in the wall socket, grab the next child's toys, stay up to any hour. He has to clean his room. He has to say "please" and "thank you."

At one point in a normal, healthy person's maturation and development, the amount of giving and of taking responsibility for this youth (by others) and the amount of giving and of taking responsibility for others (by this youth) grows to be equal. Thereafter, the youth increasingly gives more than he takes and accepts more responsibility for others than he requires from others. After this point of "crossover" to giving more to others (than taking from others) and to accepting more responsibility on behalf of others (than needing from others), the person is defined as ready for marriage! This is when the person achieves adulthood and can begin to bring his abilities and virtues from potential to actual, in the world. Where one genuinely stands in relation to giving on behalf of the good of others and taking and fulfilling responsibility are prime measure of readiness for a lasting marriage.

The "married-person mind-set," therefore, is the mind-set of focusing on there being a reality of another person, whose reality exists outside of your own skin, who you are spontaneously and voluntarily focused on giving to; taking responsibility for; adapting and accommodating your thoughts, feelings and actions for; and pleasing and benefitting on a steady and committed basis.

A rov in Yerushalayim advises engaged couples to have the following view. Something may be unimportant, a non-entity, inexplicable to one of you...but it matters to the other. Your position should be, "If it's important to you, it's important to me." The only reason needed to consider it important is YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO ME and this is a demonstration of true love.



An important test for the healthiness of your relationship is: when you have differences, can you resolve them fairly to the reasonable satisfaction of both of you? Do you approach each other respectfully - even when you have differences? Do you consistently speak to each other in a gentle and respectful tone? Do you take time to genuinely understand each other's position or feelings? Are you each responsive to what the other says each time? Can you compromise, sacrifice and extend yourselves to please each other and get along? Do you take difficult question to a rov whose ruling is mutually accepted as final? Do you always have some functional, workable solution; some system for resolution?

Some spouses talk "past" or "at" each other, not with each other. It's destructive enough when one partner does it. The second also might communicate and act as if in his/her own world. When both are so self-absorbed, rigid and unresponsive, there is nothing to work with. The midrash [Koheless Raba] refers to the stage of youth that precedes marriage as the "horse." Rabbi Yechezkiel Levenstein, late mashgiach of Ponevich Yeshiva in B'nai Brak, said that this shows that a youth only sees what he wants, like the proverbial "horse with blinders." A person entering marriage has to grow past the "horse stage" of only seeing himself and what (s)he wants to see.

Consider this true story. A young newliweded kolel husband told his wife to make steak for supper. Without a word to him, she made chop meat. On her own, she decided they couldn't afford steak. He was infuriated because she disobeyed. She said that he was in kolel, she was working two jobs to support them, she grew up in a poor family in which they could afford chop meat and they could not afford steak. Since he slept late, she felt he was lazy and unfit for staying in kolel. She felt resentment that he demanded steak and expected her to earn the money to feed his rich taste. She demanded to know what he was going to do to provide a better paying and more realistic livelihood. He said that his rich grandfather would arrange "something." She demanded to know specifically what that meant. He repeated with delusional indifference that his rich grandfather would arrange something for him. A fight followed. She demanded a divorce. He got "one up" on her by abandoning her and making her an agunah.

Before they were married, both of these people would have been certain that they were ready for marriage. The wife, although she had more grounding in matters of financial practicality and responsibility, was not a communicator. She did not discuss with him what she was going to buy or prepare, or why; or discuss it. She just acted on her own as she saw to be right. She challenged, disrespected and provoked him about money in a way that escalated the tension and confrontation. He was "stuck on steak," to the point at which he would "declare war" on her over it, be unrealistic, infantile and in utter denial about anything beyond his "blinders." It was as if he viewed her as being in his life as a "steak dispenser," not as a wife or person. He had no sense of responsibility, priorities, propriety nor human relations. He never saw that verse of King Solomon's wisdom [Proverbs 15:17], "Better is a meal of a vegetable and love is there than a luxurious beef meal and hate is with it." What he was doing in kolel is beyond me, because he obviously had no connection to Torah. What he was doing in marriage is equally beyond me, because he obviously had no connection to any stage beyond the self-absorbed horse with blinders who can't see left or right. They both had what to learn about relating and communicating to another. That same midrash says that when one becomes ready for marriage, he has transitioned from "horse" to the stage of carrying burden. By definition, we see from this midrash, PREREQUISITE TO MARRIAGEABILITY IS RESPONSIBILITY TO A SPOUSE AND CHILDREN.



When Hashem instructed Moshe to get the Jewish people ready to receive the Torah at Sinai, Hashem says (Exodus 19:3), "Say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel." "Say" means soft speech, "house of Jacob" means the women; "tell" means to speak firmly and "sons of Israel means the men. Thus, the Torah teaches that we must speak differently to men and women: we are to speak to women with softness, feeling, sensitivity and respect; to men strongly, directly, analytically and logically. These accord with the nature, personalities and "wiring" with which Hashem created the different genders.

Often men speak to women as men, and women speak to men as women. In marriage and dating; miscommunication, non-communication and blindness to the other-gender's "programming" leads to trouble and the disruption or ending of relationships. If men and women would learn to allow for and to accommodate gender differences, they would have fulfilling and blossoming relationships.

A guy dated a young woman. She complained that after a five hour date he didn't so much as offer her a soda. He figured she would ask if she wanted something (he wasn't especially thoughtful). She never dated him again. One woman asked her husband what he would like for dinner. He said it wasn't important and thought nothing more of the subject. She was hurt because she wasn't simply asking what he wanted. SHE WANTED HIM TO DISCUSS WITH HER WHAT THEY WOULD HAVE TOGETHER. He thought "menu," she thought "relating." A woman told her husband she needed him to buy her new dresses. He protested, "But you have a whole closet full of clothes!" "Yeah," she answered, "but this one's out of style, that one I wore two times, this one is the same as my neighbor has...". In her mind, she had no clothes. In his mind, she was overloaded.

A young couple came to me for counseling. He saw everything through logic, she through feelings. Because she could not hold a conversation from a logic vantage point, he came to despise and disrespect her. Because he was blind to her feelings, she was in excruciating emotional pain and terrified about his leaving her. She was a devoted wife who sincerely tried to give her all to him. She took care of all areas that mattered. She kept the home and herself attractive, she treated him with respect and attentiveness. But, she could not think logically. He had no idea how to regard or treat a woman or that he was sadistic and causing her massive emotional pain. He wanted to give numerous LOGICAL REASONS to not remain married and for her to not feel hurt; instead of ACKNOWLEDGING HOW MUCH HE WAS CAUSING HER HURT, appreciating the "maalos (good attributes)" she had, and recognizing how much he was missing about what a normal, mature and proper marriage is. It took many sessions to make breakthrough with him. He was emotionally undeveloped and had no grasp of or concern about the impact of his behavior on her. Even a logical man, when mature and healthy, has and understands emotions on some reasonable level and should be "reachable" when circumstances require his dealing with them.

Imagine if the fellow who never offered his date a soda would have asked the girl early on if she wanted anything, or if he had the "seichel" to say HE FELT LIKE STOPPING FOR SOMETHING AND HOW DOES SHE FEEL ABOUT THAT?. Imagine if the couple had better communication when the woman was hurt because her husband answered her "to the point" saying that he wasn't concerned about the dinner menu. Remember to adapt for the other gender's nature and mind-set: speak softly, with sensitive emotion and consideration to women; be direct and specific to men. Be clear with and have respect for both.



A middle class fellow married a girl from a good but financially poor home in which her mother always baked. Since his home was well-off, his mother always bought baked goods. When married, she continued her mother's habit of baking all baked goods at home. Thinking he was complimenting his new wife's baking, he said, "This tastes like from a bakery!" To her, his comment was a "put down." She was insulted that it didn't taste to him as well as home-made. He meant to praise her for baking as well as a professional does. She didn't know about professional baking. They eventually ironed it out, and after years of marriage, they now chuckle over the difference in understanding. But, when the marriage was fragile, this failed communication, even though he was well intended, created considerable upset.

The Talmud (Zevochim 30b) discusses a halachic question which a student asked Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda HaNosi, the compiler of the Mishna; who expressed himself - in the Mishna and in his private life - with very concise language). The way Rebbi answered could have been interpreted two ways, leaving a serious and practical problem in understanding what Rebbi meant in his brief reply. Do we understanding the more lenient or more strict decision on the law? From the words alone we could not clearly or conclusively determine what the law is. This stood to be a major problem for the Talmud. However, the Talmud continues, we understand which of the two possibilities he meant based on whether he expressed himself with anger or with gentleness, because his tone showed what the basis of the question was. Therefore, by virtue of the fact that Rebbi's tone was gentle, we learn that his words were indeed sufficient to clearly determine the law and that it is lenient.

We see from this profound lesson in the Talmud that tone is meaningful enough, in communication terms, to determine a legal verdict! Let us never be fooled into thinking that words may be divorced from the tone, emotions, facial expressions and body gestures which come with those words; so that you don't find yourself divorced from one with whom you erred. How one expresses himself is very impactful and very significant.

Not that the Torah needs substantiation, a scientific study conducted about twenty years ago found that only 7% of communication was achieved through words, 38% through tonality (e.g. voice and emotion) and 55% through body language and gestures (e.g. facial expression, arm motions). To effectively convey a communication, all three components must be integrative, consistent with and supportive of each other. If you say loving words with a nasty, disinterested or impatient tone; or with a threatening or unkind physical movement or expression; you will drown out the words. The meaning that will be conveyed and understood will be most determined by physiology, the next measure by tonality, and the least by the words. Effective communication requires positive presentation of the elements of communication. If your body gestures or facial expression will be negative, speak on the phone. If your tone or emotion will be negative, write. If your words will be negative, send an impartial and articulate emissary to deliver the message. In marriage, obviously, your communication abilities must be consistently good. This may require ongoing practice and patience with each other.

More important, be concerned that you achieve clear and successful communication IN TERMS OF WHAT YOUR PARTNER NEEDS AND UNDERSTANDS - SO THAT WHAT BOTH PARTNERS MEAN AND HEAR IS THE SAME EVERY TIME. But your aim is not a "victory," it is "relating" meaningfully and steadily. Your goal in communicating should be getting done all of the practical functioning that needs to be done AND to make each other feel pleased, loved, respected, peaceful and cared for every day of your lives together.



If anyone had reason to be furious about his wife, it was Yakov. He worked seven years to marry Rachel. At the wedding, her father, Lavan, disguised his other daughter Leah and tricked Yakov into marrying Leah.

"And in the morning he saw that she was Leah. And he said to Lavan, 'What is this that you have done to me? Have I not worked with you for Rachel? Why did you deceive me?' (Genesis 29:25)"

Notice something about Yakov as a communicator. His communication to Lavan was ALL QUESTIONS. Yakov didn't scream. He didn't pick up a gun. He didn't even divorce Leah (he married Rachel ALSO). Yakov did not fight, threaten or divorce - with a woman he didn't even know he was marrying. He was too nice to hurt Leah's feelings by rejecting her! How much moreso must you use questioning as a means of communicating to discuss something considerately with someone who you knew you were marrying!?

If you ask questions (instead of demanding or stating), you are not as likely to be perceived as: * attacking, * imposing your view, * accusing, nor * judging. This psychological benefit applies with anyone, not just a spouse.

Questioning allows room for benefit of doubt and allows you to acquire information that will allow you to know the whole or real story.

If you assume that you know, and make an attacking or presumptuous statement, doing so can escalate an argument, break trust and/or make you seem foolish. If you ask questions with a calm and polite tone of voice, you obtain information that comes in response to you from the person answering. This way, you have not accused or abused. The statement comes from the other person's reality, not from your attempt to jam your reality down the other's throat.

Lavan answered Yakov that the custom in Lavan's society is never to marry off a younger sister before an older sister. Since Rachel was younger, it was impossible for him to marry off Rachel before Leah. Whether Lavan was justified for being a swindler is not our point just now. Note, though, that Yakov obtained information he did not have before. Yakov didn't have a fight. Yakov was never thrown in the klink for a crime of passion. He asked questions. You should too.

I tell couples with communicating problems never to assume that what each intended to say is what the other understood. The meaning, feeling and expectation can be different from what the other thinks that (s)he heard. When it comes to effective communicating, ERR ON THE SIDE OF MORE CLARIFICATION. PRACTICE CONVEYING MEANING ACCURATELY AS WELL AS RESPONDING TO THE OTHER ACCURATELY. VERIFY BEFORE YOU VILIFY! KNOW BEFORE YOU GO! CHECK BEFORE YOUR WRECK!

When there is any misunderstanding - or even a suspicion that there MAY be even a minor measure of misunderstanding - clarify, clarify and clarify. Practice by checking.

* "What I understood you to mean is A. Is that what you meant?" * "What I mean to say is B. Is that how you understood it?" * "In seeing you do C, it seems to me you are trying to do D to me. Is this what you intend? Why would you say/do that? I'm sure there is a favorable explanation and I give you benefit of the doubt. What do I not know about the context that would clarify or justify what you are doing? Could I have misunderstood your meaning?"

Use SOFT questions because statements can be alienating or appear to be judgmental or critical. WHILE THE OTHER SPEAKS, LISTEN, LISTEN AND LISTEN; AND DON'T INTERRUPT! Convey respect and that the other may TRUST that you are seriously and fairly hearing and considering in every thing (s)he says.

A MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP IS AS GOOD OR BAD AS ITS COMMUNICATION! If you want BAD communication, be totally sure you know better than the other what (s)he means. If you want TRULY GOOD communication, find out what the other genuinely means AND DEAL WITH IT - "FOR REAL" AND MATURELY!



One woman asked her husband what he would like for dinner. He said it wasn't important and thought nothing more of the subject. She was hurt because she wasn't simply asking what he wanted. SHE WANTED HIM TO DISCUSS WITH HER WHAT THEY WOULD HAVE TOGETHER. He thought "menu," she thought "relating." A guy dated a young woman. She complained after a five hour date that he didn't so much as offer a soda. He figured she would ask if she wanted something (he wasn't too thoughtful). She never dated him again. A woman told her husband she needed him to buy her new dresses. He protested, "But you have a whole closet full of clothes!" "Yeah," she answered, "but this one's out of style, that one I wore two times, this one is the same as my neighbor has...". In her mind, she had no clothes. A young newly married kollel husband told his wife one morning to make steak for dinner that evening. She decided on her own that they couldn't afford steak and made hamburger. Because he had specifically demanded steak and she didn't obey him, he divorced her.

The Chinuch says that Shana Rishona (laws of the first year of marriage) are designed to put thoughts of each other into each spouse's mind, to push out foreign or interfering thoughts, to promote attachment and affection and to set the new marriage onto a strong and understanding foundation.

The Chazone Ish wrote that "al tarbeh sicha im ha'isha" (do not talk more than necessary with any woman including one's wife; Pirkei Avos) does not apply during the Shana Rishona nor after the first year when speaking to a man's wife (regularly!) about the children and matters of the home and family. He also said that a husband must announce when he goes out and comes back home. He said that during THE FIRST YEAR AND EVEN WHILE ENGAGED, the couple must speak and grow close to each other. He understood that A MARRIAGE RELATIONSHIP IS AS GOOD OR BAD AS ITS COMMUNICATION. I heard that a well-known Yerushalayim rov said that Shana Rishona (first year) is not literal. One year is a MINIMUM and its laws apply AS LONG AS IT TAKES TO MAKE THE RELATIONSHIP STURDY AND SOLID. The Chazone Ish also wrote to a chosson (engaged young man) that when his wife will put a plant in the livingroom or a picture on the wall, her intent is NOT decoration of the house. She is REALLY saying that she wants her husband to notice that she is taking care of the house FOR HIM and is hoping that he will recognize, acknowledge, appreciate and love her for it.

I tell couples with communicating problems never to assume that what each intended to say is what the other understood. The meaning, feeling and expectation can be different from what the other thinks that (s)he heard. When it comes to effective communicating, ERR ON THE SIDE OF MORE CLARIFICATION. PRACTICE CONVEYING MEANING ACCURATELY AS WELL AS RESPONDING TO THE OTHER ACCURATELY. Practice by checking e.g. "What I understood you to mean is X. Is that what you meant?" "What I mean to say is Y. Is that how you understood it?" Use soft questions because statements can appear to be judgmental or critical.

More important, be concerned that you achieve clear and successful communication IN TERMS OF WHAT YOUR PARTNER NEEDS - SO THAT WHAT BOTH PARTNERS MEAN AND HEAR IS THE SAME EVERY TIME. But your aim is not a "victory," it is "relating" meaningfully and steadily. Your goal in communicating should be getting done all of the practical functioning that needs to be done AND to make each other feel pleased, loved, respected, peaceful and cared for every day of your lives together.



One of the things I find in practical marriage counseling that very many troubled relationships have in common is a breakdown in communication. This applies for couples who are coming to me to remedy their marriage as well as to couples who want to wind down a finished marriage. I would like to think that people who allege to be Torah-true who can't get along well will at least approach each other with a modicum of civility and mentshlachkeit. Reality shows, however, that couples can be rather uncivil and vicious. If they would learn some basics of effective communicating, much of the trouble can at least become manageable and the relationship will approach functional.

There are many ways in which two different people, especially of different genders, can get into trouble by miscommunication, even in good relationships. This is even worse when two people are hostile and want different things, understand a given thing different ways, say things other than what they mean (for any number of reasons, e.g. they are detached from feelings, afraid of rejection, have unclear thought processes, etc.), have different goals or priorities or have mutually exclusive agendas and ideas.

Although I could go on at length about this fundamental subject, let me share here ten important keys to turning things around and restoring (or introducing) a liveable level of communicating.

One of the first things I tell warring couples is that they have to work on removing destructive messages (especially the subtle or emotion-laden ones) and automatic conditioned patterns. I give them several rules (depending on the situation) which generally goes something like this.

It is very hard to be wrong in your communicating when you follow these rules. They will take time and effort to assimilate but if they are put into reasonably consistent practice, this package will work wonders in improving communication. 1. Be soft (and calm). 2. Be polite. 3. Always have a two-sided attitude so that you can attribute weight and reality to the other's side, feelings and meaning; so that you work on responding authentically and "on target," and you are adaptive and flexible 4. Say potentially inflammatory things in the form of a sincere, information-seeking question that demonstrates that you are not so sure, give benefit of the doubt and are open to whatever the other says. For example, if you are tempted (or habituated) to say things in a critical, condescending, judgmental or attacking know-it-all nasty statement; calmly ask your spouse to explain what (s)he did or meant or the reason for a given thing or whether (s)he realized what the impact of a thing on you was. Find a way to reformulate what you would say so that you do not know or presume, and, rather, want to understand or gain information. Again, this must be soft, sincere and polite in order for it to work. Instead of being an armed bulldozer, you will inaugurate two-sided and useful discussion of a thing that bothers you. 5. Use checks and verifications to make sure that you understand what the other said the way (s)he intended. Ask things like, "I understand you to mean X, is that right," "Am I hearing that you mean Y?" or "Allow me to tell you what that means to me" (said in your own words, so the other person can determine if you understood accurately). Very often, couples see that they understood the other's words incorrectly, and this evokes clarification. 6. Stick to facts and do not make statements with judgements, insinuations or emotions. 7. The Alshich writes, "Words which come from the heart enter into the heart." Talk with your heart, not like a hammerblow. 8. Find ways to rephrase what you want to say as you get more familiar with how your partner "ticks." 9. Look for one or more ways to make what you say for the good of your partner. 10. Choose a constructive time, place and atmosphere for what you want to say.

These, and any number of other techniques, all have to be adapted to suit your situation and personalities. And always remember as Torah Jews that we are required to always prioritize peace, maturity, midos and derech eretz. If any of these is ever missing, for sure you're doing something wrong. When present, these things will make all of your communications immeasurably better.



When a couple has difficulty relating, or attempting to resolve a problematic marriage, ineffective communication is typically a significant part of the trouble. The obvious issues of word choices or expressing ideas is somewhat technical: if people want to improve these, they are "learnable" skills. However, it is more difficult when "human dynamics" and "non-integration of elements" are involved. Let me explain.

Communication is an extension of one's personality and mind and these are conveyed in such ways as patience, empathy, tone, emotion level, body motions, facial expressions, calm or violence level, level of respect (vs. indifference, contempt or condescension), listening, concern, responsiveness, adaptability, eye contact, etc. It is composed of many skill elements; for example, a clear goal (and the will to achieve that goal), vocabulary, syntax, speaking speed, atmosphere (e.g. location, time, distractions, etc.), means (e.g. written, spoken, phone, etc.), enunciation, sequencing of items in a communication, etc.

If a couple is attempting to communicate unsuccessfully and "human" (emotion or midos) elements are deficient, this can make the communication backfire and do more harm than good. For example, a communication will not be believable if one spouse says he is listening while apparently not paying attention, or is doing something else; or if one spouse is trying to say nice words but the tone more predominantly makes the other feel hated, rejected, ignored, insulted or condescended to BECAUSE YOU DON'T HAVE ALL ELEMENTS OF COMMUNICATION INTEGRATED AND CONSISTENT WITH, AND SUPPORTIVE OF, each other. As a rule, I find, in my counseling experience with singles and couples having communication difficulties in man-woman relationships, that HUMAN ELEMENTS PREDOMINATE OVER TECHNICAL ELEMENTS AND DETERMINE WHAT THE LISTENER PERCEIVES. So if your words are, for example, conciliatory, forgiving, apologizing or generous; BUT YOUR TONE, EMOTION, BODY GESTURES, FACIAL EXPRESSIONS, INTERPRETATION OF THE OTHER PERSON'S SIDE ACCORDING TO YOUR OWN AGENDA, ARROGANCE, IMPATIENCE, OR ANY OTHER HUMAN ELEMENTS ARE DEFICIENT, INCONSISTENT OR CONTRADICTORY; EXPECT NEGATIVE RESULTS!

I find that these are often concepts, as fundamental as they are, that are very foreign to people and they often resist the changes and self-work necessary to improve basic relating and communicating skills. They take it as an affront to their sense of self when, in fact, their behavior is an affront to another's sense of self. Since "nature abhors a vacuum," when a partner is related to deficiently, the "emotional space" inside is left somewhat or totally empty. This requires psychological "filling in" by the victim him/herself which is often done in unhealthy ways that drive the couple further apart so that the trouble, rift, tension and distance between them worsens. For example, the injured partner may become hostile or volatile, escape to interests outside of the marriage that may occupy excesses of time, believe the offender must be cheating and giving affection to someone else, become depressed, etc. The trouble often escalates.

The only resolution for communication deficiencies is to get out of themselves to LEARN AND APPLY THE TECHNICAL AND HUMAN ELEMENTS OF COMMUNICATION.

The Torah says, "What does Hashem ask of you but that you fear G-d." The gemora notices that the Torah asks 613 commandments and it seems on the surface erroneous for a G-d Who asks "613 things" to say I ask "one thing." The gemora answers the kashia (seeming contradiction) by telling us that "all is in the Hands of Heaven except FEAR OF HEAVEN." If one has fear of Heaven, one can use free-will choice and do all of the 613 commandments. Observing all of the Torah depends upon the one thing first, fear of Heaven. Kind David takes us a step further (Psalm 111:10) saying, "The beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d, good intellect is to all who do the commandments, His praise remains forever."

Since marital peace is a G-d - given imperative, and good communication is a practical imperative to marital peace, any Torah observant Jew whose ego is in the way of learning to better communicate or relate keeps him/herself away from G-d, wisdom, intelligence, fulfillment of the Torah's commandments and the praise of G-d that a Jew's life is required to constitute. Therefore, perhaps the first thing a person with marital or relating troubles must do is work seriously on fear of Hashem, with a good rov, to overcome obstacles in oneself. Then move on to the technical and human elements of being a relator on the Torah's high standard. These undertakings can take time, work and perseverance. You will have to endure mistakes and backslides. But, as I tell couples who want to repair their marriage, the main things are to steadily be in the "process," to be in it of each one's own volition, and to do everything with a good heart and attitude.

Since half-good communication tends to get all-bad results, steadily work to making your communications ALL GOOD so you can STEADILY GET ALL-GOOD RESULTS!