Friday, July 19, 2013

A guest blog this week, from Rabbi Steve Baars....I'm on his weekly "BLISS" email list and found this week's message funny and profound. Hope you will enjoy it too.

Married to a Dog

Dog and chewed shoesWoman on the phone to her husband:

“Honey, you remembered my birthday. You are the best. What a great present. A new puppy! He’s so cute. I think I’m going to call him ‘RJ’ after you. It’s the best birthday present you ever got me.”

Husband:  “You know I love you. I’m just happy you’re happy. Now, just remember, you know how they like to chew on shoes and things. And of course, we have to get him house trained and all that stuff.”

Wife:  “Don’t worry, I’ve got it all down. I was going to give him some old slippers, but he already got my new ones. It’s OK though. I’m sure we’ll be having a few of those ‘accidents’ before he gets it right."

Later that day, however …

Wife:  “Honey, something I forgot to mention earlier. I know you can’t have everything, but it’s just a little annoying. You left your socks on the bedroom floor, again. How come you can’t clean up after yourself?”

Husband:  “Just call me ‘RJ’ ---- after the dog.”

Hopefully your spouse is a lot smarter and more responsible than a dog.  And I am not suggesting the wife should put up with RJ (the husband) leaving his socks lying around.  After all, she’s not the maid.

So, telling your spouse what you need and want is important.  But being effective is more important.

With that in mind, don't you think RJ (the husband) would rather be the dog?  Chewing up the new slippers got a far better reaction than leaving the socks on the floor.

It’s clear that the husband’s mistake is not the crime here.

The problem is the expectation.  What the dog did is far worse, but the expectations of the dog are far less.

So, what should you expect from your husband?

The surprising answer is, the same as from the dog.

You want the dog to not chew the slippers, but you expect it’s not going to be that easy.

Same with your husband.

Or, put another way, what is the expectation this wife is living with?


If you expect perfection then you will always, always be disappointed.

Your spouse is not perfect, but if you play your cards right, he will be.

Let’s look at the conversation again.

Notice she said “again,” meaning he’s done this before.  And notice the, “I know you can’t have everything” comment, not to mention the, “it’s just a little annoying” remark.

Don’t get me wrong, I am sure this conversation happens both ways.  He’s probably got his things that he calls his wife on too.

But, she’s annoyed that he did it “again.” Well, how about her “again.”  She says the same thing to him again and again, yet her comments don’t work.  Why doesn’t she try a different path instead of repeating herself.  How can you blame your spouse for repeating the same mistake when you do it, too?  You don’t train dogs that way.  If you see you aren’t getting anywhere you need to come up with a better strategy.

Let’s keep going in the conversation:  She says, “I know you can’t have everything.”  Well, he just told her what makes him happy is for her to be happy.  He bought her what she wanted and she ruined the whole experience.  She told him she was happy until she saw the socks.  The net result, after all is said and done, is an unhappy wife.  So from his point of view, the whole thing was a waste of time.

Again, I am not saying he is off the hook – "idiot, don’t leave your socks around!" – but what motivation does he have to do anything right when any small mistake obliterates all the good.  The husband’s takeaway from the whole experience was “Why should I even try if everything always has to be perfect?”

Listen, I have been married long enough to know that the wife in our story doesn’t really mean this.  But don’t count on the husband to get that point.

Back to her phone call: “It’s a little annoying.”  I am sure it is.  And he should pick up his socks.  But, if you want to start complaining to your spouse about everything that is little annoying, then you need to keep in mind that there is no end to that list - on both sides!  When "a little annoying" becomes the standard for complaining, you should appreciate you are giving your spouse permission to do the same.  Is that what you really want?

Do you really want your spouse to complain to you about every little thing you do wrong?

And let’s not forget the final twist: “How come you can’t clean up after yourself?”  She should remember to wash the knife after pulling it out of his back.  How does she want him to answer this?

Take your pick:

• “My mother raised us in a kennel?”
• “I have sub-par IQ?”
• “I am the evil twin of Osama bin Laden?”

If you want your spouse to think through his/her actions, think through your words.  If your words didn’t work last time, then think them through before you use them again.


OK, so what should she have done that would be helpful.  And in truth, this is neither easy nor intuitive for most people.  But it’s important to keep in mind when faced with something annoying. It’s so much easier to be negative and destructive, to criticize and complain.

So, let’s play the second part of the conversation again, but with a little more forethought:

Later that day…

Wife:  “Honey, something I forgot to mention earlier.  I know how busy you are and how much you have on your mind.  And things between us are so good lately, so I hope you don’t mind. ... I need your help.”

Husband:  “Sure, honey, anything for you.”

Wife:  “Listen if this isn’t a good time, then just tell me.  You know how sometimes little things get to me.”

Husband:  “Sure, honey, go ahead.”

Wife:  “It’s no big deal, really, and it’s more my issue than yours, but do you think there is a way we can organize the bedroom so your socks don’t end up on the floor?”Husband:  “Oh, I did that again? I can’t believe it. I’m sorry, honey. I know that bothers you and I’ve been trying to remember. But I was in such a rush this morning. You know, I think if we put a hamper in the bedroom it might help. What do you think?"

Wife:  “I love you so much!"

We don’t always find the right words. Conversations happen and we say what is on our mind, but just like we don’t always think through what we say (a common experience), we similarly, don’t always think through what we do.

When we don’t think through what we say, we are no better than our spouses who didn’t think through what they did. But this is OK, because like dogs, we all need a little training.

Question for your table: Does this story apply to other relationships, or only to a marriage?

Shabbat Shalom

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