How to detect narcissistic tendencies during dating

narcissist-feature

I recently met with Dr. Elinor Greenberg, author of Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety and several articles about narcissism and other personality disorders. Dr. Greenberg has done extensive research and study about these behaviors and the impact on the people around them.  Our conversation was specific to narcissism as it relates to marriage.


DK: In very short, what is narcissism?

EG: In way too short, narcissism is a set of coping mechanisms and strategies to deal with unstable self-esteem and low capacity for empathy that results from unmet interpersonal needs in childhood.

DK: So what might that look like in a marriage?  What might it be like to be married to a narcissist?

EG: First, I want to clarify. Nobody is a narcissist. Labels, however well intended, cannot do justice to human complexity. Someone may have a pattern of behaviors that fall under the specific diagnosis.  (However for the rest of our discussion, we will call these people ‘narcissists’  to avoid the lengthy explanation like the one I just described.)

To answer the question about what it might be like to be married to a narcissist. Wow! It’s an intense roller coaster.  First a quick description of the gestalt of narcissistic people.

Highly narcissistic people are unable to regulate their self-esteem by themselves. They need the validation of others in order not to fall into self-hating depressions characterized by abject shame over what they see as their irreparable defects. This leads them to spend an inordinate amount of time and energy trying to impress others.  This persistent internal preoccupation with status and validation, coupled with their inability to reassure themselves of their own self-worth without constant admiration of others leads them to be acutely sensitive to anything that impacts their self-esteem.  In particular, this means that they are highly sensitive to interpersonal situations that have to do with status, admiration and acknowledgment; or conversely, those that relate to criticism, humiliation and shame.

Thus, they often act as if everyone they meet is there either to admire or shame them. As if these were the only possible and appropriate responses the other person could make.  You are either their admiring audience or their critical audience.

They react negatively when they feel that the other person has shamed them. Key word is ‘feel’ – when they feel shamed.   How they respond depends on their temperament; those with ‘avoidant’ temperaments might use the silent treatment or take things away and those who are more ‘confrontational’ might verbally devalue the other person, or even worse physically lash out or break things. One man who was angry at his wife, threw a cup against the wall so that it smashed into pieces next to her head.

Their responses can be way out of proportion to what others might overlook as minor slights.   The spouse and family are likely to be constantly walking on eggshells when around them, never knowing what might trigger their rage and how it will manifest this time.  Hence, they are constantly stressed.

There might also be a growing lack of interest in you. In a healthy marriage, with the passing of time, both spouses begin to see the ‘every day you’.  And the initial fiery love is replaced with a certain comfort of knowing that you can be the ‘every day  you’ and still be loved. In a marriage with narcissist, when they see the ‘every day you’ and your humanness, you lose value and they easily get enraged that you aren’t what they dreamed of – the charm on their arm, the trophy wife.

DK: That sounds like an awful way to live. Is it possible for the spouse to learn how to deal with this?

EG: Well yes, but it will probably be an unpleasant way to live.  For this conversation, let’s say A is the spouse and N is the narcissist. A will need to work with a therapist to gain specific skills to learn to tolerate N’s behaviors and outbursts; and even then it will not work all the time.   A cannot get upset with anything N does; N cannot handle criticism and does not apologize. A should not expect much in the way of validation or appreciation.  As Narcissists are inherently unstable, N might even praise A one moment, and then in the next moment disparage her, without noticing anything strange about this inconsistent behavior.  And if A tries to point out the unfairness of this or the inconsistency, N will feel criticized and retaliate by attacking her.  Now the couple is in another pointless fight and the whole family is upset.   And this pattern will go on and on, over and over again. In short, it will not be an easy life.

DK: Similarly, is it possible for a narcissist to heal?

EG: Yes, it definitely is possible. But they have to want to. And be willing to put in the work that it will take. Unfortunately, too many don’t see themselves as needing help. To protect their shaky self-esteem, they always blame the other person.  It is the other people who needs help and needs to change, not the narcissist.  But, yes, they can heal and the marriage can be salvaged. If the narcissist really really wants to.

DK: Ideally, one wouldn’t get into such a marriage in the first place. Orthodox Jewish dating is generally short, from a few weeks to a few months.  Can one really recognize a narcissist in such a short time?

EG: When you know what to look out for, you can see patterns of narcissistic tendencies.

DK: Of course, noticing is just one part.  Being ready to act on your gut is crucial, be ready to end the relationship.   Can you describe what you might notice?

EG: Firstly, note that one or two isolated incidents is not necessarily indicative of a problem. When you start to notice a pattern, you might be looking at a narcissist.

On your point of trusting your gut:  If something feels ‘off’ during the date, or if you feel ‘off’ after the date, trust your intuition.  Ask for more time to process it all. Don’t let anyone talk you out of what your gut is telling you. No matter how well-intentioned someone else might be, you know yourself best.

Also, with everything I will share below, it is important to pay attention to the look on their face, the tone of their voice and other non-verbal cues.

Narcissists tend to And therefore they might
Need to feel superior, with not that much to back it up. ‘Braggart, with a lot to be modest about. ‘
  • Brag about their accomplishments, cars, important friends (or other status symbols) so that you’ll know how successful they are.
  • Talk negatively about previous dates.
  • Act with grandiosity (which can be misconstrued as confidence.)
See the world as hierarchal; things or people are either above them or below them.

 

  • Express contempt of other people or things.  They will devalue people to put them below them. They might use derogatory names or descriptions. Or roll their eyes, or use some other facial expression to let you know how they feel.
  • They idealize and try to befriend those people who they feel are self-esteem or status enhancers.
See everything in extremes, as totally wonderful or horribly terrible.   They can’t relate to the concept of ‘good enough’.  They don’t see ‘gray areas’. Use language of extremes

  • Everything about them is unique, special, perfect (ex: s/he goes to best doctors, lives in the best neighborhood)
  • Devalue anyone or anything.  Other people are defective, garbage and worthless.
  • Things ‘always’ happen to them, or ‘never’ happen for them.
  • They either ‘love’ something or ‘hate’ something.

Compare in extremes

  • Better than/ worse than  (ex: “This restaurant is so much better than the one yesterday”)

 

Feel that their way is the only right way. They do not recognize that others can have a different opinion and still be valid.

 

Try to persuade or convince you to bring you to understand the issue as they see it.

  • Even on the smallest things that aren’t really important or relevant to life together. (“You have to agree this show is great.”)
  • Insults others with intent to make you despise that person too.

Get insulted if didn’t take their advice.

Be overly concerned with status.
  • Get incensed about something that they feel slights them in any way (even something very, very small),  and they can’t get off the topic.   (ex: “That guy brought me hot coffee, I specifically asked him for iced. … I need to talk to the manger to get him fired… blah, blah”)
  • Try to show superior status over anyone in service position (ex: Bus boy, waiter, parking attendant, doorman)
Lack empathy. ‘Caring about others isn’t important’.
 ‘Others exist only for me’. People are interchangeable.
  • Not ask about your or your day. They really don’t care.
Are concerned about never feeling shamed.
  • Not to apologize for anything, as that will puncture their defense grandiosity and expose them as flawed. In a narcissist’s mind, to be flawed is the same as being worthless.  If they admit that they were wrong, they are likely to drop into a shame-based self-hating depression in which they hate themselves.  To avoid this, they avoid admitting that they ever do anything wrong.  It is all someone else’s fault.
  • Cares more about what the neighbors might think than for you.  (ex:  “Stop doing that; everyone will think that we are uncultured.”)
Think only about themselves.  They don’t realize that there are 2 people in the conversation.
  • Move the conversation back to themselves.  “Oh that reminds me of a story about myself …”
  • Talk only about topics that they are interested in.
  • Provide a running commentary of what happened that day, with no regard if it is interesting to you.

A typical response in a conversation might be a story about themselves, criticism, bragging, putdowns, complaining or lectures.  They might even repeat the same stories over and over.

DK: Most of the above will be revealed in the regular ‘dating’ conversations.  “How was your day?” “Tell me about your friends.”  “Who are people you look up to?”  Are there any other suggestions of scenarios to kind of ‘create’?

EG: You can bring up a topic and your opinion that you know will differ from theirs. See how they respond. Do they try to convince you to see it their way? Do they not ‘understand’ how you could see it in your way?  Do they get all upset that you voiced a perspective different from theirs?

DK: Any specific questions that can be asked that their answers can be telling of certain maladaptive tendencies?

EG: A great question to understand about how they grew up is: “When someone spilled milk on the table, what happened next?”

DK: I’m guessing that a similar question like  “What is a good response when kids scribble on the wall right before the guests arrive?” can also be telling of how they operate.

EG: Yes. There are no right responses to these types of questions. But do note that some people will try to answer ‘correctly’ so as not to feel ashamed.   So looking out for body language and other non-verbal cues are important.

DK: So if I probe further into their account of the story, I might touch on a detail that might trigger a response that can help me know more about their personality.  What are your thoughts about doing that?

EG:  That can work.

DK: Are there any other discussion starters or questions that can help discern one’s perception of the world?

EG:  Another great question is: “What is your vision of a happy marriage? What is the role of the wife in that marriage? The husband?” “If a wife and husband disagree, how do you think that they should settle it?” And here’s another question you might ask: “Some people believe that they are born to be ‘boss’, others believe that they are born to be ‘equals’.  Where do you stand on this idea?” Listen well.  How they answer is just as important as what they say.

DK: Is there anything that I didn’t ask that is important to this discussion?

EG:  Narcissism isn’t something that goes away with time, maturity or even being in a loving marriage.   A narcissist has their own distorted view of what love is and really no one can be that for them. If you see signs of narcissistic behaviors, do not think that your love for them can fix it; it won’t.

DK: Thank you for sharing all this. I am sure that this information will be helpful. And even if we save one person from a life of misery, we have saved a world.

EG: Thank you for the opportunity to share my life’s work with your community. Much hatzlacha in all that you do.

 

 

Posted in Dating Insights, Domestic Abuse | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Different Kind of Date

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Most shiduch dates are sitting in a lounge talking about yourselves.    A leisurely stroll along the river’s edge is similar. In a relaxed atmosphere, you can focus on the conversation and getting to know each other better.

Some people feel that they can’t possibly really get to know someone through conversation only; they want to experience them in ‘real life’ settings.  They want to see how they interact with others, what excites them, how they work, what makes them tick.

While indeed you can see somewhat about a person by the way they treat the service staff, such as waiters or valets, it really doesn’t say all that much about a person.

Here are some activities that people have done during dating.  The idea is not only to have a nice time together, but to get to know each other from a different angle. Doing such activities together can give you insight that cannot be gleaned from conversations.

Do they know how to laugh at themselves when something doesn’t go at planned, or do they get frustrated?  How do they respond to doing something that is interesting to you, but they don’t really care for it?  How well do you work together?  How do they interact with the other people there?  How do other people see him/her?  Are they competitive, or do they help you also do a good job?  How do you feel around them when doing these activities?

TIP: Do let the other person know in advance what you will be doing, so they can plan appropriately.

*You can talk to your mashpia to determine if these are appropriate for you.

  • Learn something together – from a sefer, a lecture, a computer program.
  • Teach each other something you like to do – ex: photography, brew beer.
  • Try something that neither of you have experience with – ex: tying a sailor knot.
  • Have a picnic or BBQ in the park. Prepare the food together.
  • Meet the other person at their place of work.
  • Volunteer  together.
  • Get to meet each other’s families.
  • Visit a zoo or museum.
  • Crafting – pottery, soap making, paper making, painting class, flower making.
  • Escape room.
  • Street fairs, window shopping, farmer’s market.
  • Visit local landmarks as tourists.
  • Meet for brunch, instead of meeting in the evening.
  • Hang out in nature – birdwatching. hiking, corn maze, winery, fruitpicking.
  • Wander the bookstore. Hang out in the travel section and talk about dream trips.
  • Prepare fun food together – chocolate dipped pretzels, cookie decorating.
  • Show n Tell – bring something that is meaningful and talk about it.
  • Each of you prepare something before and then share or discuss during the date. (ex: read an article, watch a video).

You can also checkout www.mikomos.com for other date places.

 

 

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How to recognize if your date has a growth mindset

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You and the person you are dating may have much in common – your values and goals are aligned, you come from similar backgrounds, and you even have shared interests and hobbies. You both accept and respect each other’s quirks and uniqueness.  Seems perfect.  As discussed in a previous article Marriage is all about love, respect and acceptance. And something else?, a willingness to put in the effort into the marriage is crucial.

Just as there are no great achievements without setbacks, there are no great relationships without conflicts and problems along the way.  No one is perfect and throughout a long life together, we all make mistakes, misspend money, miscalculate time, and do hundreds of other things that mess things up. There are the life’s ups and downs, setbacks and advancements, unwanted changes and wonderful surprises. Additionally, throughout life, we learn new things, have different experiences and we all change. With life, the marriage itself will evolve and change.

To successfully navigate all that, both partners must have healthy mindsets and skills to work through the inevitable storms of life.

To successfully navigate all that, both partners must have healthy mindsets and skills to work through the inevitable storms of life. Both must recognize that people can always overcome setbacks and obstacles, learn  from the situation, take responsibility or forgive as necessary, continue forward and embrace the possibilities of the future.  This is the hallmark of a growth mindset (see more in previous articles).

Individuals with the growth mindset want to become better, achieve more, and put in the effort and dedication required to reach their goals. In regards to their marriage, they see their relationship as ever-changing and evolving. They believe that they must support their partner, and work together to not only grow the relationship, but also help each other grow  in whatever aspirations they may have.   This is key for a successful marriage.

To learn more about how to determine if you have the right mindset and what you can do to improve and enrich your growth mindset, read How to develop a growth mindset for marriage (and the rest of your life) .

How can you recognize if your date has a growth mindset?

Throughout your dating, try to ascertain if they continually work on themselves, improving in areas of interpersonal or intrapersonal relationships. If they don’t want to work on themselves, how can they work on an entire relationship?

If they don’t want to work on themselves, how can they work on an entire relationship?

Listen in to what is said, how it is brought up, and what is not addressed. These can uncover nuances of their thoughts about the value of perseverance.

Below are some conversation starters to help you bring up these topics:

  1. Discuss areas that you are working on, and then move the conversation to find out what they are working on. “For a long while, I was too timid to share my ideas, even though they were pretty good. I read this article that gave me some ideas and lately, I’ve been working on bringing up my ideas during staff meetings. It was hard at first, but I’m getting more comfortable.  …  What are you working on?”
  2. Discuss the idea of Growth-mindset and Fixed-mindset in general.  Many people do not know the terms ‘Growth Mindset/ Fixed Mindset’, but everyone operates from one of those two mindsets. You might discuss the concept, without using these exact terms.
    “What are your thoughts – are people just born talented, or do they reach success because of their hard work?”  Discuss a politician, sports player, business man, community leader – how did they get to where they are today.
  3. Explore together the idea of “Marriage is a labor of love that grows the love”. From all the couples you observed (in summer camps, shlichus, when away from home), what is something that you would like in your marriage?  Share your  observations – what you liked, what you admired.
    “The Ps, whenever one had to bring up something they knew the other wouldn’t want to hear, they always brought a cup of tea. Of course, when seeing that tea coming they knew something was up, but they also knew that the other cared enough to try to soften the blow of the bad news.  What are your thoughts about that? ….  Any aspects of a marriage that you observed that you’d like to incorporate into your marriage?”
  4. Take a ‘Fixed Mindset/ Growth Mindset’ test together. Then go through the questions and share stories and anecdotes about each nuance. ( There are several such tests online. )

Reflect on your other conversations and interactions with the person you are dating – choice of wording, tone, timing, etc. One or two isolated, unrelated  incidents do not necessarily mean anything; several incidents or a pattern might be concerning.  Discuss with an objective person , someone who is not attached to the outcome of this shiduch (preferably someone with experience and not someone too close to you).

  1. Does s/he take responsibility or shift the blame to others, even playfully? fixed: “I was looking at you and so I didn’t see the stop sign.”  growth: “Oops, I should have been paying more attention.”
  2. How does s/he describe other people? Is s/he always belittling others to make him/herself look better?  fixed: “My boss is so stupid. If I had his money, I’d run the place so much better.”
  3. How does s/he talk about other people’s success?  growth: “That’s so cool how he got his first huge order by just talking to the right person in the elevator. I gotta try that!” fixed: “Of course, he made it. His sister-in-law works in that industry and got him his first clients. Some people have all the luck.”
  4. How does s/he react to his/her own mistakes? fixed:  “I’m so stupid, I should have known better.” “That’s not at all what I meant!” growth:”Wow, I didn’t realize that. I have to figure out a way to remember that in the future.”

Work through a conflict together

The team at Shalom Taskforce highly recommends that a couple do not commit to marriage until they have worked through a ‘conflict’ together, and each has reflected on how that experience was for them.  By ‘conflict’, they do not mean a full blown out fight, but rather a conflict of opinion or scheduling or the like, and working through that – where to go that evening, when to meet again, when or if to meet with friends.

The team at Shalom Taskforce highly recommends that a couple do not commit to marriage until they have worked through a ‘conflict’ together, and each has reflected on how that experience was for them.

Did you feel heard and respected?  Did you find it hard to really listen to the way the other person presented their points? Did one of you give in just to end the conflict and avoid bigger altercations?  Do you feel that one of you did not want to put in the effort and just tried to brush the whole thing aside? Did one of you refuse to apologize or take responsibility, even though it is obvious that s/he was responsible for that particular aspect?

Shalom Taskforce’s point about having at least one conflict is to look out for tendencies of control in the other person, and to make sure that the two of you feel comfortable to voice your different opinions and then work it through and make a decision together.

Here, I am proposing that working through a conflict can also help you recognize the other’s mindset about change and growth. As applicable, when the conflict has been resolved, discuss together the resolution process and how you felt through it and after it. Is there anything that you learned through the experience?  What did you learn about each other, how the two of you relate with each other, and how to bring up differences of opinions in the future? “ In the future, I’ll try to remember to tell you that I’m ‘hangry’ and I need  something to eat first and then some time to think about it before I respond.” “I’m thinking that next time, I might try to diagram what I am describing instead of just using words. It might help me be clearer about what I am trying to portray.”

Throughout your dating, there is so much you are learning about each other. It is important that you also ascertain that the other has the willingness to put the necessary effort into growing and changing through life.

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How to develop a growth mindset for marriage (and the rest of your life)

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In marriage, love, respect and acceptance is not enough. That last key ingredient is the willingness to put in the effort.
The recognition that  through the years, you, your spouse and your marriage will all grow and change and the commitment to the marriage fosters that willingness to be adaptable. That is the hallmark of a growth-mindset. (Read more in Marriage is all about love, respect and acceptance. And something else?)

[ In very short: with a growth-mindset, the person understands that with dedication and hard work, anyone can grow, change and develop new or improve skills and thinking patterns. On the other hand, someone with a fixed-mindset believes their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits, that someone either ‘has it or they don’t’ and that just can’t be changed. They are convinced that talent alone creates success, it shouldn’t take effort.
Everyone is a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in an area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait.]

Some ways to foster and strengthen your growth mindset.

Each of these is elaborated below.

  1. Examine your current beliefs. When do you operate from a fixed-mindset or growth-mindset?  Be honest with yourself.   
  2. Change the words of your self talk.   
  3. Acknowledge that all humans are imperfect. 
  4. Don’t judge.  
  5. Reflect often. 
  6. Notice how your environment impacts your growth mindset. 
  7. Learn from others.  
  8. Just do it! 

1  Examine your current beliefs. When do you operate from a fixed-mindset or growth-mindset?  Be honest with yourself.   When you know where you stand, you know where to improve.

  • When something you did didn’t turn out quite the way you had hoped, which is closest to how do you usually respond: 1 Shift blame to others.  2 Recognize your mistake and try to hide it or forget it. 3 Take responsibility, reflect on what could be done differently in the future.
  • When faced with something new, which is closest to how do you usually respond: 1  Stressed, afraid you won’t be able to do it right.  2  Excited about trying something new, even if you don’t know how it will work out.  Avoid starting at all cost/ just don’t do it.
  • When someone offers to give you feedback on your performance, which is closest to how do you usually respond: 1 Nervous that there was something wrong with your performance.  2 Interested to hear how other people experienced your performance and eager to hear ways to enhance it. 3  Refuse to hear it.
  • When you hear about someone who ‘made it’, which is closest to how do you usually think about it: 1  Some people just are lucky; they have the right friends or family.  2  Good for him; I could never do that, I just don’t have enough chutzpah to do what he did to get there.  3 I want to learn more about him and his path to success.
  • Fill in the blank: “I am too [old/ young/ not smart enough/ clumsy] to be able to do [something that you really want to do].”
  • Fill in the blank: “I am [this way]/ I do [this] because when I was younger [something happened].”

2   Change the words of your self talk.  The words in which we think define how we see the situation.

  • “This is an opportunity to learn a new skill.” rather than “It is too hard to learn that at this point in my life.”
  • “I can’t do this – yet. If I keep at it, I’ll get it.” rather than “I was never good at this.”
  • “What are some ways that I might approach this?” rather than “This can’t be done.”
  • “What do I still need to learn or figure out in order to achieve this?” rather than “I don’t know how to do this.”
  • “I’m willing to ask.” rather than “I don’t want people to know that I don’t know everything about this subject, so I will figure it out myself.”
  • “That didn’t go as I had hoped, I totally slipped up on that one.” rather than “I can never do anything right.”
  • “That’s a setback, what can I learn from this?” rather than “I’m doomed.”

3   Acknowledge that all humans are imperfect.

  • Don’t hide from your weaknesses. Embrace your limitations. “It is true that I am tone-deaf. I know that with enough effort and dedication, I will be able to keep a tune. I am choosing not to put my effort there.”  Caveat:  Don’t think that about every one of your limitations.
  • Stop justifying everything (even to yourself). When we justify our actions, beliefs or words, we have implicitly placed another person (or even ourselves)  in a position to judge us.  Not everything we do needs to be perfect.  “That wasn’t my best moment. And that’s OK. No need to wriggle myself out of that one.”

4  Don’t judge. When we judge, our ego compares the self with another, often putting others down to temporarily boost up the self.  This judgmentalism generally comes from insecurity and intimidation by others.  And jealousy.   Comparing between ourselves and another person is not healthy for a growth mindset; inevitably, some people are more proficient in some areas than others are.

  • Monitor your thoughts. If you find yourself being judgmental, just stop yourself.  “These types of thoughts are not productive.  I will just stop here.”   Remind yourself to observe your thoughts.
  • Don’t judge yourself. (If you’re judging others, you’re probably judging yourself pretty harshly as well.) You can stop these thoughts too and move along to more positive thinking of yourself. “I’m not going down that path. Move along.”
  • Don’t join in the negative judging that others around you might be doing.

5  Reflect often.

  • Review your day, week, month. Your interactions, things you accomplished or failed at.
  • Celebrate your achievements. Acknowledge your contributions to the overall success of your team. “Hey, my research played a big part in the new design. Yay me.”
  • Congratulate yourself on your progress toward a goal. “I know now more about this than I did before. I am excited to learn the next part.”
  • Identify your fixed-mindset triggers. Make a list of the situations that throw you into a fixed-mindset, and what self talk you use during those times when you are stuck in that fixed-mindset. “I am noticing that whenever someone in authority says to me ‘I want to speak to you’, I get all flustered and start thinking of all the things I might have done wrong.”
  • Recognize the areas where you fell short or that need some improvement. Seek ways – small goals – to achieve them. “I don’t fully understand the whole system – yet. I will ask someone on the team to help me.”  Or consciously put them away for the time being.  “I know I ought to put effort into understanding this better. I am choosing to put this aside for now and put effort into another aspect of the project.”

6  Notice how your environment impacts your growth mindset. The words, actions and attitudes of people around you, the media you take in, and your friends and family all seep into subconscious and can either feed or hinder your growth.

  • What is the general mindset of most people around you (your community, friends, media); are most people growth oriented or of fixed mindset?  Be honest with yourself.
  • How do the important people in your life relate to you – do they believe that with hard work and dedication you can achieve, or that you are limited in talents and growth. Protect your growth mindset from naysayers; don’t let their attitudes undermine your potential.

7  Learn from others.  

  • Seek out people to emulate. What are their guiding principles? What makes them tic? What drives them? What are their values? How do they make time for everything that is important to them? As possible, ask for the opportunity to speak with them about their journey.
  • You can circumvent some of life’s challenges by learning from the mistakes and life lessons of others. Observe their paths, their trials, their failures, the hiccups along the way to their successes. Gain strength from their challenges. Learn what to do in similar situations, or what not to do.

8   Just do it!  Even if it doesn’t make sense to you (yet).

  • The physical act of doing it makes an imprint on the brain and can actually make changes in the brain (you can read more about this – google neuroplasticity) . Just knowing that the brain continues to grow throughout your life – by your own actions – should be encouraging enough for you to work on making those changes.   But you have to do it!
  • Make those small changes that your spouse is asking. Even if you don’t (yet) understand why it is important to them. He wants you to show appreciation more often; so say it more often. She wants you to thank her at the meal for preparing the Shabbos meal; just do it even if it feels awkward at first.  (And close the toilet seat cover – even if it makes no sense to you.)

Your mindset affects everything. Keep on growing!

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Does the Mizbeach Cry when an Abusive Marriage Ends?

JACOBSON-SMALLER

Summary of a recent conference call by Rabbi YY Jacobson about “Does the Mizbeach Cry when an Abusive Marriage Ends?” Listen to the full recording

The Crown Heights Jewish Community Council is working to bring awareness and education about Shalom Bayis and Domestic Violence in the community. This call is one of the series.

 


 

Of course, Yiddishkeit emphasizes the importance of intact families, and encourages working on the marriage. Yet, there are some people in terribly abusive marriages for which divorce is the only option, but it is always the last resort after all else has been tried.

None of these people make this decision lightly. Mrs. Devora Krasnianski, organizer and moderator of the call, explained the inspiration behind this call. “I’ve spoken to several women who lamented that they stayed for years in their intolerable marriage because people told them that the Torah frowns on divorce and the Mizbeach cries. It is time that people truly understand that piece of Gemara and the Torah’s view on divorce, in certain circumstances.  Based on the numbers of participants on the call – over 300 – we see that this topic is on the mind of many.”

On this conference call, Rabbi Jacobson shed much light on the issue of divorce in Judaism. After the call, many listeners reached out with gratitude for Rabbi Jacobson’s strong words of validation of their plight, clarity into the Torah’s views, and practical advice.  This call has been converted to a youtube video with subtitles. It is a ‘must see/hear’ for everyone – because everyone must know how they can be helpful to those in abusive marriage, and what they must not say to victims.

We try to do anything to sustain a marriage.  Divorce is not an option that we embrace initially or easily. Judaism is opposed to creating a culture of divorce. Divorce is sad. It is like an amputation. You do not it unless there is no other option. Sometimes it is necessary to save the life.  The same Torah that tells us the value of a marriage also legislates divorce. Is divorce immoral? Absolutely not! Sometimes it is the most moral thing you can do for yourself and your children.

Is divorce immoral? Absolutely not! Sometimes it is the most moral thing you can do for yourself and your children.

Rabbi Jacobson stressed: It is very unfair and unjust to make a man or woman in an abusive marriage feel guilty that their thoughts about leaving the marriage are against Torah.  When living with fear and walking on eggshells all the time, we are a dealing with a serious situation. You can’t tell someone to just endure it. If you don’t know what people are going through, don’t give advice. Just be quiet! Be empathetic. Be understanding.

With real empathy to the plight of these abused women and with disgust for the vindictiveness of the abuser, Rabbi Jacobson cried about the disgrace that so many people in our communities cover up for abusers.  When a woman is suffering, it should be the pain of the entire Jewish people. Shame on all people who cover up for perpetrators and abusers.  They allow victims to suffer for years. If he is cruel to his wife, people should go over to him in shul and call him out on it. He shouldn’t be getting aliyahs and other honors.

Shame on all people who cover up for perpetrators and abusers.  They allow victims to suffer for years. If he is cruel to his wife, people should go over to him in shul and call him out on it. He shouldn’t be getting aliyahs and other honors.

“It is one thing to disagree with your spouse. It is one think to get into a fight with your husband or wife. But inhumane cruelty? This must never be tolerated,” Jacobson said.

What is abuse?

Throughout the talk, Rabbi Jacobson described what abuse really is. Being in an abusive relationship means constant fear, misery and agony in the relationship.  There’s no happiness in the house. Everybody deserves to live a happy life. No one should be living in a marriage where the atmosphere is always tense, blaming, no trust, and agony, filled with malicious and vindictive behavior. If the parties involved are ready to take accountability for their vice and seek help and act on it, that is awesome. Such marriages can become meaningful and wholesome. But when there is denial and blame, no honesty and accountability, and no willingness to work on yourself, it becomes a nightmare.

When there is addiction, there is no authenticity and there cannot be a real relationship. If there is addiction, the spouse must not become an enabler. The addict must go into recovery. Empathy is very different from enabling.  Don’t enable in the name of empathy.

Mental illness is not the fault of the person suffering. But they must be willing to take accountability and deal with it. The spouse must learn about the illness and know the boundaries of where you can support and where you must create boundaries. Should one stay in a marriage with mental illness? That is something each person must decide. There are those who remain in such a  marriage; they are unique and special people, and at times, there is a special beauty and love in such a marriage. These people are from the most noble and dedicated people you will find on the planet. Yet they love each other, and they learn how to deal with the challenge that Hashem has given this person.

Can an abusive marriage be saved? If the one with the problem – mental illness, abusive tendencies, addiction – acknowledges the struggle and sincerely works to correct the situation, then perhaps the marriage can be salvaged.  However, if they don’t get the help, it can be a very tough situation.

So, does the Mizbeach cry?

With that background, Rabbi Jacobson explored the famous Gemara in Gittin, 90b: (Talking about the husband) “With regard to anyone who divorces his first wife, even the altar sheds tears for him,” quoting the prophet Malachi 2:13-14:  “And this further you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with sighing, insomuch that He does not regard the offering anymore, nor does He receive it with goodwill from your hand. Yet you say: What for? Because the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion, and the wife of your covenant.” In short: You have betrayed your wife – she is your friend and the wife of your covenant, but you have betrayed her. And that is why the altar cries.

Metzudas Dovid explains this possuk: The women were crying because of their shame, abuse and lack of dignity. And when the women cry, the altar cries.

Rashi explains: The women say to the altar ‘What iniquity has our husband found in us to treat us in such a derogatory fashion?’ and hence the altar cries.

The whole point of this Gemara and verse in Malachi is: There are some women hurt so badly and they cry, and therefore  the altar cries.

The whole point of this Gemara and verse in Malachi is: There are some women hurt so badly and they cry, and therefore  the altar cries.

To the comment that every situation is from Hashem and Hashem only gives what we can handle, Rabbi Jacobson said: We do not always know exactly what Hashem wants in a particular situation. He wants us always to work hard on our marriage and try to make it work. But sometimes G-d’s will is to get out of the situation. How does anyone know that G-d wants me to stay in the marriage? If G-d wanted people to stay in abusive marriage, why does He include the concept of Gittin in the Torah?

Some points to those in abusive relationships

And then, Rabbi Jacobson spoke directly to those in abusive relationships, some points to the abused and some to the abuser:

  • Often, you will get foolish advice from people who are clueless. Learn not to take all advice seriously. It is important to speak to people. But people who are empathetic and knowledgeable.
  • You need to speak to top experts in the areas you are dealing with.
  • Divorce is difficult. But it is an option to consider in certain situations. Divorce should not be decided impulsively.  You need to have get very sound advice and follow also your gut.
    Consider the pros and cons. Objectively, from a place of strength, not weakness.  Talk with experts. Know what is available to you – legally, mentally, emotionally, financially.  Be informed. Read books on your struggles.   Become educated.  So you can make decisions from a place of empowerment. Evaluate your future from a place of power. Find out what legal powers you have.
  • Don’t get into ego struggles. It is more important for you to be happy than to be right.
  • Don’t always think about social pressure. Listen to your own voice, and don’t get affected by what others will say. When we give in to social conformity, we abuse ourselves  even more.  Don’t betray your own emotions.
  • Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Do things that nurture your body, mind and soul.  You need to give yourself to deal with your challenges.  Don’t become a shmatte (rag).
  • If getting divorced, do it amicably. The children suffer terribly from the animosity in ugly divorce. It is such a tragedy when friends and families instead of encouraging amicability, justify heinous behavior.
  • Stop torturing your spouse after you are getting divorce.   Let it go! Move on!  Let everybody move on.

Answers to questions that came in

Finally, Rabbi Jacobson addressed some of the questions that came in.

Q: “I feel guilty that I should have left much earlier. ”  Similar question:  “I regret that I didn’t leave and now I am too old to start with divorce.” Our decisions in life are directed by the Divine.  Look for the opportunity that came about from those decisions.  Maybe, you can take your difficult experiences and turn it into a blessing for others. You may be old, but you are also young. Think of your future as a young person.

Q: “What can we as friends and family do for a loved one who doesn’t feel she has the strength to go through this?” Be there for them. Protect them. Sometimes it isn’t really an abusive situation and we can help them see their role in the marriage and help them get help for their issues. Sometimes the situation is impossible, and then we have to be there for them.  Family members should not be objective saints who always see things from two sides.  Sometimes it is about cruel behavior, not two sides.

Q: “Our brother is the abuser. What can we do to help our sister-in-law and the kids?” 1. You have to be firm and cordial with the brother and encourage him to get the help he needs. 2. Be there for his wife – financially, emotionally. Don’t judge her. Offer to give her some time for herself.

Q: “How can we make the schools more sensitive to these situations?”  It is important to meet with the school leaders and the teachers of the child. Help them understand the nuances of this child’s situation.

Q: “Does separation help a marriage?” Separation can work if there is a constructive plan and clear objectives. Sometimes separation is a very good wakeup call. Sometimes it is necessary  to give space for them to breathe.

Q: “What about when a husband is a serial cheater, is that considered abuse?” Cheating on a wife is betrayal which is abuse. If he is willing to be accountable, to look into his skeletons, and make changes, then they can have a beautiful marriage.

Q: “Should information about a former spouse be shared to prevent a future spouse from being hurt?” To share information in order to take revenge or to gossip is a big mistake. It is important to define the challenges that the former spouse endured.  Share objective information.

To view the recording of this call, or any of the previous events, please visit www.adaiad.org/past-events. You can find resources related to Domestic Violence at www.adaiad.org/resources

 

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Ignorance is NOT bliss!

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Guest post by Rabbi Yisroel Meir Munitz

Ignorance is NOT bliss!
A few years ago I did not understand Domestic Abuse. I naively believed there were two sides to every story. I believed a broken marriage could be fixed – if only there was the proper desire to make it happen.

So what changed? You might think it’s because someone close to me was a victim of domestic abuse. That’s definitely a factor, but not the whole story. Why not?

Because even though it was someone so close to me, I thought there were two sides to their story as well. At first, I thought that both partners were at fault to some degree. While I didn’t condone the abusive actions, G-d forbid, I did mistakenly believe that they could be mitigated by a change in the victim’s behaviors.

I believed that bad things were happening, but honestly, I was worried that some exaggeration was taking place. I really thought that through communication and understanding the marriage could be saved and the damage repaired.

So, again, what changed? I became educated! I started to learn about domestic abuse.

I learned that there is no stereotypical profile of a domestic abuse victim. No one personality that lends itself to be abused more than another. It can be your sibling, your neighbor, co-worker, boss … you.

I learned that anyone can be an abuser. It can be both men and women.

I learned that the children of an abused spouse suffer terribly, in silence. Even if they aren’t direct victims themselves. It impacts their social life. As well as how they do in school. And their future relationships. And … And …

I learned that the abuse will not be apparent to outsiders.

I learned that physical abuse isn’t just a slap in the face or a punch in the nose.

I learned that emotional and verbal abuse can be worse than physical abuse.

I learned that the threat of violence can be worse than the violence itself.

I learned that there isn’t any behavior a spouse can do that deserves to result in abuse.

I learned that there is no behavior a spouse can do to placate an abusive partner, and suspend the abusive behavior for more than a temporary hiatus.

I learned that victims of domestic abuse don’t exaggerate the abuse, they down play it.

I learned that you can’t “just leave”.

I learned that when you finally do leave the abuse doesn’t stop.

I learned that the path to recovery is long and hard and requires a brave and courageous person to embark on such a journey let alone complete it.

I am still learning.

Most of all I have learned how much I don’t know and how dangerous such ignorance and naivete can be. This lack of real knowledge prevents too many people from recognizing just who can be an abuser and who can be a victim. And so they just don’t provide the right support and understanding that victims need.
And that perhaps is the biggest pity of it all. They could have been helpful if only they knew how.

 


For resources about Domestic Violence, visit www.adaiad.org/resources  and watch or listen to past events of education and awareness of Domestic Violence.

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Marriage is all about love, respect and acceptance. And something else?

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When Leah and Chaim were engaged to be married, they just knew their marriage was going to be wonderful.   They shared the same values and interests. They respected each other, saw eye to eye on everything, and anticipated each other’s thoughts and wants. They came from similar backgrounds, had wonderful communication and were totally comfortable with each other.  And they accepted each other’s little quirks and human flaws.   “We’re just perfect for each other, so compatible in all ways. She always knows what I want and I always know what she wants.”

They recognized in each other so many key ingredients for a successful marriage. They were all set for a ‘happily ever after’.

Some people are certain that in the right relationship they would just be able to understand and honor each other’s needs; if they were compatible everything should just come naturally.  They believe that they should be able to read each other’s minds:  “I should know what he thinks, feels and needs and she should know what I think, feel and need”.  And that they will ALWAYS see everything in the same way and would agree on everything.

These beliefs are most destructive for a relationship. Successful marriages take effort, a lot of effort. Marriage and building a family is a labor of love. There is not a marriage in all of history that doesn’t take much effort from both partners. A no-effort relationship is not realistic; it just doesn’t work that way. It is not an ideal to dream about and strive for.

A strong, healthy marriage includes love, respect, friendship, acceptance, and …  The last crucial ingredient is a willingness to put in the effort.

A strong, healthy marriage includes love, respect, friendship, acceptance, and …  The last crucial ingredient is a willingness to put in the effort.

Of course, each person is their own unique individual, but people generally operate from one of two mindsets: a fixed-mindset or a growth-mindset.   In (very) short:  with a growth-mindset, the person understands that with dedication and hard work, anyone can grow, change and develop new or improve skills and thinking patterns.   On the other hand, someone with a fixed-mindset believes their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits, that someone either ‘has it or they don’t’ and that just can’t be changed.  They are convinced that talent alone creates success, it shouldn’t take effort.

Your mindset, whether a fixed-mindset or growth-mindset,  impacts all aspects of life – including school, work, relationships and marriage.

Your mindset, whether a fixed-mindset or growth-mindset,  impacts all aspects of life – including school, work, relationships and marriage. Everyone has a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets. You could have a predominant growth mindset in one area but there can still be things that trigger you into a fixed mindset trait.

In a marriage relationship, there are three key components to consider:  the husband, the wife and the marriage itself.

In a marriage relationship, there are three key components to consider:  the husband, the wife and the marriage itself.  (This is different from the concept that there are 3 partners in a marriage: Hashem, husband and wife.)

Those with a growth-mindset understand that both partners will grow and change, as will their relationship. There is no ‘perfection’; there is love, respect, acceptance and willingness to put in the effort for that growth.

On the other hand, those with a fixed-mindset feel that personal change and growth should not be necessary in a loving and accepting relationship. Requests for change from a partner are viewed as unreasonable and demanding.

The image of perfection is paramount for someone with a fixed mindset. When something in the relationship or life is not ‘perfect’ (in their definition), people with a fixed mindset feel judged and permanently branded as ‘a lousy spouse’, ‘bad with time management’, ‘forgetful’, ‘ incapable of balancing what everyone else is able to do easily’.  They feel uncomfortable with this long-lasting label and that their perfectness is somewhat exposed as being a farce.  And thus they lash out in all sorts of ways:  yelling, silent treatment,  put-downs, arguments, and even physically abusing.

When they were faced with late charges for a credit card bill, Leah was furious at Chaim.  “This month was so hectic and I didn’t get a chance to do it. He should have noticed how busy I was and done the bills.”   That was her fixed mindset blaming someone else to maintain her perfectness.

When something goes wrong in the marriage, it’s tempting to defend yourself against what your actions (or non-actions) might have contributed to the situation and foist the entire blame onto the other person. Essentially trying to make you the more righteous and powerful in that relationship.  It is so much easier than actually facing up to what happened and working to make change in that area or in your thinking about the particular nuances of that situation.   That’s the fixed mindset.

Those with a growth mindset learn from the situation, take responsibility or forgive as necessary, continue forward and embrace the possibilities of the future.

Those with a growth mindset learn from the situation, take responsibility or forgive as necessary, continue forward and embrace the possibilities of the future.  That is not to say that they are not responsible or hurt or confused, they just understand that this incident does not permanently brand them.  “That was an expensive life lesson. Let’s work out a system where that doesn’t happen again, no matter how busy we are.  What are some possibilities of bill paying systems that we can consider?”

An important aspect of marriage is to encourage your partner’s development of their goals and potential and have them encourage and support yours. All done with love, respect and acceptance.  Partners need to accept each other lovingly in many ways. However, acceptance is only half the formula of what makes a loving, solid, life-long, vibrant, successful relationship.  The other half –  in equal measure – is incorporating a growth-oriented mindset and acting on the belief that throughout the marriage both must put in the effort to change and grow.

SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGE = ACCEPTANCE + EFFORT

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