As Jews, our spiritual genes are replete with kindness. After all, our progenitor Abraham is known for his hospitality to guests (see, e.g., Bereshis 18:1-8) and his attempt to defend Sodom from destruction by God (18:23-33). Rebecca, the wife of Abraham’s son Isaac, was chosen to be Isaac’s wife precisely because of her kindness (Bereshis 24:12-23). Since the giving of the Torah, Jews have been commanded to engage in a multitude of acts of kindness such as giving to the poor, visiting the sick and comforting the bereaved.
The necessity for kindness could even trump the Temple service of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) on Yom Kippur-a service which impacted the future of the entire Jewish people. Every possible precaution was taken to ensure that the Kohen Gadol not come into contact with anything that could make him impure and unfit for the service such as contact with a corpse, even of his close family. Yet, if a Jew, no matter how humble, was without anyone to bury him, the Kohen Gadol was obligated to bury that Jew even though that would temporarily render the Kohen Gadol unfit for the Yom Kippur service. Kindness came first for the Kohen Gadol.
We are commanded to be like Hashem Himself. Says the Talmud: “Why does it [the Torah] say: ‘One should walk after God’? Is it possible to walk after the Shechinah [God’s Presence?] Is He not like a consuming fire? Rather, it means that one should imitate His ways. As God clothed Adam and Eve, so should we clothe the naked; as He visited the ailing, so should we visit the sick; as He comforted Isaac after Abraham’s death, so should we comfort mourners; as He buried Moses, so should we care for the dignity of the dead” (Sotah 14a). Thus, as God is kind, we are to be kind.
We could cite example after example in the Torah, Prophets and Writings which explicitly or implicitly emphasizes kindness. We know that how we treat our fellow Jews is part of our measure as people.
Not surprisingly, there is evidence galore that kindness is the glue for a marriage. Since Jews come from kindness and are required in circumstance after circumstance to be kind, one would think kindness comes easy to us in marriage. Yet, we are sad to report that time after time, we see exactly the opposite behavior. We have spoken to spouses who physically threw their spouses out of bed, to wives and husbands who gave each other the silent treatment, to wives who left their husbands waiting for hours, to husbands who almost never came home at the time they said they would, to wives who did not show any appreciation for gifts, to husbands whose wives desperately wanted modest gifts and yet, the husbands failed to buy them, to spouses who woke each other up to demand explanations for their behavior and to spouses who cursed their spouses and told them that they couldn’t stand them. We wish that ended the list of “horribles” that we have heard about and confirmed but it doesn’t. We also wish we could tell you that the spouses in question apologized without prompting from us but sadly, that often did not happen since time after time spouses “justified” their behavior no matter how troubling. We are reminded by our rabbis that the Second Temple was destroyed by causeless hatred (Talmud, Yoma 9b). Over and over again, we are told the solution is lovingkindness. So, be kind to your spouse.
Even the vague dictate of “be kind” should be enough to limit the negative behaviors. Cursing spouses, yelling at them, not talking to them, not keeping our word, must end. Think of these as generalized negative commandments. Yet, we understand, just as Judaism understands, that it is not enough to just say “be good”. Judaism prescribes specific behaviors to make a person good. Similarly, “be kind” must come with specific behavioral advice as well. Here then, are some tried and true ways to be kind (but don’t forget to eliminate those negatives!). Speak nicely. Imagine your spouse is someone you really care about (even if, at the moment, you are silly enough not to feel it). Don’t just keep your tone civil, keep it sweet. We know a couple that often calls each other “sweetie” and “dear.” Someone asked the wife: “What do you call him when he does something that upsets you?” She quickly responded “Dear” but said it through gritted teeth. Yes, sometimes you may have to grit your teeth, but affectionate terms can do wonders. Similarly, try saying “I love you” a lot. Someone once overheard Mat and Brachie talking and overheard them telling each other on a business-like call “I love you” and asked Mat “Do you say that on every call?” “I hope so,” he replied.
Along those same lines, find something nice to say. We will discuss elsewhere what the ratio of good to bad statements should be in a marriage but, for now, err on the side of compliments and talking about pleasant things. Criticisms, complaints, crabbiness are all toxic even if they are not aimed at your spouse. It is interesting to us that if spouses speak poorly of other people, not only is this often against Jewish law but it also brings a negative tone to the house. It is not just unkind to the person you are talking about, it is unkind to the spouse who must listen (or not) to such unpleasantness. Of course, be appreciative. Spouses do so many things for each other. They cook, clean, go shopping, earn money, invest. Each should get appreciated.
As we read this, we thought that the ideas we were expressing here were so simple, so light. Yet, so many marriages are troubled or fail because people simply are not kind and do not follow these simple rules.
Then, there is something you may find surprising. It is critically important that you share in your spouse’s joys and victories. If he or she does well with a tough kid issue or gets a raise at work or is happy over anything, enjoy the moment. Share it! Research supports that being there for your partner when things go right may be more important for the health of your relationship than being there when things go wrong.
Now, we know what some of you are thinking- “why should I do this if my spouse won’t?” As a threshold matter, research shows you can influence your spouse to be kinder if you are kinder. People act kinder if those around them model kind behavior. Regardless, why not be the better person? Be kind. After all, Hashem is watching. Be the one who leads to the rebuilding of the Temple due to your loving behavior. As we often tell various members of a couple, “You be the hero. Just think, when your efforts save or even just improve your marriage, you can take the credit for being heroic. Your kids will see it. They will never forget it. And neither will Hashem.”
 Zohn, Rabbi Elchonon, Mes Mitzvah in Our Times, ouservices.org/resources/GmSPW2je11/mes-mitzvah-in-our-times
 Smith, Emily, Masters of Love, The Atlantic, June 2014 available at www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/
 Gable, Shelly, Gonzaga, Gian and Strachman, Amy, Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Supportive Responses to Positive Events Disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2006, Vol. 91, No. 5, 904–917.
 Fowler, James and Christakes, Nicholas, Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar 2010, 200913149; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0913149107