T

he grass is greener where you water it — or so says a popular quote. Of course, there’s truth to this sentiment. Whatever we “water” — nurture, attend to — yields fruit. Conversely, when we constantly catch our child or spouse doing something wrong, we’ll see more wrong behavior.

 

Chedva: “My husband Shmuel has trouble connecting to what I’m saying. He’s always busy looking around when I’m talking, cutting me off, switching topics, making random associations. I feel so frustrated, I could scream!”

“The truth of the matter is that her husband is doing all that. Shmuel has ADHD, and, as is typical, has trouble paying attention to his wife’s stories. His attention for her discourses lasts about 30 seconds, and even then, he fails to offer eye contact or appropriate responses, such as acknowledgments, validation, or emotional support. This makes Chedva feel frustrated, invisible, alone, and unhappy. She wonders whether this is her fate for the rest of her life.

 

Zoom in on the Good

“One day I came across the quote, “The grass is greener where you water it” and it made me think: I know that I feel miserable a lot of the time because of my husband’s inability to connect to me. But could it be different? If I stopped paying so much attention to this deficit, could I end up being happier?”

Actually, in order to be happier, Chedva has to do more than stop paying attention to what’s wrong with Shmuel; she has to start paying attention to what’s right in him. Thinking less about sad things makes us less sad. Thinking about happy things makes us happy. Chedva should focus on the many ways her husband meets her needs.

For example, Shmuel takes care of her financially, lifts stuff for her, drives for her, does repairs, co-parents with her, entertains her, keeps her company, and much more. His poor communication skills are definitely a sore point, but they don’t undo all the good he brings to her life. By focusing on these benefits, Chedva can feel gratitude and joy many times a day. If she concurrently avoids thinking about Shmuel’s deficits, she may not feel marital misery at all.

 

Can We Choose Our Thoughts?

Yes. When we start thinking about something that makes us depressed, we have the choice to continue thinking about that (and feel more depressed) or move our attention to something more positive.

But if we deny our negative feelings, aren’t we in danger of the negativity lodging in our body, causing all sorts of illnesses? Yes. Therefore, we shouldn’t immediately move our attention away from unpleasant topics, even if they awaken feelings of sadness, fear, or upset.

Instead, we should pay attention to the subject with the goal of supporting ourselves through its resolution. Once that’s done, we can refuse to give it more of our time and attention.

Chedva, for example, has been married for 17 years. Shmuel’s dismissive behavior is not new. In the first few years of marriage, she spoke to him about it, asked for what she needs, took him to couples’ counselors and individual counselors — and saw only modest improvement. Instead of “watering” that garden of improvement, however, she continued focusing on his deficits.

 

Water the Flowers

It’s hard to know for sure, but it’s possible that if Chedva had at that point simply lavished attention on Shmuel for his new efforts, he might have improved to an acceptable, if not ideal, communication pattern. However, it’s also possible that even with the greatest techniques, interventions, and therapies, significant positive growth in this area might have eluded this man and the marriage.

Suppose Shmuel is indeed incapable of developing the art of proper listening and verbal connection. Chedva won’t achieve anything by focusing on his deficit. There is nothing to be gained by setting her attention there (except, of course, through prayer).

The wise thing for Chedva to do then, is to focus her daily attention on the thriving part of the marital garden and water the flowers that grow there. Support, companionship, family, caring — these aspects of the spouse and the marriage can be appreciated and nurtured. The needs that he doesn’t fulfill can be met to a certain extent through other relationships and activities.

But isn’t that terribly sad?

Only if one nurtures the thought. 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 616)