I had a teacher in seminary who was one the simplest, most unassuming, wonderful people I know. She was a tiny woman with a personality the size of the Empire State Building, always bursting with energy and jumping gleefully about the classroom. During one of her classes, she said, “What’s the first thing we do when someone cuts us off on the road or when we notice that someone’s skirt is too short? We look to see who the person is. Now let’s ask ourselves, why should we do this? If we don’t know the person, his/her identity is irrelevant. If we do know the person, we will only come to think negatively of him/her. So don’t look. When we notice a person doing something wrong we should look away. Why do we have to know?”
In his great book, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore, Manis Friedman applies this concept to the spousal relationship. He writes:
“Many years ago, there lived a holy man who was known to have the ability to read other people’s thoughts. One day a student asked him, ‘Rabbi, how can you say your prayers in public around all these people with their unholy thoughts? Aren’t you distracted from your prayers by knowing what’s on their minds? The Rabbi replied, ‘When I was a child, my parents taught me not to look where I wasn’t supposed to.’
. . . When we are invited to become part of someone’s life, we have to be careful not to violate the other person’s privacy. The respect that we have for another person’s privacy . . . enables us to nurture an intimate relationship. As soon as we trespass where we haven’t been invited, we destroy the boundaries and dissipate the intimacy. In this environment, a relationship cannot flourish . . .
Where do we need . . . more privacy than in our weaknesses? . . . To look at your spouses weaknesses is the same as passing judgment. It’s an invasion of privacy. You cannot build an intimate relationship if you don’t respect your spouse’s borders as well as you do your own. To preserve friendship and intimacy, you respect the other person’s privacy. You don’t look at his or her faults. If you accidentally trip over them, you look away. . .
The fact that your spouse isn’t perfect shouldn’t be your problem. If your husband or wife were perfect then you wouldn’t need any talent or wisdom. The idea is that this person isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t bother you. It’s not your problem because you accept your spouse unconditionally . . .
We look at our grandparents and great-grandparents and we wonder, why did they stay together? . . . How did our grandmothers not see our grandfathers’ glaring faults, inabilities, and handicaps? How could our grandfathers not see out grandmothers’ failures and weaknesses? Most of the time they didn’t. If they noticed them at all they looked away, because it would have been an invasion of privacy . . .
If there’s something your husband or wife doesn’t want you to notice, you don’t look. You don’t think, ‘I see my spouse, but I’ll bite my tongue and not say anything.’ That’s not going to last long, and you’ll end up with a bloody tongue.
The reason you don’t notice isn’t because you’re so kind, so wise, and so magnanimous that you overlook your spouse’s faults. It’s not overlooking. It’s having respect for your mate’s privacy. That’s how so many great grandparents could find contentment with each other. They looked where they were supposed to, at what they were invited to see, and not where they weren’t invited.”