Rabbi Hillel cautioned that if we don’t look after ourselves, there may be no one to look after us, but also that if we only look after ourselves, our very identity is wrong. This applies in a marriage relationship as well, both in the decision to commit to someone and in the way two now-inseparable people will relate.
The kindness of love goes beyond simple justice. Marriage is more than simply a bargained exchange or a symbiotic partnership, though it is also that. It is the kind of love that forgives, that does not ride so heavily on expectations, and that focuses more on what to give rather than what to receive.
How can it be then that each person in a couple can keep the advice that we must be partially concerned with looking out for ourselves? This advice definitely is important for marriages as well. If either partner’s base needs from the relationship aren’t met, he or she may suffer. Perhaps they will consider the other partner to be hurting them, and begin to withhold love, patience, or appreciation in response. And even if the partner can truly forgive and look beyond areas of unmet need, there will be a poverty of relationship itself unless needs are both expressed and met.
I can’t answer the dilemma of how the truly unselfish kindness of lovers and their expectations of each other can actually exist together. But a few words seem to shed so much light on the issue.
First, the danger of this whole conversation is extreme, because it can lead to acts of sincere love being measured to see if they are enough. This is the wrong way to receive a gift.
Second, although individual needs should be spoken and hopefully met by each other, there must be a baseline at which the relationship is functional and good, even if many, many other needs have to be set aside for a time or indefinitely. Not speaking from experience, I have a feeling that as long as a couple can fulfill life values together, show any love, support, and friendship, and have both partners moving forward even to any measure so as not to be stagnant, then that is enough in most situations (one exception would be domestic violence; there are types of issues I’m not dealing with just in these thoughts). If there is sincere love to be found, to restate the important first point here, it is not only enough; it is a treasure, and one that deserves thankfulness. This is the underlying foundation that supports hopefully working through some of the other things yet to be resolved, as a team together and as truly kind and caring people, at the same time to each other and to ourselves.