My friend who is a marriage counsellor shared with me a story which gives us insight into this subject.

A couple came to her in tears. They had been arguing for weeks. Each took their turns to explain their issues.

Several sessions passed discussing the harsh words and mental pain that they both suffered.

The counsellor was trying to find an underlying cause for this breakdown.

Finally, the husband, besides himself with anger and frustration blurted out  “She has absolutely no respect for me. My ego cannot bear it anymore.”

The counsellor asked,  “Can you remember a time or event when you first felt this feeling toward her?”

He answered, “Yes, every day for breakfast, she gives me the end piece from a loaf of bread. Why doesn’t she give me the good bread. When I grew up, my family would feed the dry, crusty end peace to our dog or throw we threw it in the trash. This is an insult!”

The wife was visibly shocked by his words. She burst into tears and exclaimed, “Where I am from in Italy, the end parts of the bread loaf is considered to be the best part. When I grew up, my family would fight for the end piece. To respect my husband, every morning for breakfast I sacrificed my own enjoyment to give the end piece to him. I’m sorry, I didn’t understand.”

He was from the USA and she was from Italy.

Suddenly, he cried. “I’m sorry I didn’t understand you.”

They had failed to understand what was valued by the other. They made up, and grew from the whole experience. As far as I know, they are, kind of, living happily ever after.

Soon after I heard this story, I was dining with a family in their home near Rome, Italy. Everyone wanted the end piece of bread, but out of respect they gave it to me, their guest.  Remembering the story of the married couple, I accepted it. It was a small sacrifice to please them. For I too grew up in America.

On the surface this problem was due to miscommunication. Studies on relationships have found that many relationships do end because of misunderstandings or miscommunication. Still, these issues are often symptoms of a much deeper issue. We tend to place ourselves in the centre of the relationship instead of placing the other person in the centre. If both people focus on placing the other person before themselves there would be a much higher level of communication.

My dear friend and brother, Bhakti Tirtha Swami has said,

“Many people today enter into relationships to complete themselves, to complete their loneliness or emptiness they think I am half a person the other person is half a person and when we come together we will complete each other, however it should be that I am a whole person and the other person is a whole person and when we come together it is not what we can get out of the relationship but what I can contribute in the relationship.

A spiritual principle for relationships, particularly marriage, is to appreciate ones partner as God’s beloved child entrusted in my care.To love means to serve, to love means to actually go the extra mile to make the other person feel valued and loved. Both people in a relationship need to understand this sacred ideal. It is not about one person controlling the other but rather understanding and helping each other become better versions of themselves.