Dear Rabbi Wolf,

Why is it that the people I am closest to are the ones that I seem to be hurt by most? Whenever my wife puts me down I get really mad. Yet I love her dearly and I know she loves me completely. So why do we react so strongly to the slightest criticism from each other? I feel just awful, and I am so upset afterwards, as is she. Why are we hurt most by the ones we love?

David L. (London)

Dear David,

You have described a very common problem. And though it seems to you that love should act as a 'buffer zone' for pain, it is often a strong 'aggravator'.

Hassidic Kabbalah teaches that for love to be true it must be unconditional and devoid of selfish tendencies. If we shower affection upon someone, in order to get it back (the 'feel-good' rationale), then it's not love - it's a 'user-friendly strategy to get what we want a 'fix'. It's a 'take'.

To love someone is to love them warts and all. It's a commitment that no matter what, you will always be conscious of your loving posture and express it despite aggravation and even provocation. Your child or parent may be, G-d forbid, a drug addict or a criminal. But this does not stop you loving him or her. Likewise - your wife.

A wife is a soul that is Divinely matched to perfection to be your soul-mate. But like any jig-saw puzzle, we have to make the pieces fit. That's our test in life. We know the puzzle has a beautiful design once the pieces all fit together, but the process of life is our quest to complete this puzzle of relationship and then get on with the business of living life lovingly.

But the irony is, the closer the colours of the puzzle pieces, the trickier it gets. If they were completely different colours there would be no confusion. Only when they are alike does it pose a problem. Similarly, if it were a stranger that said something out of place to us, we might be taken aback, but the hurt would be minimal. Yet, when it's someone we love, then the slightest verbal misadventure causes pain. And that is perfectly natural. The closer the bond the lower the sensitivity threshold. The slightest departure from the loving stance registers immediately in megawatts!

The answer lies in training oneself to love unconditionally - what we call Ahavat Chinam ('loving you free of charge'). Be aware of what is happening. Be fully aware of the love at the time of the apparent slight. Invariably it is more a case of misinterpretation, an aberration, or your wife expressing pain. Be compassionate and loving, be other-centred, and allow the love-bond to hold up.

And here is the payoff: once you succeed, it results in the deepening of the love and washes away the rough edges of a loving relationship. Try it -you'll like it!