Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shalom Bayis Q&A, part 1

Yehudis often gets calls and letters with questions about shalom bayis and chinuch. We have decided to begin to post (with permission, of course) some of these "conversations" in case they might be of benefit to others out there in the blogosphere. The questioner's words are prefaced by the right-arrows; Yehudis' answers appear between two rows of dotted lines.

> Dear Yehudis,

> I have Shalom Bayit questions and am exhausted now so, maybe I'll quickly ask: When am I to share my feelings that my husband is not giving me enough attention or doing enough around the house? He's off yeshiva for the week and he's spending the morning at home learning Torah, which I honor and at the same time, I had this idea we should be spending special time together. I guess I need to tell him that but am not sure how to do so without being accusatory, i.e. "Why don't you give me more attention?!" And of course I'm busy doing laundry, cleaning up, getting groceries , whatever, but it's hard for me to be in the same space together during bein hazemanim, (usually he's at yeshiva most of the day), and not somehow connecting more. I'm confused about giving him space to do what he needs to be fulfilled (i.e. learning Torah), and somehow wanting to feel fulfilled through him.

> Love and Blessings,



Dear .....,
Well, that's a bundle of questions all wrapped up together.
You really telescoped a few very different matters into a single question, with I think not enough clarity about the difference between all of them.
1) You are resentful that he is there and not helping you more with the household.
2) You are not sure how to feel about him sitting and learning while you are running around taking care of business. You have this idea that you should automatically feel inspired, but you're not and that makes you feel like something's wrong; either between the two of you, or with your emunah.
3) You are feeling ignored, which is painful.
4) You are a little jealous that he gets to learn and that you are doing the wash!
5) You are unclear about the period of bein hazemanim. Is it time for a vacation? Going out for long walks? Schmoozing?
6) How are you supposed to express your emotional needs and perhaps your need or desire for assistance without being a nag?

I hope that I have it pretty much down, and here's my take on it:
I have a feeling that the two of you never discussed just what your ideas are about bein hazemanim. When I got married, the first bein hazemanim after the wedding was Nissan. I remember that on the first day, my husband looked at me across the table and said, "Bein hazemanim is a makah she'einah kesuvah baTorah, a plague that was never written about in the Torah." I didn't take that as a statement that he didn't want to spend time with me; I understood it the way he meant it--that it throws you off your stride, and it's an adjustment that is hard. And I could tell that it didn't have to do only with having the responsibility of helping me out to prepare for Pesach, but that it had always been difficult, even when he was just a bochur with barely any responsibilities of his own aside from learning.
I'm not big on doing too much talking and analysis, because I think that the men tend to get bulldozed by those conversations. In practical terms, though, you have a number of options.

1) Realize that your husband is probably trying very hard not to lose the flow of learning, the discipline of it, so that he will be able to return to yeshiva without having to struggle to get back his groove. What he has is yours too, so I would say that you should try for some compassion. Learn to ignore his presence and try and focus on the Torah vibe in the house. Most women have an easier time when their husbands are out learning than when they're home, because they mistakenly assume that if the man is home he ought to be at their service. It's simply not true. But I will admit that, as a wife, it is a very big challenge not to fall into that kind of thinking.
2) That said, if you really need help or you really need time together, it is important to get it across. Before you say anything, just look at your husband and think, "I married him for this, and this, and this good quality. He has all of those qualities and many more. He is a good guy who is not out to make my life difficult. If he knew that I felt badly, he would surely make an effort to help me or focus his attention on me." Then, when your heart is filled with love and positive thoughts, you can say, "I'm sorry to disturb your learning; I know it's very important. I was just wondering if, when you have a minute, you might be able to help me with something/you might be able to give me a little time, because I need you."
But, really, the best thing is to pretend he's not there when he doesn't want to be disturbed, and go about your business. Not resentfully, just think that he's in yeshiva and just like you wouldn't call him in the middle of seder to ask him to come home and take out the garbage, you wouldn't stop him at home unless it's an emergency.
3) Now, you might want to discuss the fact that you would like to work out that every bein hazemanim (not chol hamoed), you're thinking that it would be good for your marriage to take a day together. Then, you don't feel like you never got your special time, but it doesn't have to color the entire bein hazemanim. And if, one time, it doesn't work out, it's not a big deal. Because there's another bein hazemanim coming up in a few months anyway.
4) About feeling fulfilled... You aren't going to have the fulfillment if you are bearing a grudge. That has to be worked out--then you'll find that it's easier to feel good about him sitting and learning. Because you don't have this underlying expectation that he's going to be at your disposal. You know that he cannot do both at the same time.
On the flip side, the more your focus on the importance of the Torah, how good it is for your home to have Torah studied there, the easier it will be to let go of the resentment and the expectations. He's doing exactly what he's supposed to be doing. If you really need him, it will have to become understood between the two of you that he will help you. When your husband knows that you will only call on him when necessary, he will respond devotedly. At least, this is my experience.

Take care,

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