Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shalom Bayis Q&A, part 2

A continuation of the conversation about the issues that came up in the first installment...


> Dear Yehudis,
>
> Shavua Tov! I wanted to ask a few more questions about Shalom Bayit.
>
I have to start by saying that my husband is a very warm, caring, partner with yirat shamayim (he even usually does whatever dishes are left at night); a fun, responsible, and caring father, and a good Jew. I have been particularly emotional lately and am focusing a lot of anger, disappointment, frustration on him.

--
Yes, it sounds like it. You have to take account of the fact that your hormones are working overtime because you are pregnant. This tends to pass.
---

> He just got Rav Arush's book on Shalom Bayit, so that could help.
>
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How about your, yourself, reading B'Gan HaEmunah by Rav Arush?
---

> I hope none of this is Lashon haRa. I am writing it for the purpose of coming to a higher place in Shalom Bayit, and am sharing it with you b/c I trust that you will give him the benefit of the doubt and know that he is a beautiful neshama. Please let me know if any of it is inappropriate or if there is a better way of communicating.

---
I am anyway not accepting anything you say as the "truth" of the situation, rather as the expression of your take on it and your own feelings. The Chofetz Chayim teaches that you are permitted to speak out your heart to a confidante provided that it is understood on both ends that you aren't out to badmouth anyone, and I'm not out to hear anyone maligned. Which is true in our case.
---

>
> I'm rereading the Surrendered Wife and feel in some ways that I'm making progress and in some ways confused about some of the messages.

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The book is not Toras Moshe M'Sinai. It's helpful, I don't agree with all of it, but she makes many important points that often get lost.
---

> A lot of these questions are based on premises from the book. During Bein hazmanim, I shared with you some of my challenges around not feeling like I was getting enough attention from my husband. One of the claims in the book, is that if he is spending a lot of time doing something else, it could be to avoid your controlling, nagging, etc. The examples she gives is him watching TV, overworking. . . this is the "havdil of havdalot" from Torah learning, which is what my husband spends the majority of his time doing. So how to relate? I was very angry thinking that somehow this was to avoid me, and still not so shaleym that he chose it over me. Of course when I mentioned I thought we might spend some time together, he was more than willing to make the space. I guess I'm expecting too much to want that to come from his own initiative. At the same time, I was able to whole-heartedly thank him for bringing Torah learning into the home, and not disturb him while he was learning, which took a lot of self-control.
>

---
Okay. First of all, like I tried to point out before, you are in a bind. Because you would like to have two things that are incompatible, and you also don't like feeling like a nag. It seems obvious that you cannot both have his attention and time and also get to feel like a bit of a tzadekes for letting him learn. It's one or the other. My recommendation would be to get out of both mentalities if possible. Meaning, that you clarify just how much of your need for attention is genuine and how much is a mental projection of what you think ought to be "magiah lach"--coming to you. Because, it's natural that we develop these mental pictures of what is supposed to be, and when we are operating from the level of fantasy, it can mess up our reality. Put it this way; a woman can get into a deep resentment about her husband not doing the dishes, not because they ever spoke about it and he promised and reneged, or because he put up a fuss and outright refused, but simply because she *assumed* that he would pick up on the fact that he *ought to* volunteer. It's also natural that his assumptions about what is the norm, what the wife will normally want or expect, has been shaped by his own upbringing, and unless it is either brought out into the open or acceded to, it's going to create a problem.
The other mentality is the business of being a tzadekes. Now, I think that it's probably nice to be a tzadekes (not that I have any first-hand knowledge), but my impression as an outsider to tzidkus is that it is not characterized by resentment and stewing in silence or rage.
So, you have to make some decision inside yourself about your relationship with Torah study and your real, not your fantasy, real-life support of Torah study. Do you love the Torah enough to let your husband sit and learn? Do not assume (like perhaps you read in Surrendered Wife) that it's avoidance. Chas v'shalom! Hopefully, it is real ahavas haTorah you see under your nose. And considering that your husband is a good Jew who also loves you, it is safe to assume that it is not avoidance. Learning is challenging, and most men would rather shoot the breeze with their wives than learn if it's a burden to them. It's not like watching TV or reading a novel or fooling with a computer.
So he's learning. Great! Now you get to see where you are holding in your love of learning. Maybe you are finding that you don't love the Torah quite as much as you thought! I will admit from experience that this can be disillusioning. Even so, the feelings highlight the place that needs work.
--

> Another issue I am having that I mentioned before, is the balance of not controlling, i.e. telling him what to do (which he is usually willing to do when I ask), and then not being resentful that I'm doing it myself when I restrain myself from asking.
> The book claims that this will pass as he gains confidence and desire to please you, he will pick up the slack. In the meantime, I feel like the more I do, the less he does. At some point I just shut down and get angry. (An example: I was cooking for Shabbat, setting the table, preparing the food,getting our daughter ready, bringing the food, and clearing the table.) By seuda shlishit, I was feeling very exhausted and unable to do anything so of course, he did all of those things for the seuda. I very much appreciate when he does it and do let him know, however it feels like it happens more from a place of my being angry or shutting down so that he is forced to do it.


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I tend to go along with the theory, "Mistome, you married a good guy who is out to make you happy. So why are you not letting him know that you're flailing?"
It's like the husband is on the shore, and the wife is swimming and she gets a cramp. And she's very stoic, so she's rubbing the leg, and all the while he sees her way out there and is thinking, "Oh, she's great. What a swimmer! And she's so lovely, and I can't believe she's mine." Meanwhile, the wife massages out the cramp, nearly drowns, and eventually makes her painful way back to shore. Where she immediately laces into her husband, "I could have drowned out there! Didn't you see I was in trouble?! Why didn't you swim out to help me?! You ****!" And so on. You get the picture.
So it's easy to say, "Lady, why didn't you raise you hand out of the water and send a signal?"
Send a signal.
Don't wait until you're overwhelmed and angry. Just let him know, without recriminations and with trust in his innate goodness and love for you, "I've put out a lot of energy making Shabbos, and I think I'm finished. I'm struggling a little here, and I really need your help. Could you help me out, please?" This is the tzadekes problem all over again. We want to come off like we have it all covered, so we wait too long to ask for reasonable assistance. When you have a real need, you shouldn't have to nudge (in the sense of "noodge"). If you don't demand, you allow your partner to be gracious and give. If you don't let on you need help, he will naturally assume that you don't.
--

> I have come to realize that a lot of my anger and disappointment comes from unmet expectations. I expect that when he's home, which is only a few hours that we're awake and home at the same time (not including Shabbat), of course where we're together most of the day and I have similar expectations) he should be focused on my needs or my daughter's or the household.

I'll be having a fine day and will be busy preparing dinner so it will be ready when he gets home. He walks in the door and sits down to rest, maybe plays with our daughter but doesn't necessarily get her something if she asks, and at some point I turn into a sourpuss that he isn't helping get dinner on the table or taking over with whatever our daughter needs. Or with the Shabbat table, I expect that he has equal (or maybe even more so since I'm doing it all week and feel like it's a time to rest) responsibility to get bring the food, or get our daughter what she needs. He really often does, only when he doesn't it's hard for me.
>

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See above. I have a friend who says, "Tzipiot, heim rak lakariyot." Which means: "Expectations (which are also pillowcases in Hebrew) are only for the pillows."
--

> The last thing for now, I know it's a lot, is again from the Surrendered Wife. he is an expert at "casting the bait". Which way is better to get to X (where he's driven a hundred times) Where's the lemon? Can I eat this? Can I learn now?" He is a very considerate person and wants to please, so he wouldn't want to take something to eat that might be saved for someone else. However, often there is more than enough of that food, and I always say yes. So when he baits me and I try to say "I don't know" or "Whatever you think," it tends to be from a place of irritation, or anger. In our dating, I had this issue with him that he would rarely take a stand about where to go or what to do. "Well what do you want to do? What do you think?" Here I am trying to give up control... (although not so graciously, and he won't take it.)

--
That's an important little point hiding in there. I'm not going to comment, but I will recommend that you mediate on your words for a bit. Something is very off there. All of this "not taking control" sounds like a very controlling way to change your husband. Consider this.
---

From spending time with his parents, I know he grew up in a household where all the cooking, down to preparing a sandwich, and most everything else was done for him and everything in exact order. And his mother ran the show. Also a European kind of politeness/humility, of asking to use something or take it, which is not my way of doing things. Most of the time, I'd rather he take whatever's in the fridge without asking and if I had been intending on eating it, I just assume that I'll find something else. There is always plenty around. So he's all the time with these questions about what to do or how to do a thing, and half the time I answer out of habit, and the other half I'm angry that he can't/won't "be a man" and figure it out himself.
>
> Reflecting on this, I need a lot of tefillah to Hashem to help with my anger and to have compassion, and patience and love for my husband. I also want to believe that the more I give up control the more he'll take. In the meantime I need to work on being quiet without it boiling up inside; to appreciate his caring nature and his desire to please; and take care of myself. Rest more, not over do it, so I have koah and patience for him when he is home.
>
> As always, I appreciate any feedback. Thanks again for all your help in the past. You truly are a wonderful mashpia. I gain a lot of chizuk from who you are and your teachings.
>
> Love and Blessings,
...
>
>
----
I see that at the end there you sort of figured out all by yourself that you need to have more understanding.
I was working with a kallah today, and I tried to explain to her that objective #1 during Shanah Rishonah is to learn how not to exploit the vulnerabilities of my partner that I begin to discover after we are married. Both you and your husband have vulnerabilities, weaknesses in other words, and it is your job not to exploit his, and his not to exploit yours. If you see that he is "handicapped" by certain aspects of his upbringing (which you must bear in mind, other women who come from his own culture might find perfectly appropriate and desirable), it is mainly because you are not an exact fit there. Over time, the rough edges that don't quite align will wear down, and you will fit better. This is the process of the marriage. He will adjust to you, and you will adjust to him.
Take care,
Yehudis

5 comments:

yitz.. said...

wow.

that was really enlightening as to the kind of things that are going on in my wife's head.

i mean i might have been able to guess at them, and i try to be attentive to her needs, but i never saw so many issues so clearly laid out..

that was a really helpful posting :)

... said...

Yitz:
Thank you for the encouragement. I'm glad you found it helpful...but I was really hoping to help the wives!

yitz.. said...

how can you help the wives without helping the husbands too?

(it can't always be their fault ;) )

Anonymous said...

great analogy about the woman 'drowning'. I can really relate to that scenario- made me laugh out loud!

... said...

I'm glad you laughed--I meant to be both accurate and funny. We need to learn to laugh at ourselves more anyway...