Saturday, January 19, 2008

Shalom Bayis

After receiving the comment that I did on Shidduchim, Part 1, which wished me better mazel with my second marriage than my first, I figured it was prime time to briefly discuss my perspective on marriage and its associated challenges.

I'm sure that everyone has heard the joke that the reason why our families can push our buttons so well is that they installed the buttons! I believe that marriage is two separate people coming together and creating a new entity, and in turn, a life together. In the course of our pre-marriage incarnations, we experienced different childhoods, different family structures, different life events. Those incarnations consequently resulted in each person entering the marriage with differing ways of reacting and processing experiences. Call them patterns, call them "issues", call them filters for dealing with various situations. But we all have them. I know I certainly do.

The main challenge then is finding a way to merge with someone who is not only completely separate from you (and who is the opposite gender and therefore possesses different priorities and coping mechanisms) but also has different expectations. Each person enters marriage expecting marriage to be a certain way, for each situation that arises to be handled a particular way, for each conversation to go a particular way. And those expectations need to be adjusted because the other person almost never possesses expectations identical to ours. We need to learn, if you will, to accommodate and respect these differences, to each of us adjust our preexisting patterns so that we can co-exist.

I also firmly believe, as unpopular a view as it is, that a woman's role in marriage is to help her husband. That does not mean acting as a shmata, tolerating abuse (has ve'shaom), or in any other way being subordinate to him. Rather, it means that as a wife, the primary focus in my life is my marriage, and my primary objective is to support and help my husband in any way that he requires it. I try, in other words, to give my husband what he needs. I will admit to occasionally overextending myself in order to fulfill this objective. But I know that he does the same. Moreover, I am diligent to not lose myself; by retaining my identity, I further our marriage, since you need two complete halves in order to make a whole.

I'd like to note that while we need to modify ourselves in order to accommodate the other person, this does not give us license to try to force the other person to fundamentally change themselves. We married someone, we chose them from millions of potential spouses, and we knew very well who they were before we married them. Why try then to change the essence of their personality after marriage?

So, in my humble opinion, we should cultivate in our marriage the sense that our spouse is our primary responsibility, and that their happiness is our goal and our privilege. As a wife, I try to create a supportive environment, a comfortable and tranquil home imbued with respect in order to protect my husband from the ills of his day. And by doing so, I believe that I am furthering him, myself, and our combined relationship with Hashem.


  1. "and we knew very well who they were before we married them"
    Not necessarily so. If couples are engaged a very short time and don’t spend time with one another several times a week at least an hour every time, they really can’t know one another very well.

    When Chasidishe couples date and eventually get engaged there’s no such thing as just hanging out with one another just to get to know one another better and deeper. When they do shopping for the Chasunah, they usually do not go together the same day at the same time. For example, when looking at a hall, shopping for furniture, etc.the Kallah’s side may go Monday morning, and the Chassan’s side may go the next day. A phone call would then be made to discuss the outcome.

    I know many cases where marriages ended up in divorce because they didn’t know one another very well. When couples are dating and then get engaged both parties act on their best behavior. There are no signs of abuse, cruelty, stinginess, etc. Only AFTER the marriage does this take place.

  2. When we marry someone we accept the whole package- with all their attributes as well as their shortcomings.

  3. Many married couples would say they expect companionship, intimacy, and sharing of feelings. Sharing your expectations with your spouse is critical if you want a successful marriage. When your expectations aren't shared with each other, disillusionment will probably become an everyday experience.

    Never get married expecting your partner to change.
    One of the major reasons people are unhappy after they get married is that they expect the person they're dating to change after marriage. Therefore, the most important question to ask yourself when you're dating someone is: "Can I live with this person the way they are?" If the answer is no, then don't get married. If there's something that you don't like about the person, something that you wish would change in the future, then you'd better ask yourself some serious questions because you're setting yourself up for a potential mistake.

    People have to be accepted the way they are. If there is something about your dating partner that you dislike or disagree with, and the issue is an important one, realize that whatever it is it's here to stay. Don't fool yourself into thinking that you'll be able to change them after you get married.

    Does that mean that you and your potential spouse must agree on absolutely everything? Of course not. But you do need to agree on the basics, on the important things that are going to make a difference in your life: things like values, lifestyle, your ideas about home and family. If the person you're dating really seems to be the one for you except for one issue, then you can try to reach a compromise that both of you can live with. But if you don't, and you disagree on major issues like these, then you're setting the stage for major conflicts, which are obviously not conducive to a loving marriage.

    So remember the sentence that could save your life: Never get married expecting your partner to change.

  4. Here is a don’t that if adhered to will avert a lot of discord and emotional turmoil in the marriage and help to make your marriage a satisfying one:

    Don’t expect your partner to be able to read your mind. It is unfair, unrealistic and nescient. Some people get an attitude and break marital harmony because they did not get the gift they expected or wanted, yet they did not communicate this to their spouse. Our minds are too complex and changing for anyone to know what we are thinking. TELL your partner what you want or be open to accepting whatever is given you in the spirit in which it is given. Of course, this is not only in regards to the material but to behaviors as well. Let your partner know what your expectations are. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

  5. When we serve another human being without regard for our own person gain then we are serving unconditionally and that is the cornerstone of marriage.

  6. Code of Jewish law:

    "The sages commanded that a man must honor his wife more than his own self and love her as himself. If he is wealthy, he should provide her with the best in accordance with his wealth. He should not cause her to fear him, but speak with her gently, not with sadness nor anger.

    "Similarly, they commanded a woman to honor her husband exceedingly, be in awe of him, and obey his wishes. He should be in her eyes as a prince or king, following his wishes and avoiding what he hates. This is the way of the daughters of Israel and sons of Israel, who form holy and pure couples. In these ways will their dwellings be peaceful and praiseworthy."

  7. A man must honor his wife more than his own self:
    “What does it mean to honor her more than himself? It means a husband must make his wife the number one priority in his life. It says that her value exceeds anything else - his parents, his children, his business, even his very being. If it is a choice between a man's wife and his parents, his wife takes priority. The Torah teaches "a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave onto his wife." (Genesis 2:24) Similarly, if it is a choice between a man's wife and his children, his wife takes priority - for his children will grow up, leave, and cleave onto their own spouses. Amongst all our obligations to our various family members, the primary responsibility is to our spouse. The choice between a man's business and his wife is more difficult for many men. Males often tend to establish their identity by their profession and earning power. Perhaps that is the reason King Solomon, in his search for the ultimate purpose of life, concluded: "Enjoy happiness with a woman you love all the fleeting days of life that have been granted to you under the sun - all your fleeting days." (Ecclesiastes 9:9)

    A man's wife is to be more important than even his business. Honoring her more than one self means that marriage ought to be the ultimate in selflessness. It requires a deep sensitivity to her needs and an attempt to fulfill those needs, even if it means compromise one's own desires

    A man is required by Jewish law to honor her more than oneself. This involves empathy, service, and even sacrifice for her needs. When a man makes his wife the number one priority in his life, she will respond in kind. If he opens up to her, she will open up to him. A man must express his appreciation to his wife by paying attention to her needs, listening to her cries, and showing her affection.

    Maimonides wrote "He should be in her eyes as a prince or king, following his wishes and avoiding what he hates." Maimonides appears to make the husband a kind of benevolent dictator, a king or a prince ruling in his own household. Even if the husband is no more than an ant, his wife ought to feel that she can place her chair among the great. She ought to sit proudly next to him.

    A man is usually seen as bread winner of a household. He needs to know that he has the admiration and respect of his wife. Even if she is the major wage earner, she needs to make him feel like a king or a prince in his own household. He needs her admiration as much as she needs his appreciation. He needs to hear the words "I'm proud of you" as much as she needs to hear the words "I love you."

  8. The husband has to love his wife above all other human beings, has to be considerate and tender, and has to cherish his wife. This means that she is to be treated with tenderness and affection. The husband has the responsibility of not only demonstrating his love and concern, but telling her too. He should not sit in such self-absorption that he does not talk with her and communicate with her socially, mentally, verbally and physically. The husband has to demonstrate his love for his wife in other ways, not just at the time of sexual relationship. If this is the only time that affection and consideration is shown, then a wife will get the idea that all a husband is interested in is her body and that she is merely a sex object.

    The husband has to honor his wife. Honor means that the husband MUST show her respect. This involves courtesy, consideration and emotional support. Be sure that as her husband that you do not hold her up to be ridiculed in public by the cutting remarks that you make. You MUST be gentle toward her. The husband MUST be able to control his temper, abstain from physical violence and restrain using a sharp tongue.

    A wife MUST be a partner with her husband, working together toward a common goal.
    By doing this the wife will be appreciative of his actions, efforts and work. The wife MUST do all that she possibly can to see that he is comfortable and happy when he comes home from a hard days work.

    The wife MUST be obedient to their own husband. By doing this, out it brings out the closeness of the two. This doesn’t mean that a wife can't and doesn’t have any thoughts of her own. The idea is that as husband and wife work together, you are not constantly pulling in an opposite direction. This obedience does not mean that the wife is a slave or an indentured servant, but rather that the wife is sharing a mutual goal.

    A woman was taken from the ribs of a man so that she might be by his side continually
    The woman is to be loved and is to respond as a part of his body. Husbands and wives are a part of each other.