Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
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- Thursday, July 19, '01 - Parshas Mattos/Massei 5761

As a counselor, I see repeatedly that one of the significant pitfalls causing marriage relationship trouble stems from the inability of spouses to securely be themselves and have accepting responsiveness from each other. Every human being has faults, insecurities and stresses. They are imperfect as people and in their ability to handle certain stimuli.

In a healthy marriage, neither would ever intentionally do anything to hurt the other, would feel terrible if ever either did, would do tshuva immediately, make it up to the hurt party, the hurt one would "forgive and forget" and they would move on.

In a healthy marriage, each person can feel secure being his or her own true self and the other is positive and supportive about all such issues. A spouse who is not succeeding with livelihood, who lost a loved one, who was humiliated by someone or had any life disappointment could feel emotionally crushed or fragile. Real life is not just a bunch of fragrant roses and happy times. During marriage, adversity and pain show themselves to either of the partners, through no fault of the other partner.

If the other has a bad day, a tough life situation or a vulnerability, a good spouse will be accepting, help build the other up, help see the other through and provide "back up." A good spouse will understand, or at least work hard to come to understand, what the other is feeling and going through. It is important to be able to articulate that you understand the other's difficulty, to be encouraging, to give credit for and to feel proud about any positive efforts the other is putting up, to cope or deal with the situation.

If the other needs "space" (time to be left alone), then that sometimes is the way to be supportive. Since backing off altogether may be too passive and may be misinterpreted as abandonment in the other's time of trouble, I suggest being "active passive." For example, if a husband had a stressful day at work and asks to be left alone to read in the living room, I would tell the wife to bring something he likes to nosh or drink on a napkin or dish and set it down next to him without a word. She is showing care and support, showing that she is AVAILABLE should he want her, in a touching and considerate way, while leaving him alone to come back to himself at his own pace.

Rambam writes that a spouse should not be excited or depressed. One should not burden the other if there will be no positive outcome, for this will only cause a second person to feel terribly for no constructive reason. In general, one should prefer to tell good things to other people and only tell bad things when there is a to'elless [constructive need or purpose] achieved by speaking. If the other can give positive help, advice or encouragement, this would be considered a legitimate purpose that would permit telling distressful information.

In a marriage, a husband and wife are "eeshto kigufo" [considered as one person]. Halacha is very specific about the kinds of things that should be shared vs. private in marriage. Private mail addressed to one spouse, secrets about your past (on which you did tshuva shlaima and which have no relevance anymore) that would make the other think poorly about you unjustifiably and lashon hora are examples of material that should be kept private. But, except for such halachic exceptions, in general, the relationship should be a sharing, trusting and communicative one.

Each should speak about their day, their fears and hurt, what is going on in their lives. The other should be responsive as the other needs. When there is much going on, time has to be set aside specifically, to share their lives and give support and friendship, as often as needed. Communication should be direct and uninhibited, with no fear of rejection, dispute, condemnation or attack. Each should relate from inner person to inner person, heart to heart, with no pretense or embellishment, with no need to seek after approval. Acceptance and supportiveness should be unconditional and freely given by each, as the other needs, with a positive and loving attitude. Each should feel fully secure that the other is there and available whenever needed. If that moment is not good (e.g. your wife is feeding a baby when you want her attention), time will be given graciously and cheerfully as soon as circumstances permit. The MOMENT is being rejected - the person is never rejected.

It is vital that a couple have a set of common goals, have common values and a sense of common mission, so that they are a "team" in life. By having this mentality of commonality in the fundamentals of life, the couple has a purpose that they share together. The more this is the case, the more the two have in common, the more there will be a sense of bondeness that will enable the couple to withstand the trials and tribulations of life together. It is vital that when there are difficulties, regardless of whether imposed by life or between themselves, that the sense of bondedness be solid so the difficulties never constitute deflection from or damage against the marital relationship. Difficulties - whether life hardships imposed upon one or both of the spouses or differences between the spouses - should be tasks to be handled based on the merits of the issues and what the Torah says to do. If difficulties that come up in the course of life drive the two apart, there is an intrinsic weakness in the relationship. A solid marriage is unchallenged by a difficulty - it is a task to be handled together, as "allies" and friends.

Even if this entails sacrifice, the couple should show unity, peace and calm in front of all other people, and most importantly in front of their children, people who might meddle or who might speak lashon hora. They should only reveal difficulties to people who stand to help or be supportive and whose intentions are constructive. Each spouse should try to always speak in a positive fashion TO AND ABOUT THE OTHER. Being a "positive spouse" requires speaking only well of each other in front of people and never giving any one else a basis for meddling into or talking against their shalom bayis. Each should always have a sincere and pleasant tone, so that "being positive" is authentic and trustworthy.

We call a couple "rayim ahuvim [loving friends]." They should act as best friends, designate regular time to be together, communicate in a sharing manner about their deepest feelings. They are to each other both family and friends. They share the closest relationship two people can have, so much so the Torah considers them one person. When his wife's knee was in pain, Rabbi Aryeh Levine said to the doctor his wife's pain "hurts us." He identified with her hurt as if it were his own. When Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach lost his wife, he said there was nothing either ever did to hurt each other, so he had no need to ask her forgiveness. Rabbi Shlomo Heiman was Rosh HaYeshiva of Torah VaDaas during the early '40s. His wife went out every evening from 8:30 to 10:45 to raise funds for poor orphans. Of his own volition, the busy Rosh Yeshiva boiled tea and cut cake in time for her return, so she could have refreshment each evening after exerting herself.

In a Torah marriage the two learn to understand and feel for each other so much, he or she could say with authenticity and credibility that they each feel what the other is going through and will spontaneously jump to do everything humanly possible to help, to care, to participate in doing all that is needed; doing so with diligence and a positive attitude - as if the other were the same person.