Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
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- Thursday, May 10, '01 - Parshas Emor 5761

One of the things I see over and over when doing counseling and in dealing with people is what I must refer to as "emotional retardation." I see it in various forms, but there is a common underlying theme: people are often un-developed and, even though they reach physical maturity, they don't reach emotional maturity. This is NOT a question of intelligence or Torah knowledge. The more intelligent or learned an emotionally under-developed or disturbed person is, the more destructive (s)he can be; particularly in shidduchim, shalom bayis and interpersonal relations.

In one pattern, a husband will make judgements or use his logic to determine what feelings are valid or allowable. He doesn't get it when his wife says she has feelings or that an issue matters to her. He is blind to his impact on her, causing extreme emotional pain and distress in the process. The feelings are usually a legitimate part of her female nature. Then there is the type of woman who is blind to anyone else. She is a user, sadist and manipulater; is demanding and thinks nothing about how much she imposes on anyone else. Others are there to take from. She can do no wrong. She might use charm or she might be downright hostile. If someone is upset by her abuse, they are the culprit, in her thinking. She says that they are crazy, defective or evil and she is just fine.

Then there is the steamroller type, often, but not necessarily always, the man. If you do not agree with him, he puts up an emotional "armored tank" that comes out "shooting" (e.g. anger, yelling, storming out of the room, throwing objects, threatening gestures). You can't get a word in edgewise. He is thundering through, with emotional force, wounding and offending whatever is in the way. He makes sure that no one can override his onslaught, so that he never has to feel wrong, guilty or, worse, the loser. His unsophisticated ego could not handle that.

Then there is the type who is "sensitive." It seems very commendable to be "sensitive" these days. After all, society can be so callous! However, many of these self-proclaimed "sensitives" are sensitive for themselves, not for anyone who makes them uncomfortable or who puts any price on having a serious relationship with them. In their cases, "sensitive" is "code word" for profoundly selfish and infantile.

Regardless of what brand of emotional retard one is, having a meaningful relationship with one is next to impossible. Even as a counselor, I find some people are incapable of the maturity, derech eretz, stability or responsibility to even have a COUNSELING RELATIONSHIP with. They will miss or cancel appointments, show up very late, find reasons not to work on their issues, try to take more time than the counselor has available, behave provacatively or offensively and then say that they can not work with the counselor. In truth, they can't work with anybody - including themselves, so they will not help themsleves to change. The counselor has a life, with them or without them. They are only fooling and shortchanging themselves.

These conditions typically go back to childhood. The person never developed as AN EMOTIONAL ENTITY. The person may have have suffered psychologically, or may have been spoiled, or never trained to have discipline or responsibility. In anything which does not adequately suit them, they are very hard to deal with. They rigidly want things to be one-sided, on their self-centered terms. Often, only something very forceful and painful, such as a life tragedy [Rachmana litzlon], or threat of divorce or (if single) of never getting married, makes such a person wake up and try to face the situation within themsleves for what it really is. With or without a crisis, these people often are unreachable, or their changes are temporary, or they move so slowly to work on themsleves that "watching the grass grow" is a fast-action sport, by comparison. Their marriage partners are faced with the unenviable dilemma of choosing between being a "korban" [sacrifice] or a statistic.

These people often can't be controlled or prevailed upon to respond to the dignity and real needs of another and to the halachic or moral obligations they have to others. This can extend to other relationships (e.g. neighbors, business, etc.) too. However, since these people are often also fakers, they may seek approval by acting like angels with some class of acquaintances and viciously with others. Since they are as insecure as they are small in character and emotional development, they are often starved for kavod that they try to squeeze out of those who have little meaning in their lives. Those they are close to, or who can get to know the "real them," they must have control over, have power to reject (and not be rejected by), have power to hurt (and not be hurt by). They do not see the contradiction between starvation for love and guaranteeing through their behavior that they can never avail themselves of it. They are so frightened of rejection or hurt or feeling unimportant, they won't risk obtaining a love relationship in a real, solid, steady, mature and secure way.

In my counseling experience, prospects for building improvement with such people are tough, at best. I have seen cases where near-to-hopeless marriages have been repaired and I have seen where marriages have either continued as an exercise is suffering and dysfunction or have ended. What generally made the difference is the ability to find it in themselves to be honest; to have some grasp of character, maturity, responsibility and integrity. Success came by making - and staying committed to - goals; such as resolution of a marriage, of self-sabotage and of personal faults, or the well-being of children. This must be a higher goal than ego, neurotic defense or staying rigidly stuck in a habituated comfort level. Sometimes, I cannot tell them of the goal directly because this can scare some away, so I just work with such people in the direction of the goals that I know they should have. Often, such a person comes around very slowly. It is hard to make up 20, 40 or 60 years of emotional maturation or security and to re-learn how to live and view life, in a few months of counseling. It takes time, courage and inner strength to face the pain of trustworthy change and self-improvement. A Jew must never forget that he has Torah obligations towards others (including for the person one married!) including ahavas Yisroel and kavod habrios [love and respect for people], shalom [peace], onoas devarim [never hurting feelings] and countless other obligations. Rambam says that if one annoyed another just once in the course of a year, one must ask forgiveness and do tshuva, for Yom Kippur to bring atonement!

Let us not fail to raise our children to have "age appropriate" emotional maturation, and let us re-inforce at all ages that a Jew's life is for giving, not taking; responsibility, not self-indulgence; pleasing, not harming; and treating fellow Jews, especially those closest to us, as the creations and children of G-d, whom He loves.