A well-known Rabbi once got a call from a couple in the midst of a heated argument. The call came at midnight, and the wife involved said it was an emergency. The Rabbi rushed right over to their apartment.
When he got there, however, the couple shamefacedly admitted that the argument had been over who should take out the garbage, and meanwhile they had settled the dispute.
Why had it felt like an emergency to them only moments before? The subject in question had evoked feelings in each of them, and they had not yet developed a common language with which to explain them to each other. So with neither one being able to hear or understand what the other was saying, the volume had been turned up so high that a simple discussion over a minor issue turned into an ear-shattering emergency.
Often, in an argument, there can be a situation where both partners feel they are right, each from their own perspective. Or it could be that we just can't stop feeling that we are the only ones right, and our husbands are clearly wrong. The question we then have to ask ourselves is, what is more important to us — winning this argument, that argument, and the next one, or keeping the peace in our homes? Naturally, there won't be anything to argue about if there is no home, and when there is no peace in a home, it's not much of a home.
Marriage breakups often begin when partners try to “win” little arguments over little things, like who will close the window or take out the garbage. Then the battles grow until the little battle turns into a major war. So we have to keep putting things in perspective. Agreeing on an acceptable resolution to little problems in marriage is much more important than winning a little argument—or even a big one for that matter. Shalom bayis, peace in the home, is the greatest achievement we can attain.
In the beginning of a marriage communication is vitally important. The beginning is as long as the beginning lasts — until the basis for a shared secret language has been established. After that, it is still immensely valuable because our relationships can and should always be improved. Where there is good, there can always be better. Let's set aside time, in a pleasant, calm atmosphere, just to talk to each other, about big things and about little things too.
The Rambam wrote (end of Hilchos Avadim), “And you must not shout a lot at him and get angry but rather speak to him calmly and listen to his complaints.” We must prepare a listening ear to hear the other side's complaints, and all the more so with spouses.
Remember, too, that all relationships — and particularly the one we build with our husbands — are the means to attaining self-control and refining our characters. Learning to look away, and to accept slights and hurtful words without being provoked to repay insult for insult, is a major victory. The Midrash Rabbah tells us that when the goblet was found in his pack, Binyamin, son of Yaakov, was called “Thief, son of a thief” by his brothers (because Binyamin's mother, Rachel, had stolen Lavan's idols from him). Because he silently accepted the accusation, he merited having both Temples built in his portion.
SIMA HAS BEEN married just a few weeks. She comes home after a very exhausting day working in a hospital. She's uptight, with a very tense, drained-looking face. What she really needs is her husband's shoulder to cry on. She just wants a little encouragement from him.
But just as she sits down to talk with her husband and starts unburdening her misery, there's a knock at the door. Her face suddenly lights up when she sees her neighbor, who has come by with the two grocery items Sima had asked her to pick up for her. She greets her neighbor in a very friendly, cheerful voice, but when she closes the door and turns back to her husband, the big smile is gone. In its place is that same tense look again. Her husband is furious!
“For her you have a big smile, but me? All I get is a sour face!” he growls. “I guess it's clear who you care about more!” He cannot understand, at this early stage of their marriage, that she wants to unfold her real feelings only to one to whom she feels close, and that revealing her true state to him is a sign of closeness, not a lack of it.
A husband is not born with special mental telepathy to read his wife's mind. Very often women complain, “How come he didn't know how tired I was? Couldn't he offer to help me out a little?” We need to talk and say what we are feeling, and preferably before we're drowning in negative emotions. Let's not harbor resentment against our husbands because we think they should have realized how we were feeling on their own without our having to spell it out for them. Tell your husband directly how you feel, pleasantly, and with the biggest smile you can manage at that overwhelming moment.
Marriage is not meant to be a guessing game. There is no need ever to make our husbands feel like losers. Are we feeling tired? Let's say so. Are we feeling depressed? Let's say so. Let's make it easy for him to know our emotions—including the positive ones.
When man reached the moon for the first time, the Ponivitzer Rav, Rabbi Yosef Kahanamen, of blessed memory, was asked for his opinion on this feat. He answered, “How great is man, and yet how small. How great — he can even reach the moon. Yet how small — he cannot even reach the heart of the man standing next to him.”
Let's prove our greatness by reaching out to the man standing closest to us — our husband.
What does all the discussion about having constructive disagreements have to do with sharing a secret language? Shared secret languages don't appear magically. Each time we break through some confusion and conflict which is keeping us distanced from our husbands and reach a new understanding, our own totally unique language is being formed. At first it will be awkward, as all new languages we learn are, but as more and more conflicts arise and get cleared up, the secret language that is shared will begin to flow in a wonderful way.
Adapted from “Two Halves Of A Whole” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org