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How should a Man Relate to his Wife? Letter of the Chazon Ish

What is the secret to pleasing your wife? Rabbi Zamir Cohen expounds on the holy words of the Chazon Ish (Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, 7 November 1878 – 24 October 1953)

Relationships
These are the words of the Chazon Ish from a letter he wrote, explaining how a man should relate to his wife:

And please his wife, whom he has taken,” (Deuteronomy, 24:5). How can he please her? It is her nature to take pleasure on her beauty in his eyes, and her eyes will lift to him. It is his duty to try to express his love and feelings of closeness verbally and she’ll be satisfied.

“Sometimes, treating her with too much consideration and anxiety, and being overly polite and courteous may seem overly formal to her and indicate a possible lack of caring on the husband’s part. To avoid this, he needs to behave with extra warmth; his anxiety is out of place. Light banter is more beloved to her than gravity and anxiety. He must exert himself to act warmly towards her, like the right hand treats the left; not external, but internal.

He should speak to her not in the plural tense but in the present. He should let her know when he goes out and tell her where he is going, and when he comes back, he should tell her what he did, with light talk and words of encouragement and appreciation to make her happy. And you need to pray for mercy, as it says, ‘Know Him in all your ways,’ (Proverbs 3:6).”

Because the language of the letter is terse, we will go through it line by line.

“And please his wife, whom he has taken.”[1]
(Deuteronomy, 24:5). A husband must take the initiative when it comes to finding ways to please his wife. This is not voluntary or subject to his own discretion; it is an obligation in every sense of the word.

“It is her nature to take pleasure on her beauty in his eyes. It is his duty to try to express his love and feelings of closeness verbally and she’ll be satisfied.” It is a woman’s nature to feel pleasure when her husband finds her attractive, and her eyes lift to him, as it says: “And to your husband will be your desire,” (Genesis 3:16). A man is built completely differently; it would never dawn on him that his wife feels a kind of dependence on his good opinion of her. If he doesn’t understand the need, then he also won’t understand how hurt she feels when she isn’t getting what she needs from him. He is therefore obligated to express his affection by way of conversation and saying things that please her.

“Sometimes, treating her respectfully may seem overly formal to her and indicate a possible lack of caring on the husband’s part. To avoid this, he needs to behave with extra warmth towards her.” If a husband treats his wife overly carefully, anxious and with extra solicitousness, like a student to his rabbi, he might feel certain that he is the best husband in the world. But the truth is that acting towards her this way will feel stressful to her, because it emphasizes the fact that he does not feel closer to her, that in fact he is treating her like he would a stranger. He should act naturally and pleasantly with her, like a brother to a sister, with the normal amount of attention. He shouldn’t be flippant or overly anxious, because that will make her feel distant.

“Light banter is more beloved to her than propriety.” In married life, a woman appreciates it more when her husband jokes around[2] and feels comfortable with her than if he is serious, heavy and anxious around her.

“He must exert himself to act warmly towards her, like the right hand treats the left; not external but internal.”  It is the husband’s duty to feel, and to communicate through his behavior, that he and his wife are like one body, and act towards her like the right hand to the left, both of them united in one body. This feeling of connection is essential to a woman in marriage.

There is a well-known story about Rabbi Aryeh Levine ztz”l that when he went in with his wife to the doctor’s office, they both sat facing him so seriously that he could not figure out which one of them was ill. To his surprise, when he asked them how he could help, Rabbi Levine replied simply, “My wife’s leg is hurting us.”

Later, the doctor said that that one sentence of the Rabbi changed his whole understanding of the connection between husband and wife. “I suddenly understood, from the simplicity and sincerity with which Rabbi Levine spoke, that it is possible to feel that a wife is part of her husband’s own body. He couldn’t imagine saying his wife’s leg was hurting her, because if it was hurting her, it was hurting him!”
“He should speak to her not in the plural tense but in the present.” He should speak with her informally - ‘you’ [את] as opposed to the more formal way one would speak with a stranger.

“He should let her know when he goes out and tell her where he is going, and when he comes back, he should tell her what he did.” As we discussed earlier, a woman lives much more in couple’s space, and always needs to feel like she is in a partnership in marriage. Therefore, when her husband is going out and tells her where he is going, and then tells her all about it when he gets home, she feels that crucial sense of partnership and that her life her life is good. This type of husband, who does this right from the beginning of the marriage, will see that his wife will trust him and won’t try to restrain him.

“With light talk and words of encouragement and appreciation.” He should nurture her with praise and compliments, words of encouragement, and appreciation of all her good points, in order to make her happy (See more on this in the chapter, “Compliments in Marriage”).

“And you need to pray for mercy, as it says, ‘Know Him in all your ways.’” Just as we pray to our Creator that he should answer our prayers and succeed in all we do, so too we should pray that we should merit to treat our wife properly according to her true needs.

Notes and Sources

[1]   According to the Chazon Ish, This verse may be referring to the first year of marriage, but it doesn’t exempt a person from the obligation for the rest of his life, rather it refers to the extra investment required of a man during the first year, according to the verse. Because if he works hard to please his wife during the first year of marriage, so much so that he doesn’t go out to war, it will have a good influence on the marriage for the rest of their lives together.
[2] The husband needs to know his limits when it comes to joking, There is a big difference here between men and women. Men tend to make fun of each other, without anyone taking offense. But if a man would make a joke at his wife’s expense, she will see it as an insult. Her husband thinks he is “just kidding around” with her, but she will interpret it as making fun of her.

Adapted from 'The Complete Guide to a Happy Marriage' by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Click Here to Buy Now