King Solomon, the wisest of all men, declared: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). Death is not in the hand that wields a gun, nor is life in the hand holding a wonder remedy. Rather, both are in the hand [the power] of the tongue.
A person who uses his tongue correctly — who compliments at the right time, encourages, sympathizes with someone’s sorrow, offers insightful criticism — creates a pleasant atmosphere. His life, and the lives of those surrounding him, are happy and pleasant. But one who uses his tongue to taunt or criticize without bounds, who holds himself back from saying a good word or a comforting or empathic show of feeling, will find his life as bitter as death.
This principle holds true not only with marital communication but with all interpersonal contact: parents and children, employer and employee, neighbors and even between total strangers. But between man and wife, the tongue is weightier and more decisive than all the others.
If we examine in depth what brings couples to the sad state of divorce, we will be surprised to discover that misuse of the tongue played an important role. Had it been used correctly, the marriage would not have reached the painful crisis of divorce.
We will therefore devote two special chapters to this essential subject. It is written (Psalms 37:27), “Turn away from evil and do good.” We will deal with “turn away from evil” in this chapter and learn how to avoid harsh criticism, which causes a rift between the spouses. The next chapter will deal with “do good,” building up peace in the family through the tongue.
It is completely normal and natural for two people to have differences of opinion. For “just as their faces are dissimilar, so are their viewpoints dissimilar” (Tanchuma, Pinchas 10). But one must know how to express criticism where opinions differ and one side feels offended.
The main rule in criticism is: Convey exactly what the problem is without denigrating the other person and without igniting an explosion, as we will see.
Conducting an argument is a skill that can be learned. When a difference of opinion crops up, the spouses must remember that even in wars between countries, there is an international agreement or code of how to wage war. This is all the more applicable between two loving sides who are not enemies. A couple consists of two people who have chosen to live their lives together in harmony and not with friction. We are dealing with an argument, not a war.
The couple’s approach should be that of self- and mutual respect even during the argument. They must avoid being people who conduct themselves respectfully when arguing with others (not each other), while reverting to shouting and loud verbal abuse with each other within their four walls.
Our Sages learned from the High Priest — who would enter the Sanctuary accompanied by the sound of seventy-two bells on his garment, put there to show respect and announce his arrival before entering — that one should likewise not enter even his own home suddenly and unannounced.
Is it possible for us to derive a lesson regarding a private home from the Beit Hamikdash? This selfsame question can be asked regarding a table upon which one is dining. Our Sages liken a table to the altar in the Beit Hamikdash (Berachot 55a), which is not at all comprehensible. Where is the comparison?
Nevertheless, our Sages make this comparison because they saw the world in a true light and understood the spiritual significance of a Jewish home and its table. Indeed, the home where one lives and in which he serves God corresponds to the Beit Hamikdash where the Jewish People also served God. The table upon which a Jew eats his food so as to have strength to serve God, is also like the altar that consumes the meat of the sacrifice in the Beit Hamikdash.
This being true, a man or wife must ask themselves: “If I were now in the Beit Hamikdash or even in a synagogue, would I raise my voice and yell out everything coming to mind during an argument? But this is a holy temple!”
This is all the more pertinent when there are children in the home who imitate every nuance of their parents’ behavior. A parent should conduct himself in the presence of his children like a guest at a wedding where a camera is aimed at his table. How careful he is to control his facial expression, his tone of voice and its content, and even the way he eats…
Adapted from 'Happily Married – The Complete Guide to a Successful Jewish Marriage' by Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Click Here to Buy Now