It once happened that a couple were having marriage problems. After a rabbi and his wife spoke to both of them it became clear that one of the wife’s main concerns was that she felt her husband didn't appreciate her. When the rabbi asked the husband if he admired his wife, he said, “Yes, of course.” The rabbi then asked him if he had ever bothered to tell his wife that she was dear to him. The husband answered, “When we were married eighteen years ago, I told her I respected her very much. If things change, I’ll let her know.”
This is obviously far from the ideal. We need a little consistency and common sense. Our wives need constant appreciation, and the Torah obligates us to give it to them. The Chazon Ish says in his letter: “Her nature is to derive pleasure from finding favor in his [her husband’s] eyes, and she is constantly seeking to achieve this.” (Iggeres HaKodesh)
Rav Yehuda Leib Chasman, of blessed memory, who was the spiritual head of Chevron Yeshiva some seventy years ago, was giving a talk in the yeshivah when suddenly the village simpleton ran in and gave a bang on the table for attention. The man went on to proclaim: “People, I want to tell you that Rabbi Yehuda Leib Chasman is the gadol hador, the greatest Jew in our generation. He is a truly righteous scholar.” Before he could continue, the students promptly took hold of him and escorted him out of the study hall. When Rav Yehuda Leib continued his talk, he told his students, ”You cannot imagine how I enjoyed that man’s words. They were like music to my ears.”
We can learn an important lesson from this story. Rav Yehuda Leib Chasman was a man of sterling character, and even he could say this to his students (even though it is clear that he also made this statement in honor of the village simpleton, as he knew the man would be told that the Rav was pleased with his words).
Our wives, who need constant appreciation (like all people do), derive pleasure from every affectionate word we utter. In truth, everyone enjoys compliments, and when given with sincerity and consistency they can add a positive dimension to any relationship, and especially to the relationship between husband and wife.
The wise husband, knowing his wife’s need for appreciation from him, is capable of creating a healthy atmosphere between them by constantly focusing on the positive points, rather than trying to correct the weaker ones. One can imagine a husband coming home at the end of a hard day. He enters his castle expecting to be treated regally. However, this particular day, his castle is practically upside down. Everything is a mess, and there’s no hot dinner waiting for him. Now, assuming he is a well-mannered, well-controlled gentleman, he would never dream of raising his voice or insulting his wife. Instead, he says very quietly, “It’s a pity that supper isn’t ready. It would be much nicer if you could have things ready when I get home.” Not only has he just lost the opportunity to create a pleasant and calm atmosphere in his home, but he has succeeded in planting a hand grenade in the house…
But if in addition to being well mannered and controlled he is also a man with common sense, he’ll first of all look around. Something must have survived the day. Perhaps, for example, he spots a houseplant that wasn’t knocked over. He could then tell his wife how nice the plant looks. He could look for that one positive thing and praise it. As the author of the Siddur HaYaavitz phrases it, “It is a man’s sacred obligation to feed his wife with words that gladden her heart” (Friday night prayers).
We’re looking for the big secret to success in shalom bayis. We’re looking for major things. But it’s these everyday trivialities that prove successful in creating shalom bayis. This is a major component in the role of the husband. If a man finds that he’s had such a rough day that he knows he won’t be able to rid himself of his stresses before he arrives home, he should stop on the way for a snack or to wash his face. He must do whatever he needs to do in order to relax his tension, so that he can enter his house smiling and thus create a positive pleasant atmosphere in his home.
The Rambam wrote (Ishus 15:19), this is what our Sages commanded:
1) A man must honor his wife more than he honors himself.
2) Love her like he loves himself.
3) If he has money, use more for her good, according to his means.
4) Not instill in her too much fear.
5) Speak pleasantly to her.
6) Not be sad.
7) Not be ill-tempered.
Adapted from “Two Halves Of A Whole” by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org