For the week ending 9 April 2016 / 1 Nisan 5776

Marriage Vows

by Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman -
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From: Anonymous

Dear Rabbi,

I need advice about my marriage. When we were first married, my wife and I got along fine. Over time I started to feel unhappy with the relationship, mainly because I felt it became dull, and also because I expected more attention from my wife, but she always complained that I don’t treat her well. Now things are in a stale-mate and neither of us is happy. I’m thinking it would be better at this point to call it quits and move on. What do you think?

Dear Anonymous,

Your situation does not sound anywhere near justification for divorce. What you both need is proper guidance in re-railing your de-railed relations.

In this venue I can not possibly do that, but I can try to put things into perspective and point you in the right direction. But you must get direct, personal help.

From what you describe it seems that you both need some fine-tuning in your understanding and approach to what marriage is all about and how to make it work, and even enjoy it.

But since you are the one who addressed the question and not your wife, I will only comment on what I think you can do to improve the situation. And anyway, your focus should be on what you need to correct, rather than on what she needs to do.

Firstly, you need to realize that your relationship has a lot of potential for fulfillment. After all, you thought enough of each other to get married in the first place, and your marriage was actually initially good. That’s a good place to start.

You complain of the marriage becoming dull, and of your wife not showing you enough attention. I suspect it’s really the other way around — the lack of attention is the cause of your feeling that the marriage is dull.

But we can start from your being bored. Clearly, if you feel bored with your wife, you make yourself a bore as well, and you won’t be particularly appealing to her either. Nor will you have much incentive to treat her nicely and lovingly. The result on both accounts is that you will undermine getting the very attention that you desire, and then wonder what she has to complain about.

It’s very likely that this is what began the vicious cycle that you’re both locked into, and from which you think divorce will liberate you. But it won’t, since the same thing will happen in any relationship you have until you change your approach. So you might as well do so now and save your fundamentally good marriage.

Rather than expecting attention from your wife, not getting enough of it, becoming frustrated and dissatisfied and thereby repelling her and distancing her even further from giving you the warmth you desire, you should shower upon her the attention that you know how to want but not how to give. The more attention you give her and the more love you show her, the more you’ll truly feel it, the more she’ll desire it, the more she’ll be attracted to you for it and the more attention you’ll get.

Abracadabra! In such a relationship she’ll no longer complain of not being treated well and you’ll no longer be bored!

A man once came to a rabbi complaining that he can’t tolerate his marriage and he asked for some prayer that his wife might die! The startled rabbi postponed answering, looked into the matter and ascertained that the man was actually quite wealthy, but very stingy with his wife, both materially and emotionally.

After some time he called in the man and explained that while there’s no such special prayer, there is a teaching that if one reneges on an oath to charity, his wife and children will die. The rabbi therefore suggested that the man pledge a large donation to the community, not pay, thereby resulting in his wife’s death within a month. The rabbi’s only stipulation was that at least he must treat his wife extra kindly in the short time she has left to live.

Elated by the prospect of soon being liberated from his wife, the man went out of his way to be kind, pleasant, sensitive and emotionally and materially giving to her. To his great surprise, the man actually found that he enjoyed it, and what’s more, he found that his reciprocating wife was not as insufferable as he had thought. In fact, after a few weeks he actually felt a rekindled love that they shared in their early years of marriage.

Toward the end of a month’s time, aware of the change for the better, the rabbi approached the man and congratulated him on his efforts to please his soon-to-be-dead wife. All of a sudden he recalled the unfulfilled oath and his wife’s pending demise. Alarmed, he explained to the rabbi what had transpired in the interim and pleaded with the rabbi that she not die.

But the rabbi replied, “A deal is a deal. You committed to abrogate your oath to the community so that your wife will die.” The terrified man countered, “Yes, but if I abrogate my commitment and rather fulfill my oath to the community, she’ll live!” When the rabbi concurred, the man gladly donated generously to the community, his wife’s life was saved and the couple lived happily ever after…

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