Save this Marriage

Million Dollar Tip

March 30, 2008

Blended Families

March 23, 2008

Leon and Rita have been married for 4 years. It is a second marriage for Leon who is 10 years older than Rita. He has shared custody of his two teenage daughters from his first marriage. Rita had never been married. She was 38 years old when she moved from her hometown and married Leon. Together they have a little boy, who is 3 years old.

When Rita and Leon came for counseling, they both expressed terrible frustration with the marriage. Leon was upset that Rita not only didn't make a connection with his daughters, but, on the contrary, was constantly bickering with them. Rita, on the other hand was furious about being "Number 3" (as she put it) in Leon's life. She felt that his daughters and his career came before her.

As counseling progressed it became apparent that both Leon and Rita had quite different expectations when they first married. Their dream of a quiet, peaceful cooperative relationship was just that—a dream. Leon was spending more and more time away from Rita and their son. Even on Sundays, which were supposed to be their time together, he often was "on call" for his daughters – whether it be a sport's game they were involved in, or a special need that their mom couldn't fill.

Rita couldn't believe that he refused to set some limits and was distancing himself more and more from her and their son. She was lonely and afraid. She felt estranged from everything that had been near and dear to her.

As counseling proceeded, Leon and Rita became more aware of the reality of their lives. In truth, there were 3 families in the picture: 1) Leon and his daughters, 2) Leon and Rita & their son, and 3) Rita and her son. We looked at the reality of where Leon and Rita could function as a couple – without tension. Rita understood that in trying to be a mother to Leon's girls, she had overstepped her boundary. Their relationship with their father, their personal space in the home – these were between them and their father. Rita needed to "step out." (Yes – in the common areas of the home – the girls should be responsible for themselves, but not in their own bedrooms and bathroom). She was not to "mother" them in any way; not to discipline them, not to interfere, and not to take personally their resentment against her. (Stories of "wicked step mothers" are not just fairy tales – but, often, pain that results from expectations and weak boundaries.)

Leon also understood that Rita was not to be "on call" for the girls – in terms of their demands for certain kinds of meals, for making their lunches, or even doing their laundry. They were old enough to take responsibility for these chores, and not constantly criticize Rita for what she was not doing for them.

In terms of their relationship, Leon and Rita agreed to set aside time, just for the two of them. They needed to nurture their relationship, and focus on the shared interests and strengths that brought the two of them together.

Rita's dependence on Leon for "making her happy" in her new environment was another difficult challenge to overcome. Rita had been "waiting" many long years for her "prince charming" to come and save her from her loneliness and feelings of inadequacy. The same pattern was again presenting itself again, although in different circumstances.

Rita was willing to stop "waiting" for Leon, and instead got involved in some projects and began to work on her connections to the community and establish friendships. She developed "an attitude of gratitude." Here she was married – and with a son! She realized she could find happiness in her present situation, even if it didn't meet her ultimate dreams. She stopped comparing notes with friends – which simply created jealousy. As she saw more choices, she felt less like a "victim" and more like a "victor." Her self-esteem was becoming stronger as she realized where she was able to take responsibility for her own (positive) thought, speech and actions.

Together, we worked out alternatives to her being involved with Leon's daughters. She stepped back from trying to "mother" the girls, and instead made more realistic decisions about when to be involved and when to step away.

With the expectations at a more realistic level, and Rita moving into a more "empowered" self, the tension at home lessened considerably. She found that Leon began spending more time with his little son. And, on his initiative (not her nagging), they were creating greater family experiences. Whenever there was a setback and Rita felt she was #3 (that did happen, from time to time), she no longer saw the situation as hopeless, but rather as a temporary "old habit" that provoked "old feelings" – but, indeed, passed quickly as she found healthier ways to deal with the situation.

Conflict about Spending Money

March 16, 2008

Question:

My husband and I have very different ideas about spending money. Though I have tried to explain my position many times, he continues to make extravagant purchases. I am beginning to despair that we will ever see eye to eye on this issue. In my opinion, just because we can afford it, doesn't mean we should buy it. Yet he thinks I'm too stingy, and need to learn how to relax and enjoy what we have. Please help.

Frugal

Dear Frugal,

Welcome to real married life. The type of issue you describe, in which you despair of ever seeing eye-to eye with your husband, is what is known to couple's therapists as an unsolvable issue, an issue in which a husband and a wife have vastly different approaches which do not lessen with time. All marriages have unsolvable issues, and what distinguishes happy marriages from conflict-ridden marriages is the couple's ability to accept the other's point of view, and negotiate a respectful compromise. The challenge in these cases is to learn how to live respectfully and amicably with a person who truly doesn't share your point of view.

I would like to make several recommendations that I believe will help you in the attempt to negotiate a compromise with your husband.

1. Discuss your financial vision with your husband.

Where are you at present in this vision? Are you saving up for a house, a car, or a vacation? Or are you putting aside for a pension fund or a rainy day? How do you see the ideal division of spending to saving? How does he?

2. Agree upon a certain amount of money, be it $100, or $1000, beyond which neither of you will spend without first consulting the other, and reaching a mutual agreement.

Recognize that below this amount, your husband will continue to spend according to his individual discretion, but he won't go beyond that amount. This should give you a measure of security, while allowing him a necessary amount of freedom.

3. Remind yourself that every couple faces an insolvable issue, and if it wouldn't be about money, it would be about something else, such as religion, education, or running a house. Acknowledge how difficult it would be for you if he was straddling the other side of the fence, and you had to justify every purchase you made, from toothpaste to deodorant. Recognize what you personally gain from his relaxed approach to money.

4. Contain the issue. Do not allow your different perspectives on spending to overshadow the positive aspects of your relationship or sully special occasions such as going out to dinner or on a holiday together.

Choose a calm time to talk about your differences. Recognize that there is no right or wrong way to spend money, just as there is no right or wrong way to enjoy life. Your relationship is more valuable than any purchase you will make individually or together, and a stable marriage will give you more security than any amount of money tucked away in the bank.

Good Luck,

Tzippora Price, M.Sc.

Five Steps to a more Joyous Marriage

March 9, 2008

Negate anger, validate affection.

A Rebbe and his attendant had journeyed all day through the countryside. The Rebbe instructed his attendant, Reb Chaim, to prepare for their night's rest: "Please set up the tent near that stream, draw some water, lay out my bed clothes and the bedding, and prepare a light meal."

During the middle of the night, the Rebbe suddenly woke Reb Chaim and said, "Reb Chaim, look above you at the magnificent stars in the heaven, and tell me what do you conclude."

Reb Chaim answered, "We mortals are so insignificant in the face of G‑d's creations."

"No", responded the Rebbe, "You have missed my point. While we were sleeping, someone stole our tent."

Marriage has been compared to a tent. The Talmud (Yevamos 62B) teaches us that a man must be married if he is to have four essential components in his life: a real home; an inspiring protective moral influence; ultimate joy; and wisdom.

We often begin a marriage with an ecstatic appreciation (or at least an expectation) of our new "tent." That ecstasy, which may occur spontaneously during dating and the first years of marriage, is "unearned." It is a gift from G‑d to show us how wonderful a relationship we can create.

How do we expand that joy during our marriage?

There are two ways: (a) avoid the bad; (b) create the good.

In marriage, the primary "avoid the bad" means learning to rid yourself of anger. (In a future article, I'll elaborate how one detoxifies anger and acts assertively without anger). To be able to follow the five steps suggested below, you will first need to be able to let go of anger.

Assuming that one has a "reasonable" marriage, what can we do to move it from "reasonable" to "wonderful?

Step One: Remember the times in your life when you felt ecstatic about your spouse, or to think about the couples you know who appear committed, or to imagine ideally what you would like the relationship to be.

Step Two: Decide that you expect to have those kinds of feeling occurring in your current relationship. These feelings are not only for newlyweds.

Step Three: Make feeding that passion a conscious priority. "A constant fire must burn on the altar" (Lev 6:6); if we keep the flame burning on the altar, negativity is extinguished. In marriage, we can feel preoccupied by our responsibilities. But what is the ultimate point of earning a living, cleaning a house, and educating our households, unless our children experience caring between mother and father?

Step Four: Move that consciousness into action. What do I do on a regular basis that makes my spouse feel that I am happily dedicated to them? Do I teach my spouse how to do the same for me?

Do you look with "a good eye" to "catch" your spouse doing something good that you can acknowledge?

Here are a few examples: Do you look with "a good eye" to "catch" your spouse doing something good that you can acknowledge? Do your words and actions acknowledge your spouse? Does your spouse "overhear" you praising him/her to the children or to friends and family? Do you pick times when you visibly put your spouse's desires ahead of your own. Do you look for gratuitous small gifts? Are you sometimes extravagant in buying for your spouse? Do you pick times to give in to your spouse, even when your spouse is wrong? Do you sometimes surprise your spouse by completing "their" chores? Do you take the time to gaze at your spouse lovingly.

Step Five: Assess the impact of Step Four. Did I succeed in "touching" my spouse? Is my spouse open to receiving genuine affection from me? When I see that my spouse appreciates me, does it energize me to continue in that path? This approach works for the majority (though unfortunately not for all) marriages.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has written (Likutei Sichos, 34:209) that it is not enough for us to do the things that G‑d asks us to do. We need to anticipate and perform that which would please G‑d, even without being asked. Can you apply this principle to your marriage?

We need to continue to furnish "our tent" and not neglect it while we "sleep."

Husband Doesn't Help Out

March 2, 2008

Question:

I and my husband both work full time outside of my home. We have three children, all school-age. We both come home from work at a similar time, but I find when I come home from work, I'm the one who cooks dinner, sets the table and cleans up after, in addition to taking care of all the laundry and many other household chores. The only household job that my husband readily takes responsibility for is the garbage, and changing light bulbs! I'm very unhappy with this division of labor and feeling exhausted from my jobs inside and outside of the home. How can I get my husband to help out more?

Overworked

Dear Overworked,

You resent that when you come home from "work," it's to start a second job. Whereas, when your husband comes home, he relaxes and plays. You feel it's not fair – and you're right.

Maintaining a family requires much effort and each partner—husband and wife—must make equal contributions. An equal contribution does not mean each must do the same thing. It means that the total effort should be approximately equal. Thus, hard and fast rules as to who does what and how much cannot be made. It's the "total" effort at the end of the day that counts. And if it is not balanced—there will be resentment.

From your question, I understand that outside work is equal, but the housework is not. Your resentment is justified and must be corrected. If it is not, it can cause conflict and spread to otherwise healthy areas of your relationship. You are smart wanting to address this injustice.

Here are four steps on how to communicate to your husband your feelings:

1. Request a meeting. Tell your husband you have something important to discuss with him and request a time to talk. Select a time when you won't be interrupted by the phone or the children. Tell him you won't need more than ten or twenty minutes. If it goes beyond this amount of time it will likely lead to an argument. If you need more time, then request a second meeting.
Resistance. If your husband won't agree to talk, or agrees and then doesn't follow through, tell him in just a few sentences something like this: "Tom (replace with the correct name), I resent your insensitivity to my feelings. I want to talk and you are ignoring me. I feel distant from you and the longer this goes on the more apart we will become. I hope we can avoid this." Hopeful he will get the message and sit down and "talk."

2. Calmly describe your feelings. If you are angry—don't talk. Request another time. Why? Because if you are angry, your husband will only react to the "anger" and not the legitimacy of your point. He will not hear your request for "fairness." Your anger can trigger return anger from him. Your will end up arguing and accomplishing nothing. Without anger, express your feelings by talking about yourself. For example: "I feel it is not fair that I do most of the housework; I resent that while I am cleaning the kitchen and bathing the kids you are reading or talking to friends on the phone." Make sure you stay on topic. Avoid discussing other areas of discontent.
Resistance. If you find your husband becoming defensive, arguing or explaining himself, tell him to listen for a couple of minutes without interruption, and then it will be his turn to talk to you.

3. Tell your husband what you want. Now is your time to be assertive and say what you want. Avoid saying what you don't want. Stating what you want is always more powerful than saying what you don't want. Saying what you want is clear, decisive, and unambiguous.
Resistance. If your husband will not accept your feelings or denies your request for equality, tell him: "Tom, if you ignore my needs and feelings, I am going to feel distant from you. This is not how we want our marriage to be. I think we can do better."

4. Negotiate a plan. Assuming your husband is with you at this point, together make a "plan of action" that expresses your agreement to share equally the housework. Write it down so there is no misunderstanding.
Resistance. If you sense your husband is not sincere in his commitment to cooperate, suggest a follow-up time to discuss the implementation of your "plan of action." This will inform your husband that you are serious and that you intend to hold him accountable.

I sincerely hope your efforts will achieve the success you are seeking. If you run into a snag, likely you are having a problem with one of the above four steps. Reread it and try again at another time. Don't give up or get angry. If all your efforts lead to disappointment, get help from a trusted and competent advisor.

Wishing you and your family the best.

Rabbi Avrohom Kass, M.A., R.S.W., R.M.F.T.

Feeling lonely in your marriage? Constant fighting, arguing and bickering? Money problems keeping your apart? Or is jealousy ruining your intimacy?

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