Conflict on the Home Front

Jewish teachings describe marriage as a merging of two previously separated souls. They unite under the chupah to become one. The actual feeling of oneness, however, can be elusive in marriage. Two people with barriers around themselves, defensive walls up, don't experience themselves as "one." In fact, when conflict arises, they may feel very separate from each other, like strangers – even enemies – on the opposite side of the fence.

People often feel quite distant from their spouses. They may have strong differences of opinion. They may have very different ways of doing things. They may not understand each other. In fact, because men and women are so different in so many ways, there will be many areas of potential conflict just because of gender issues. In addition, there will be potential for conflict because there are two people coming from two different backgrounds and histories. And there will be potential for conflict simply because most people have no idea of how to prevent it.

Take Full Responsibility

Shalom bayit – a peaceful home – rarely occurs by accident. In most cases, people must consciously do things that will bring about peace in the home. They need a peace plan. Since differences of opinion will inevitably arise, men and women must be prepared with strategies that will minimize or avoid conflict. Here is one strategy that will definitely help: Take Full Responsibility.

Don't leave the establishment of peace and harmony up to your spouse. You make it happen. If this seems unfair, don't worry about it. It's the type of unfairness that allows some people to be millionaires. Even more precious than money is a peaceful home. If you are the one to make it that way – great! You've won much more than a million dollars! (Moreover, our sages tell us that the reward for establishing peace is very great not only in this world, but also in the world-to-come. So it's definitely a win-win for anyone who wants to "Take Full Responsibility.")

Refuse the Invitation to Fight

Now that you've agreed to take full responsibility, you can do the following. When your partner accidentally provokes you, refrain from responding immediately. This is called "refusing the invitation to fight." Immediate retorts are like logs thrown upon a fire, causing small embers to turn into raging flames. Perhaps your partner is making an error (we all do that sometimes, don't we?). Don't respond right away. Pause. Wait. Excuse yourself for a few minutes. Take yourself somewhere where you can feel your feelings, take steps to calm and soothe them and then – develop an effective plan of action.

Why waste time and energy fighting? Wouldn't it be so much better if you could help your spouse "see the light?" But you won't be able to do that with a retort. You will need a strategy, a plan of action. How should you say it? When should you say it? What will be most helpful? What will get the best results? All this takes some calm, unemotional thinking, so you'll need to release your feelings privately (let them flow freely but silently in solitude, or write them down and tear up the paper afterwards, or use an emotional release technique if you are familiar with one). If you need help with the problem-solving part, enlist a professional. Otherwise, devise a plan that has some promise and quietly try it out.

This is your peace plan. Never retort. Take full responsibility by refusing all invitations to fight. Take time to think and develop a love-enhancing, harmony-enhancing, marriage-enhancing intervention. Or, if the issue isn't that important, just let it drop.

The Torah tells us, "There is no greater vessel for G‑d's blessings than peace."