Dear Tzippora,

My husband and I were high-school sweethearts. I never doubted that he was the one for me. Yet fifteen years down the line, I am starting to realize how different we are, and I am feeling constrained by those differences. My husband is much more complacent than I am. After work, all he wants to do is relax, watch a movie and have a beer. I am interested in learning, growing, attending Torah classes, and trying new things, and I feel that he is stagnating. It makes it hard for me to respect him when I see him wasting his time, and his life like this.

Frustrated Wife

Dear Frustrated Wife,

First of all, step back, and acknowledge your achievement. A long-term relationship such as yours is a major accomplishment in today's quick-fix and disposable culture. I suspect your husband's relaxed and easy-going nature has made it easier for you to maintain your long-term relationship, and while that same nature is frustrating to you right now, it is important to also see its benefits, and appreciate how they lend stability to your relationship.

Relationships have seasons, and it is normal for a couple to go through cycles of distance, or even estrangement, followed by cycles of enhanced intimacy and closeness. However, for the uninformed, these natural cycles can be baffling, and even cause for alarm.

It sounds like you and your husband are experiencing a phase where you are not in sync with each other, in which your individual need for growth appears to conflict with his desire for rest. Give yourself permission to focus on your own development right now and grow in the ways that you need to grow as an individual. Trust in your relationship, and its ability to stretch to accommodate both of you as unique individuals.

It seems like your husband is content to appreciate what he has right now. That does not mean that he is not a growing person. Growth is not a linear process, and development is often balanced by periods of rest. If he continues to work and fulfill his obligations to sustaining your family, he is still growing despite not having taken on anything extra. The fact that you are free to pursue your own interests without antagonism is a blessing in itself.

You say that your frustration stems from the way your husband seems to waste his time, and that this makes it hard for you to respect him. You are correct in your assessment that what your husband and society as a whole consider to be innocent diversions, such as drinking beer, playing video games, and watching movies, are actually truly problematic behaviors.

The real problem with the many readily available forms of entertainment is that they take time and motivation away from engaging in more meaningful pursuits, such as learning Torah, doing mitzvahs, and practicing kindness. Additionally, they also expose a person to inappropriate conceptions of sexuality and violence, that are spiritually and emotionally harmful to even the passive observer. Judaism teaches us that time is the most meaningful commodity that we have in this world, and the way we spend our time determines the type of person we are.

However, if your husband engages in meaningful uses of his time during the majority of his waking hours, he has demonstrated ample reasons to deserve your respect. Do not allow these problematic behaviors to corrode your underlying respect for him as a person, or to threaten the marital harmony in your home.

Marital harmony, otherwise known as shalom bayit, is the foundation upon which the stability of your family rests. Therefore, whenever one seeks to change or improve an existing relationship, it is important to do so in a way that promotes a peaceful, non-strained atmosphere in the home.

First focus on his other wonderful qualities that drew you to him in the first place, and then talk to him about those qualities you admire in him. Only after this can you gently explain that his squandering time in these unproductive pastimes is unworthy and at odds with a fine person you know him to be.

You can share with him your awareness about the finiteness of time, but be careful not to nag, or scold him like a lazy child. People often live up to the image we portray for them, and relating to a person in a negative way can cause them to strengthen those parts of their identity.

Instead, keep leading the way through learning, growing, and sharing with him all the wonderful things you discover. Help him to recognize just what he is missing out on. These efforts will enhance the atmosphere in your home, and infuse it with spirituality.

Thanks for writing!