Dear Rachel,

I just don’t get what’s going on. I’ve been married for a few years now, and when I ask my husband for help, he gets agitated. It’s not like he’s lazy or doesn’t do anything around the house, and he does work long hours. But still, when I ask him to take out the garbage, change the baby’s diaper or do homework with the kids, he responds with critical words. I feel like I can’t request anything from him at all! And when I tell him how hurt I feel from his behavior, he just gets mad. I’m finding myself so unhappy in my marriage. Is there hope?

Dear Awesome Woman,

I’m so sorry for your pain. There are other women who have experienced what you have, and it’s very unfortunate. Certainly, his behavior as you describe it does not sound cherishing or loving.

Since you are the one writing to me, I can only make suggestions to you. Please understand—his behavior is not your fault. People are responsible for their own actions.

That said, there may be changes that you can make to help increase the emotional safety in your marriage for both you and your husband. Emotional safety in a marriage can dial down shame and blame attacks, thereby creating an atmosphere of peace. Husbands are human and imperfect; just like us, they have unrefined character traits and may be highly allergic to criticism. Again, his reactions are not your fault, so don’t blame yourself. If your husband were to reach out to a therapist, then he would be given suggestions as to how to behave in a more appropriate way. But since I am speaking to you only, I can only address what you can do, not how he can change.

The wonderful thing is that when we make changes in ourselves, others around us naturally change. That is very empowering.

Also, keep in mind your husband’s inner essence and soul, which is holy and pure. He has tremendous potential. The irritation that he has is most likely from stress and poor ways of handling relationships, perhaps from difficulties that arose from a challenging childhood. Everyone has the basic need of connecting in peace with their loved ones, and most likely, this is your husband’s greatest desire. The following suggestions will help bring light to your home. As Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the holy author of the Tanya, quotes from Chovot Halevavot, “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.”

Here are some actions to take that will, G‑d willing, shift the unpleasant atmosphere in the home to one of peace and emotional safety for both of you:

1. Acknowledge your emotions.

Emotions are “energy in motion” and are felt as actual physical sensations in the body. Clenched jaw? Tight chest? Pit in stomach? These sensations are actually emotional energy and the way in which your body speaks to you. When we focus our attention on these sensations, the energy can flow, release and shift instead of getting stuck as a migraine, vertigo or some other kind of ailment.

Most importantly, we don’t want to freeze or suppress the energy in the body. We don’t want the energy of your very real bodily reactions of sadness, grief, anger, hurt, shock to get stuck. Yet, we also don’t want to hurt someone or cause irreparable damage to a relationship by blurting out what you feel with no filter.

There are ways to somatically process emotions to provide release and clarity, and being honest with yourself and your body’s reaction to the emotional pain you’re feeling is the first step to releasing that inner tension.

2. Communicate using husband language.

Men often grow up in a culture of criticism and shame, where it is almost impossible for a young boy to express vulnerability; the male culture doesn’t welcome it. I’m sure you’ve seen the teasing that goes on among boys and men. This culture can result in many men being defensive and allergic to shame.

If the way a wife is expressing herself has the energy of judgement or criticism in it, her husband will sense it. And will react.

A softer way to communicate with your husband is using the language of desire by saying “I’d like” or “I’d love”:

“I’d love the garbage taken out.”

“I’d love some help with the baby.”

“I’d really like help with bathing the kids. I’m just too tired to do it alone.”

Of course, not all men need to be spoken to like this, and there are husbands who naturally are right there by their wife's side in managing the home, especially when there are young kids. But as you expressed, your husband is snapping at you when you ask for help, so let’s try something different. Try making your requests using this phrasing.

This more delicate and sensitive manner of approaching your husband can cultivate and nurture an atmosphere of emotional safety in your marriage.

3. Express gratitude and appreciation.

In Pirkei Avot, it says, “Who is rich? One who is happy with his lot.” Your husband is part of your lot!

We take so much for granted in our lives, and it’s not fair to those around us. Try upping the gratitude in your marriage. Be appreciative of what your husband does get right. Be grateful for the little things as well as the big things, and don’t take anything he does for granted. G‑d has been showing us, especially recently, how quickly life can change and how precious every moment is.

Take moments to notice your husband’s soul shining through as he gets things right in your eyes. As much as possible and without ignoring your feelings, focus on the many things he does that make you happy. When we change our perspective to never-taking-anything-for-granted, even the smallest things (which really are not so small)—taking out the garbage, doing homework with the kids, getting up for work every day—can increase the positive vibration in our marriages.

Express these observations to your husband, and let him know how much he is getting right by you. Share your appreciation by text or little notes; words of kindness go a long way and have far-reaching effects.

Each time I express words of gratitude to my husband, I believe it is like putting a gold coin in my marriage bank account. Those coins really add up. The result is that my husband feels like he’s getting something right, that he’s able to make me—his wife—happy. And with that positivity, he wants to do more to please me. He recognizes himself as a hero rather than a little boy who is always being chastised for not doing enough. My joy reflects his light that shines through.

You don’t need to be perfect in any of these suggestions, but see what you can do to change your energy to one of kindness, appreciation and respect. When you start expressing yourself in these ways, your husband may feel more emotionally safe; therefore, snapping back less. You’ll feel more emotionally safe, and this produces an atmosphere of peace and warmth in the home. This is like building your own mini-holy Temple and brings tremendous redemptive light into the world.

If you try these tips and things do not improve, then reach out for help from a mentor, coach or therapist. A peaceful home is so important for not only the health of the family, but for your mental and emotional health. There are many women (and men) who have gotten help, made shifts and healed their marriages. This can be possible. It may not be a linear journey—there may be ups and downs—but things can improve, and peace, stability and lovingkindness can happen.

I invite you to try these suggestions. They are good for your body and soul, as well as your marriage!