The upside of a good argument is standing up for what’s right!

The downside is that I tend to be a little insulting.

The upside is that, honestly, he deserves to be be put in his place.

The downside is that he’ll be too defensive to open his heart to my hurt.

The upside is that I am seething with anger and need to vent.

The downside is that I may walk away even angrier.

What is the Jewish way to argue with your husband (or wife)? Would the super Jew just swallow their hurt and never argue?

Swallowing hurt is a Jewish virtue. The Talmud1 highly praises those who “hear their insult and do not retort,” and promises that “whoever overlooks his (hurt) feelings all his sins are overlooked (by G‑d)!” Swallowing hurt because you are afraid of your voice isn’t what the Talmud is talking about; rather, the Talmud is encouraging us not to take things so personally and not to become so easily wounded.

But what if you can’t seem to swallow your hurt feelings? What if you don’t address it, and it happens again. Then by all means, argue. Just argue with class.

There is something to be learned about disagreement in marriage from the mikvah. The mitzvah of monthly mikvah immersion is a cherished focal point of a Jewish relationship. It is a law that transcends human understanding (a chok), and yet the more deeply we learn about it, the more wisdom we can glean about relationships.

What is the mystical significance of the mikvah? In his famous book The Waters of Eden,2 Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan links the waters of the mikvah to the river that flowed out of Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden. Rabbi Kaplan asks this question: Why does the Torah interrupt the narrative about Adam and Eve to tell us about the river that flowed out of the Garden of Eden? The answer is understood by the subsequent story of Adam and Eve, after being driven from Eden, sitting by this river and repairing themselves. This river became their only link to the Garden, and through it, they could access their previous utopian world.

Circling back to the mikvah, Rabbi Kaplan tells us that all water in the world ultimately has its root in the river that emerged from Eden. This explains why the natural waters of the mikvah have their roots to the water that flowed out of Eden. A woman immerses in Garden of Eden-infused water every month and then brings that energy back into the relationship. Just as Adam repaired his relationship with G‑d through that water, the mikvah brings constant repair to a relationship.

We can even compare a couple’s initial infatuation to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve let their guard down (and literally wore no clothes) and were not embarrassed or protective over themselves. They were humble. In a fresh relationship, the couple often has their guard down. They aren’t worried about being taken advantage of. They give to each other purely without much fear.

But soon enough, the couple gets kicked out of that Garden. The starry-eyed bliss is over, and so they cover up their innocence and naivete with sophisticated defense mechanisms. The ego becomes very protective, and hurtful words or actions become loaded with significance.

How dare he blame me after all I do for this relationship?

She’s a spendthrift because she doesn’t value how hard I work and doesn’t respect me.

The fighting becomes a hot mess. We protect our egos, convinced that if we don’t protect ourselves well, then we will be depleted.

To push back on this natural decay, the marriage needs monthly repair. Differences and hurt feelings are to be expected, and won’t break down the love as long as the spouses can rebuild it. The mikvah represents access to the Garden of Eden, even if we can’t live there permanently. The waters are infused with humility from the Garden of Eden, and humility is just the right backdrop of a good (effective) argument.

The mere commitment to do a mikvah-centered marriage takes humility. Naturally, a couple wants to be intimate when they are in the mood, whatever time of the month. Following G‑d’s timeline for intimacy is totally pushing back against our desire for immediate pleasure. “Don’t tell me when I can and can’t touch my girl!” the ego shouts. The mikvah marriage begins with a more humble premise; this is G‑d’s girl (or guy), this relationship is a gift from G‑d; I’m grateful for the opportunity to be intimate with this girl when the time is right for it. It’s the Garden of Eden attitude, where it’s more about what G‑d wants from us than about what I’m entitled to have.

What about arguing? Can you argue with a humble attitude? I think so, especially if you don’t dive into the argument when you feel most angry. That often takes more self-control than holding back fromCan you argue with a humble attitude? cheesecake or caffeine. It’s so hard it hurts! But like any good diet, you really enjoy the benefit of holding out. Repair rarely comes in the heat of the moment, when your tongue is way too loose and his ego is still sore. But an argument a day or two later can be more like a heated conversation, and real progress can be made.

And one more tip for classy arguments is scaffolding. Can you anticipate what your spouse will say in his defense when you share your hurt? If you can, say it for him. If possible, support him by showing him that you get where he was coming from. And that you don’t think he’s a horrible villain, misogynist and abuser. The ego resists scaffolding much; it feels like we are excusing the inexcusable and defending the enemy. Plus, it drains the argument of its drama. But the upside to supporting his side before stating your case it that it can bring repair that can be sustained.

I hope I haven’t given you the impression that I’ve mastered the Jewish way to argue with my husband. But I have seen these Garden of Eden skills work wonders in my life, and I hope they are useful to you, too. And the next time you find yourself angry at your husband, remind yourself that effective repair is the secret to every great marriage. So argue with class!