Freeing Women From Emotional Bondage
I started observing Orthodox Judaism in my late twenties and was indoctrinated with messages that placed the onus of sholom bayis on the woman. A righteous woman, I was taught, can turn a rasha husband into a good man. Please your husband, give in, make your husband happy and always look for the good…
While I am sure that no harm was meant in these teachings, I suffered for over thirty years in my futile attempts to fulfill these dictums. They may very well apply to women married to certain frum men, but they certainly do not apply to all – and the consequences for the women who try to live up to these ideologies in their marriages to men with certain personality disorders can be severe.
Depression, anxiety, despair and serious physical ailments can devastate the wife who knocks her head against the wall in trying to figure out why her husband is angry or disappointed with her because the house is not as clean as he would like or his dinner is not as hot as he prefers. When she actually says no to any one of his unreasonable needs, desires or wants, she receives a lecture from him about her bad middos.
In my own experience, I kept replaying the message that if only I do this or did that I would have sholom bayis and make him happy with me. By ignoring my inner voice that told me something just didn’t seem right, I fell into despair. Rabbi Shlomo Arush mentions in The Garden of Emuna that a husband criticizing and constantly finding fault with his wife turns her life into a living death. I was in such a FOG (read Susan Forward’s book Emotional Blackmail) that I failed to realize that this was why I had stopped wanting to get out of bed in the morning.
Women married to men with personality disorders such as narcissism, borderline personality disorder or any kind of addictive personality can never please their husbands. They will never get it right enough to satisfy their spouse and have the sholom bayis they so crave. These disorders are so complex that even therapists have a difficult time recognizing them when the couple comes in for therapy (if the husband should ever agree to it).
The man may act completely normal and charming outside the home, but lets his disorder loose on his most trusted partner. I lived in confusion for years until a very knowledgeable friend recognized that my situation was different than what was taught in regular sholom bayis classes. As one self-help author writes, when she sees a client with an overwhelming need to understand the person making her crazy, it may indicate that the person she is trying to understand and get it right with is totally outside the realm of being understood. Their minds do not work the same as those of people without these disorders, and calm, loving open communication with them may be ineffective.
Thank G-d, once I became aware that I was facing a different situation with my spouse than what the regular sholom bayis classes speak of, I was able to get the help I needed (by reading and educating myself). My living death turned into a living life when I was finally turned in the right direction.
So for all those women out there asking themselves what they are doing wrong, ask what is wrong with him that he behaves this way. Hashem may be nudging you to strengthen yourself emotionally and spiritually, by recognizing what you are doing right.
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