Latest update: December 21st, 2013
Dear Dr. Yael:
I am writing in regards to the December 6 letter from Anonymous about the woman who always sees “the good in every person and every situation, all the while rolling with life’s punches. My husband, on the other hand, gets upset about every little thing. He is a nice person, but is always tense.” Those words really hit home – with one difference.
I am a man similar in outlook to the letter writer whose wife – stressed out and tense – is like the husband.
Everything with my wife is an issue. If one of our young children spills something or accidentally breaks something, she screams uncontrollably. She is always angry and moody, which terrifies the children. I try to act lovingly toward her, but after an outburst she will often find a reason to blame me for what happened.
I love my wife and in some ways she is a caring mother. She takes good physical care of the house, the children, and herself. Supper is always ready and the house is spotless. Since it is hard to keep everything neat and clean with three young children, my wife has plenty of cleaning help.
I want to stay married to her and help her become calmer. I sometimes wonder if she leans towards a Borderline Personality Disorder, but when I researched the condition I found that she only has the character traits befitting an angry and moody person. She is a good person but very nervous.
While reading your reply to Anonymous, I realized that in fact my wife comes from a very nervous household with a lot of anger. I am the one with the “shovel” in dealing with life’s difficulties; unfortunately she is the one with the “spoon.” I love that analogy since it speaks accurately of my life situation.
My wife respects me and is devoted to our family, but I wish she were warmer and more loving. Please help me by sharing any ideas about a solution to my problem.
You appear to be a caring and loving husband and father. You are very much correct to believe that it is not emotionally healthy to yell at the children for any little spill or break. That behavior is, unfortunately, likely to make them nervous adults. My favorite line from author Chaim Ginott, a”h, a well-known psychologist and one of the earliest promoters of parenting workshops, is: “The milk spilled here is the sponge.” I like to utter my line when something spills at children’s Shabbos parties: “The juice spilled here is the pre-cut paper towel or napkin.” When that happens it is prudent to hand the child the pre-cut paper towel or napkin, teaching the child to clean the spill without having to yell. Teaching children how to deal calmly with an issue will prepare them for life’s challenges.
It is key that you impress upon your wife the importance of not making a big deal of small issues, a strategy that will create a calmer home environment. In short, your attitude is the right way to raise a family (and to behave in life).
The more confidence and calmness we instill in our children, the stronger they will be to cope with life’s difficulties. A broken glass or small spill doesn’t compare with those difficulties. I applaud you for practicing a calm demeanor, and suggest that you use your “shovel” in a most loving way to successfully reach your wife. Compliment her generously when you notice even small improvements in her behavior.
Growing up in a tense home has put your wife at a great disadvantage, and your warmth and love can be most helpful. Thus, when your wife is getting nervous, act soothingly and calmly toward her, teaching her to handle stressful situations with greater composure. And in order to help your wife respond more positively, you will need to retrain her brain to deal with stressful situations in a more relaxed manner. This will entail communicating with your wife when she is in a good mood and feeling self-confident.
Say something like “I notice that when daily stress occurs, it is difficult for you. I would like to try something with you that may help you feel calmer in these situations.” Then practice deep breathing with your wife and come up with a secret, funny word that you can use to cue her when she needs to calm down by breathing deeply. If she is willing to try these techniques, you’ll be helping her pair stressful situations with these calming techniques. Her brain will eventually be retrained when stressful situations arise.
Please understand that she may have to work harder than you, as she is trying to undo many years of pairing stressful situations with panic or agitation. But it is possible to change if she is willing to make the effort by regularly practicing calming techniques.
As a trained hypnotherapist, I often help people deal with stress by teaching them calming techniques through hypnosis. I also attempt to help my clients learn anger management techniques. So another idea would be to seek professional help from a frum therapist.
I wish you hatzlachah in dealing with your challenging situation.
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