Dear Dr. Yael,
I listened to your lecture series on how to show love to those who matter in our lives and it really hit home for me.
I am married to a “great guy.” He is a huge baal chesed and very active in many community projects. He makes a lot of money and has several businesses. He is very generous to me and to our children financially, however he is hardly ever available. Whenever I want to talk to him, he is on three cell phones and occupied with business deals and community commitments. People always tell me how lucky I am to be married to this amazing guy, however, he is not generous with his time – even with our kids.
Dr. Respler, I know he means well, and I know how good his heart is, but he is showing his love to all the wrong people. How do I get him to understand that we, our family, needs his time attention just as much as the outside world does.
Dear Lonely Wife,
It is very hard for people who are deeply involved in chesed to realize if they are neglecting their loved ones. Because they are busy giving of themselves all day, they do not feel the void of their family.
You are going to have to gently make your husband understand how you feel. It would be prudent to wait for a time when your husband is not tired or overwhelmed, perhaps on Shabbos afternoon after he takes a nap. A good idea is to suggest taking a walk together, and when you are alone, ask if it’s a good time to speak to him about something that is bothering you. Make sure you praise him and tell him how much you appreciate all that he does for you, the family, and the community.
Then you can say something like, “I know that you have very little time on your hands, but I feel like I’m always competing with others for your attention. It would mean so much to me if you would shut off your phone for an hour or so when you are home, and spend uninterrupted time with me and the children. I know this is not something that will be easy for you, but I want some time when we are your only focus. What do you think? Maybe we can also institute some time for just us at night, so we can have some private time as well.”
If your husband agrees or you come up with a compromise, make sure to also come up with ideas of what to do if he forgets. You do not want to become the time keeper or a nag, so it is important to come up with a secret word or signal that you can use if your husband gets involved in something when he is supposed to be giving you and the children his attention. It is also important to be flexible, so that if something critical does come up at work or for the community, he knows you are willingly giving him the time and space to take care of it.
Please be prepared for the time and effort it will take to make all of this happen. Giving to the community comes with a real sense of accomplishment and pride, not something you always get from changing a diaper or helping out with homework. This will make it harder on your husband to evoke real change.
Often people who are involved in chesed have a hard time saying no. You mention that your husband has a good heart. People like this are often put into untenable situations where organizations or certain individuals take advantage of them. While I am not suggesting you become his social secretary, there might be a way for you to help him prioritize.
Does your husband get a lot of honor for all his activities in the community? Do you build his self-esteem when he does special things for you and the family? Perhaps your husband is struggling with self-esteem issues and needs more recognition from you, it would be prudent to examine how you as a wife can make him feel more special in his role as husband, provider and father. Even if it appears to you that your husband has great self-esteem, it is hard to compete with the joy and the immediate gratification one receives in making successful business deals, achieving a level of affluence and being considered an important askan.
When it comes to change it is best that we start by examining ourselves and this will help the loved ones around us make changes as well. Please look at yourself and see what you can do to make your husband feel more special at home. We look forward to hearing from you.