Despite Eliyahu’s attempts to move closer to his wife, every possible advance was being rejected by Shaina, who would stonewall or retreat into her own emotional world.
In this marriage, Eliyahu was acting like a caretaker. He tried to control her by being a “nice guy” and doing everything he thought Shaina wanted, including making dinner every night, doing the laundry, and taking care of his children. He secretly believed that if he was kind enough, he could control Shaina’s love for him. What he didn’t realize is that his niceness was really a “pull” on Shaina, which is one reason she kept her distance. Underneath, Eliyahu had a big fear of rejection and was trying to have control over Shaina not rejecting him.
On the other hand, Shaina was trying to control Eliyahu, primarily with her criticism. She was critical any time she felt Eliyahu wanted something from her that would make him feel safe and loved. She had a secret hope that if she criticized him enough, he would stop pulling on her for affection and attention. Unconsciously, Shaina had a huge fear of being “swallowed up” and was trying to protect herself from being controlled by Eliyahu. Shaina could not experience who Eliyahu was because he was putting himself aside to please her. She could not connect with him until he was authentically himself. The more Eliyahu pulled with niceness, the more Shaina moved away, and the more Shaina moved away, the more Eliyahu pulled.
Both Eliyahu and Shaina needed to learn how to take loving care of themselves, rather than attempt to control the other. Eliyahu needed to learn how to not take Shaina’s behavior as a personal rejection. He needed to see that her withdrawal was coming from her fear of engulfment that he was tapping into, but he was not the cause of her fear. She had this fear way before meeting him. Eliyahu also needed to start to be loving to himself rather than “nice” to Shaina. He needed to learn to take responsibility for his own feelings of well-being, instead of being dependent upon Shaina for them. In learning to take care of himself, he would naturally stop pulling on Shaina for his sense of worth and security.
I suggested to Shaina that she needed to moderate the tone of her comments and learn to speak her truth without blaming or judging. She could say things like, “Eliyahu, I appreciate the dinner you made, but I feel like you made it with an expectation that I should now love you, rather than because you felt like making dinner. I’d rather that you not make dinner unless you are doing it because you really want to, and without an expectation attached. I feel pulled-on and it doesn’t feel good.”
Eliyahu and Shaina decided that it was worth learning how to give love to themselves, and then see what happened with their marriage. Fortunately, because both of them were devoted to learning to take full, 100% responsibility for their own feelings and needs, they were able to move out of their protective, controlling circle and into a loving circle. As they learned to take responsibility for themselves, their love for each other gradually returned.
In a healthy marriage, control is at bare minimum; both individuals develop a sense of mutuality and respect, carrying out their different duties and roles. When they need to “talk out” issues they do so in a kind and compassionate manner. When they disagree, they are able to resolve their disagreements and move on with their marriage and relationship.
About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, Marriage and Family Therapy, is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, and helping teens in crisis with offices in Flatbush, Cedarhurst, and Crown Heights. He is a certified PAIRS instructor, and trained as a Level 1, Emotionally Focused Therapist at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, and is a member of AASECT. He is the author of At Risk – Never Beyond Reach and First Aid For Jewish Marriages. To watch his free videos on marriage and parenting and for appointments visit: www.JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723
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