Rav Ezriel Tauber says that a husband and wife are like two rough diamonds. A rough diamond can become a priceless, pure jewel, but only if another diamond is used to remove the impurities. So HaKadosh Boruch Hu puts together two perfectly matched rough diamonds. He makes sure that they have their little differences. The friction from these differences scrapes away at their impurities so they gradually become multi-faceted, pure, shining jewels.
However, when the differences go deep, when the problems – perhaps temper, perhaps criticism, perhaps lack of help – rock the shalom bayis, then the scraping and rasping of those two diamonds can often be too much to bear. Trying to “dig out” either spouse’s “impurity” without an anesthetic is hardly likely to decrease the pain.
There may be another way to purify the diamonds. Perhaps a solvent where the couple joins forces to dissolve the problem might do the trick.
So let’s imagine a couple and hear what they may say:
WIFE: I tried so hard the other day. I got up at 5:30. I slipped out of bed as quietly as I could and left the room on tiptoes so as not to wake my husband. I dressed, davened and made everybody his or her lunches. Then I heard the children stirring. All their clothes were ready, so I popped my head into their room and said, “Come on children, time to get up. Off you go to do neggel vasser and then you can get dressed.”
My bed wetter had wet his bed. I calmly stripped his bed and said, “Well, tonight you can try again.” I was so pleased with myself for not getting angry. My dreamer was still sitting on his bed singing to himself, lost in some imagining game. “Come on,” I said, “it’s time to start dressing for school.” On the way to the washing basket with the wet sheets, I heard the rumblings of a children’s squabble. I dropped the sheets and dashed to the bedroom to prevent a full fledge war. My husband also heard and came in, rubbing his sleepy eyes. “What are these wet sheets doing in the middle of the hall? I could have tripped over them! Why can’t you keep the children quiet for the few extra minutes I have before it’s time to get up for minyan?”
I kept my mouth shut tight. I was not going to answer back. I was not going to let that larva stream of angry defensiveness pour out of my mouth in burning words and accusations. I tried encouraging the children to get dressed but my message came out all wrong. My voice was too loud and my words sounded more like demands and commands than encouragement.
“There you go again shouting at the children. Why can’t you make our mornings a happy, fun time?”
“Stop it!” I screamed. “Stop criticizing me in front of the children!” I ran to my room, took a deep breath, wiped my streaming eyes, and promised myself that I would calm down and make another try for a good start to the day.
“Come on kids. If you hurry up then I’ll have time to read to you before the school bus comes.”
I did it. I really did try again.
“I want my book,” piped up the oldest.
“No, I want the crocodile book.”
Meanwhile my “dreamer” was still singing away and all the neat piles of clothes had been thrown haphazardly on the floor.
“How do you expect the children to find their clothes in this chaos?” was my husband’s “helpful” comment.
I lost it, lost it, LOST IT! “Stop criticizing me. I’ve been up since 5:30 getting everything ready for all of you. I tried to quiet the children. I dropped those wet sheets in a vain attempt to stop their squabbling. I…”
“That’s half your trouble, you’re over tired. You should get more sleep.”
“There you go again! Will you please listen to me…?”
The children shook into their clothes. They came to breakfast and the silence was deafening. Not a word from anybody. They silently left for school. I gave each of them an unresponded to kiss and told them I loved them.
What can I do? Please, what can I do?
HUSBAND: I really don’t understand my wife. She has me completely baffled. Take the other morning for instance.
I was rudely awoken from a badly needed sleep by the children’s fighting. So I got up and walked into this pile of sheets. I just asked my wife what the sheets were doing in the corridor and reminded her that I had wanted to sleep a bit longer.
She was hurrying the children along in a rather loud voice so I simply suggested that it would be nice to have a happy and fun get-up time. She screamed at me, accusing me of criticizing her and then she ran to our room.
What did I do? I was just trying to be helpful. Why do women get so emotional over nothing?
Anyway, after a bit she came back into the kids’ room and offered to read to them after breakfast if there was time. The children started fighting over which book she would read. I wanted to help dress the children but their clothes were spread all over the floor and I couldn’t tell which was whose. So I asked her how the children could find their clothes. My wife went ballistic. She told me how she had got up so early to make this a good morning. Well, I ask you, isn’t it obvious that if you get up so early you’re bound to be over tired? People are always emotionally edgy when they are over tired. My wife went all quiet and icy and I went off to daven.
What I really don’t understand is what she has against my helpful comments. When people give me helpful suggestions, I thank them. Why? It shows that they care enough about me to try to help me. Yet my wife accuses me of criticizing her in front of the children. What nonsense. I would never do that!
“Pointing out” and raised voice; being helpful and feelings of misery are spiraling this couple into a vicious circle that is destroying their marriage. As a narrative therapist, I know that problems take on a life of their own, making their victims into puppets who inadvertently do the problems’ bidding. If the victim can be allowed to see the real nature of the problem and its effect on the marriage, then husband, wife and therapist can form a team to work together against the problem.
So let’s try something different. What if only the wife told her version of that morning, whilst her husband was listening to her? Listening, really listening with all his attention focused on her, with all his caring just for her. What might he answer if he was asked about what in her story rang a bell with him?
“I suppose we really both want the same thing. You know, a pleasant wake-up with happy chatter and fun and no raised voices.”
I might ask about raised voices to get that villain more in perspective: “What happens when ‘raised voices’ joins your conversations?”
“Raised voices are so infectious. Once one of us raises the volume it’s normally just a matter of a minute until we’re both hollering.”
“What might happen if you had a signal to catch the volume before it climbs too high?”
“Yeah, how about holding up a picture of a loud speaker?”
“What about just putting our fingers in our ears? No, the kids might start copying us.”
“We could just pretend to be turning the volume down.”
“Perhaps I’ll hold up a picture of a teacher in front of her class when you give me helpful comments.”
“I could show you a ‘be happy’ sign when you get too serious.”
“We could stop talking altogether and just use sign language.”
Once the problem and its ways become clear; once the jointly held values for the marriage become clear, then the couple can prepare their own “solvent.” Perhaps they can use humor like this couple did. Perhaps they will also decide to set aside a ‘pointing out” time over a cup of coffee and a slice of chocolate cake. The whole idea is that both spouses realize they are on the same side, planning and working out together their strategies for dealing with their “impurities.”
This way they will gradually and far less painfully become the peerless, perfectly bright, shining diamonds that Hashem saw that they could be.Batya Jacobs
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