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The Secret of Turning Misery into Happiness

misery and happiness

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Dear Dr. Respler:

By writing this letter I hope that my pain and frustration will cease.

While growing up, my mother had a tough and determined nature and always had the whip in hand when running the family. Contrary to her, my father was always kind, giving and forgiving.

My family was moderately Orthodox, but gradually my mother became more haredi. She changed her style of dress in conformity with the haredi dress code. She then forced all of us to become haredi.

I was about the age of 12, not too old (but still not too young) to willingly change. In all due respect to my mother, she impatiently forced and tortured me to change. She labeled me as the modern, “goyish” one. Her strictness, hitting and threats made me cry. I once felt like I was about to have a nervous breakdown but, baruch Hashem, it did not happen. All this led me to begin despising what I considered to be a lifestyle of frum meshugasim.

At 14 I was sent to a well-known yeshiva in Israel where I got some relief – but only a little. Whenever I called or came home, I was heavily criticized. My mother constantly saw me as a non-Jew.

In my mind, I hoped that life would sparkle when I got married. At least then I’d live my own life. When shadchanim started calling, I made it clear to my mom that with my greatest appreciation to her, I had a duty to outline my own independent future that was not parallel to hers. I begged her to please bring forth love and peace to my life and to find someone with whom I had more in common. I wanted a wife that would not dress or act as frum as my mother. As you can expect, she immediately refused, telling me that this was not an option. She decided that my wife would be just like her – including n the way she dressed.

Feeling like a prisoner, I went along with a shidduch she wanted for me. Baruch Hashem, the girl was sweet and beloved. But I held out hope that after the wedding I’d be able to ask my wife to gradually change. I knew this could cause problems, but I was hopeful.

Sadly, after 12 years of marriage and six children, my situation is the same; my wife is unwilling to change. As a matter of fact, contrary to what I had hoped for, the opposite is happening: my wife wants me to change. She says that I am too modern and should become more frum.

On the positive side we both understand each other’s position. I appreciate her for her good middos, and she appreciates me for studying Torah. But arguments about our differences abound, and our lives are so miserable – filled with darkness and seemingly no light at the end of the tunnel.

Dr. Respler, please help me. Thank you.
Anonymous

Dr. Yael and Dr. Orit reply:

Dear Anonymous:

Despite our best intentions to help bring an end to your pain, it is unrealistic for you to expect us to do so based on an anonymous letter. Nonetheless we will do our best to deal with the issues you raised in a general manner, while at the same time suggest that you seek professional help and speak to a rav that you trust.

The fact that your wife has good middos is probably more important than you realize. You appear to have many correct values and it seems that much of what you are upset about revolves around other issues that have little to do with your inner feelings. Are these issues really important to you? Do you think that you can reach some sort of compromise with your wife, where you meet somewhere in the middle regarding the other issues?

You write about being miserable in your marriage, but that does not come from disagreements about “some issues.” When did the way people dress and act become everything we stand for? Do you and your wife share any of the same views? Of course you will have challenges if you want to raise your children differently from each other and if you have different views on Yiddishkeit, but if you want to remain frum (which seems apparent from your letter) and both of you are willing to compromise there is no reason to allow these issues to make your lives miserable.

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