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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.

It may also make things easier if you begin to communicate with your wife instead of constantly fighting about the same issues. Is it possible for both of you to agree to disagree and develop a loving relationship based on other things? Try to open the lines of communication by going back to the drawing board.

Can you and your wife make some time to have a date and talk about things that are unrelated to your differences? Can you and your wife focus on your beautiful family? Obviously there must be some major shifts in the way that you and your wife perceive and relate to each other. If the two of you are willing to make the effort to learn how to relate to each other in a different manner, both of you might be surprised to find out that you may actually enjoy each other’s company and that you want to be happy – together. Remember the saying, “kemayim panim el panim, kein lev ha’adam – people will treat you the same way that you treat them.” The lesson: If you are always looking for your wife’s faults or her differences with you, she is likely looking for the same things in you.

Instead, turn over a new leaf and compliment your wife, appreciate her good qualities, and make an effort to focus on why you should stay together rather than why you are unhappy with her.

As a Modern Orthodox Jew, you appear to follow halacha but are upset by other issues. I am not certain, though, that this is true. Perhaps those other issues reflect other inner issues that are making you miserable. If this is so, please seek guidance from a competent rav or frum therapist. One or both of them will hopefully help you get through this trying time.

Remember that your wife is different than your mother and that just because she dresses like your mother or has some of the same views regarding Yiddishkeit, it does not mean that your wife has the same personality or outlook on life. It is possible that you are associating your feelings about your wife with all of your negative feelings about your mother. This can be very destructive in a marriage because things that may be innocent or miniscule may become vital in your mind due to this association.

Your wife does not appear to be like your mother in both personality and middos; thus it would be prudent to start focusing on all of your wife’s good qualities. If you do so, maybe your wife will feel loved and appreciated – and respond in kind. And you might be able to reshape your interactions, making them positive, loving exchanges. This will have a great impact on the way you feel.

Hashem sometimes sends us gifts that we just don’t appreciate. Hatzlachah!

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