She: We have three children, a home and friends. Finances are not an issue: Yossi leaves money for our home, our family and for me, without my having to ask for it. The children are well dressed, well fed and healthy – at least physically. The house is clean, the laundry done, supper is on the table. I use every bit of energy to make our home the center of my life. But somewhere along the way I lost my marriage.
Yossi works hard – he does it for the family. And I appreciate it. But that is all he does for the family. He is out of the house for a 7 am minyan, pops back in to pick up his briefcase and then he pretty much disappears until the next morning. Well, that might be a bit too dramatic, but that’s what it feels like. He’ll stop in around 7 pm or so, have a quick supper, spend time with the kids until they get too demanding and then he is off into the night, either “learning” or simply spending time with his buddies. The rest of the evening I struggle alone with homework, bedtime and clean up. I am exhausted and go to sleep. Most of the time, I have no idea when he comes home.
He has also started drinking. He calls it Shabbos kiddush; I call it getting drunk. Instead of coming home Shabbos day and spending quality time with his family, he comes home from shul drunk. He is loud. He is belligerent. He frightens the children. And me? I have to sit at the table and run interference, trying to make everything seem all right or normal. “Look Ari, Tatti fell into his chair! Isn’t that funny?” “Tatti isn’t yelling, he is speaking loudly and doesn’t mean those silly things. Come, let’s serve the cholent.”
Look, Yossi is not an evil man. In fact, as I said, he is a hard worker, a good provider and has friends in the community. But he is no longer a husband or a father. The children are starting to have issues. I am getting worn out from carrying the ball alone. I have thought about this for a while and I’m done. The tension, the expectation, everything is making me crazy. It would be better to just cut him out of the equation and everyone would feel better.
He: Esty is the perfect wife. She works hard to make a beautiful home and take care of our children. I would do anything to make her happy. But we really don’t have anything in common. With everything she has to do to keep things running, there is not much time for me. Sure, I know she would rather I come home and sit down to dinner, spend time with the kids, be the “ideal” husband and father. But she has no idea what I have to deal with during the day. I’m a computer technician and own a store servicing computers. I am an authorized Toshiba and Dell agent. It took a lot of hard work to be where I am and to make money. I am successful because I work hard. If I only had to deal with the computers that might be better, but I have to take care of their owners also. And people who use computers and don’t know anything about them can be over the top annoying! It is frustrating! I go home, and suddenly I ‘m expected to “get with the program.”
Esty doesn’t see that I am upset. She doesn’t see that I’ve had a bad day. She isn’t interested in anything outside of the home and family. Which, I guess, is how it is supposed to be, isn’t it? So, I’m resigned to it. She does her thing. I do my thing. Sometimes it gets uncomfortable because we do not have an “intimate” life these days, but she is usually asleep when I get home, and if not, there is always something else to talk about that has to do with the kids. We are just not on the same wavelength. I’m not really sure what she wants, but it might be that she just is not interested in me anymore.
Me: When I was a child there was a popular toy called the “Chinese Trap.” It was a colorful woven cylinder, about 6 inches long. Your finger would go in one end and another person’s finger would go in the other end. The object was to take the fingers out of the “trap.” The more one struggled, and pulled and pulled, the more impossible it became to remove the finger, because when pulled, the weave would become tight and uncomfortable. The trick was to inch towards each other’s finger, loosening the weave, and allowing one finger at a time to “escape.”
When a couple feels trapped, and turn away and struggle to put distance between each other, no one wins. The art of marriage therapy is to help people “inch” towards each other and to remove any obstacle which keeps them from feeling trapped and unhappy.
Like many couples, Esty and Yossi came to me as a last ditch effort to save their marriage. Imagine the scene: A young man and a young woman, who shared a home and family, but each one feeling so alone, so isolated, so unloved. They felt like their entire life was built on make-believe. But they both were sitting in my office, which meant they still had an investment in making things right.
The first order of the day was to create a wish list, and get both of them to allow the other partner his/her wish: Yossi wanted Esty to share his life more. Esty agreed to cut back on her furious schedule of “keeping house” and make sure to nap during the day so she was more available for Yossi when he came home. She also made sure that she was not totally involved with the children. He wanted to feel included in her circle of warmth. Esty wanted Yossi at home! So when he called to say he would be late, instead of swallowing it, she made it clear that she wanted him home. Instead of feeling like a dog on a leash, Yossi began to feel needed.
When Yossi would come home in a bad mood, Esty would pull away, ignoring him, hoping that everything would just pass while she continued taking care of things. She didn’t see how cold and uncaring this felt to Yossi. So, Esty began to ask Yossi how his day was, making sure the kids were playing somewhere while they spent several minutes relaxing together. Yossi still worked late nights, but gave up his Shabbos “benders” and turned his family’s Shabbos into a true refuge of love and caring. This extended into the rest of the week, with family outings and intimate dinners.
Life is overwhelming and maintaining an intimate loving marriage is a challenge, requiring constant nurturing and renewing. When both parties in a marriage are preoccupied, they can drift away from each other without anyone even noticing. But the upside is illustrated in Yossi’s own words: “When I give my wife attention or caring, I am really giving myself, because she gives me back a hundredfold.”
Rav Dessler: The best relationship between husband and wife will be obtained when both achieve and practice the virtue of giving. Then their love will never cease and their lives will be filled with happiness and contentment for as long as they live on this earth.
Sara Freund, LCSW has practicing psychotherapy in the frum community for over 25 years. She has been healing couples, individuals with depression, anxiety, panic attacks. Part of her practice is working with people who have been traumatized and/ or are holocaust survivors or their children. In addition to dynamic psychotherapy she uses EMDR and Hypnotherapy. She can be reached at 718-692-1650 or e-mail sarafreund@Yahoo.com. Phone consultation available.Sara Freund