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Is it ever appropriate for a husband to put his foot down with his wife or
a wife with her husband? Or is compromise the answer no matter what the issue is?


Rabbi Marc D. Angel

Husbands and wives must always strive to deal with each other with love, respect, patience… and a good sense of humor. They must be able to communicate their feelings and needs and must be sure that their spouse genuinely listens and understands.

With these ingredients, couples will be able to negotiate almost every area of conflict. Almost… but not all. Sometimes there are deep differences that cannot simply be ignored or laughed away. But when such differences arise, authoritarian attitudes seldom result in satisfactory conclusions. You don’t “put your foot down” if you treat your spouse as an equal partner in marriage.

On the other hand, compromises are not always workable or appropriate. If a couple cannot reach a satisfactory resolution to their differences, they should consult their rabbi or a marriage counselor. It sometimes is helpful to have a trusted professional help the couple work through the issue and come to a mutually acceptable way forward.

The goal is not to have either spouse say, “I won, you lost.” The goal is for both to be able to say, “We won.”

— Rabbi Marc D. Angel, director of the
Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals

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Rabbi Zev Leff

When a husband and wife disagree, obviously the ideal is to discuss it together and come to a joint solution that is acceptable to both – either by reaching a compromise or by one convincing the other that his or her position is correct.

When that isn’t possible, the Gemara says that in worldly matters and matters of the household (i.e., more practical issues), the wife’s opinion should be followed, and in spiritual matters (i.e., more abstract issues) the husbands’ opinion should be followed.

That’s true in regards to arguments that don’t involve basic hashkafos or halachos – Torah principles and mandates or matters that have implications vis-à-vis the basic standards and values of a Torah home (especially those impacting childrearing).

In those instances, the best solution is to have a rav that both agree to approach and accept his directives as binding Torah guidance.

— Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Matisyahu,
popular lecturer and educator

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Rabbi Yosef Blau

The phrase “putting his or foot down” is offensive and inappropriate when describing a marital relationship.

The Mishnah rejects having a beit din with an even number of judges because there is no guarantee of getting a majority. Clearly, in a relationship of two, this is always a problem as sometimes a decision has to be made one way or the other – such as where the children go to school. But hopefully the couple based their relationship on common values so that the choice is not based on conflicting religious perspectives.

In general, the best solution is to find an accommodation. For example, a husband’s or wife’s job may require moving to a specific location that is not appealing to his or her spouse. The answer might be to agree to move and to change jobs after a certain amount of time if the spouse is still unhappy. In some situations – if the move is very difficult for the spouse – one has to be willing to turn down the job offer.

In a relationship, one of the two might have a stronger personality, but forcing one’s way is destructive to the relationship and sends a destructive message to the children. Agreement isn’t always possible, but sensitivity and finding a balance is an absolute requirement.

— Rabbi Yosef Blau, mashgiach ruchani at YU’s
Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary

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Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet

Jonathan is keen for a third child. Judy puts her foot down: “We agreed to only two!”

Batya stopped covering her hair. Zalman puts his foot down: “This is unacceptable! You’re not the woman I married!” (Names have been changed to protect their identities.)

These are two extreme examples for which one might assume there is no room to compromise. They both involve critical decisions, one life-altering and the other fundamental halacha. The aggrieved parties ought to be able to put their foot down because of a basic breach of trust.

Yet, one ought to consider: Where will that lead? In both instances, there is an inevitable impact on shalom bayis that supersedes all else.

Needless to say, in such extreme cases, professional and spiritual authorities ought to be consulted. That is the essence of compromise. In lesser examples, a compromise can and must always be sought between the couple themselves.

There is an ancient custom for a chassan to step with his right foot on the left foot of the kallah just before the finale of the chuppah to reflect his dominance over her. Those who advocate for this have their spiritual reasons. The dissenters suggest it is a breach of the Biblical verse, “Tamim tiyeh im Hashem Elokecha – You shall be whole with Hashem…”

This begs for explanation. What’s the correlation between the custom and “Tamim tiyeh”? Perhaps the following: Chazal say, “If man and woman are worthy, the Shechina dwells among them.” “Ish” (man) has a yud and “ishah” (woman) has a hey – the two letters comprising the name of Hashem. Thus, when man and woman are on equal footing, the two letters of Hashem’s name are together – whole – “tamim tiyeh.”

I often say to a chassan before he steps on the glass, “May this be your last time putting your foot down!”

— Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, popular Lubavitch lecturer,
rabbi of London’s Mill Hill Synagogue

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Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier

There are many relationships where “putting your foot down” is called for and appropriate. A teacher and student. A boss and employee. A judge and a defendant.

Does it belong in a marriage? Chazal describe the married couple as “rei’im ahuvim” – best friends who love each other. Those terms define the relationship. Friends discuss things. Friends negotiate matters. Friends reach compromises.

Best friends who love each other don’t threaten, intimidate, or bully one another. And so “putting your foot down” violates the terms of agreement in the marriage. By doing so, one partner has transformed the relationship to teacher and student, boss and employee, or judge and defendant.

While it’s true that he or she might win the battle, the spouse will lose the war – and war it will be.

That being said, there are times when either husband or wife has a right to say, “This isn’t the marriage I agreed to,” and elect to end it. But before taking this step, you’d better make sure you’re right.

So it would behoove one to ask advise of someone older and wiser to see if in fact “this issue” is the deal breaker you think it is and is worth ending your marriage over.

— Rabbi Ben Zion Shafier, founder of The Shmuz


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