Dear Dr. Yael,
I am a very average looking guy married to a physically beautiful woman. We were young when we got engaged and I really enjoyed having people tell me how beautiful my kallah was. So much so, that I never really looked at what she was like internally.
Today, we are married with a child and she finds everything stressful. She just can’t seem to deal with life. She has a good heart. However, she is very sensitive and she ruminates about the things people say that upset her – especially her parents, who are constantly putting her down. I often tell her to ignore them or to answer them respectfully, but this is hard for her.
I myself am successful financially and quite confident. I also come from a good solid home. I am trying to encourage my wife to go for help and hope that you addressing this topic in your column will make a difference.
“If you can’t handle stress you won’t manage success,” is an old but true saying. However, the way we deal with stress very much depends on our backgrounds. It sounds as if your wife never learned adequate coping skills and from what you described grew up in a home where one or both of her parents were always right and she was always wrong.
Often when people grow up in homes where everything is stressful, life is more challenging. I will outline some ideas that can help your wife cope more effectively with stress and ask that you help her to put these ideas into action.
1) Do things early or on time. Good time management helps one cope with life better. For example, I like to set my Shabbos table Thursday night and make sure Shabbos is ready early. I find that Erev Shabbos is very stressful for many people; doing things early will help minimize that stress.
2) Learn to deal with stressful people more effectively. Answering these people smartly, with polite confidence can help you feel better about the situation. Do you praise and build your wife up? It is important not to allow negative people to live rent-free in her brain. Try to give your wife at least 3-5 sincere compliments each day to build her self-esteem and help her see herself positively. If your wife is sensitive, she needs to learn to replace that negative voice with positive, self-affirming words.
3) Do you or your wife get angry often? Does the anger in her life cause her stress? If anger is an issue, learning breathing techniques and counting to ten before getting into an argument can be helpful.
4) Are you helpful around the house? Do you give her words of affirmation? Do you make her feel important? All of these are essential to helping her feel special. I understand that it is difficult for you to see her not coping, but if you want her to be more successful, you have to become her cheerleader and help her feel better about herself.
5) How do you speak to your wife? A soft soothing tone helps people deal with stress.
I would like to share a personal story of how I effectively dealt with an inappropriate angry person many years ago. Instead of allowing this person to cause me personal stress, I mitigated her anger.
It was Thanksgiving and my son’s bike was stolen from in front of his yeshiva. The next day we went to the local police precinct to report it. The woman who took the report screamed at me for waiting a whole day. I watched all the policemen snickering at the manner in which she spoke, and I realized that she probably spoke to everyone this way.
I chose to answer in a soft respectful tone apologizing for not coming in the same day. The louder she screamed, the softer I responded. The policemen were having fun watching this exchange. This woman was so unaccustomed to my manner of response that she ended up apologizing and telling me that she will personally see to it that this bike would be found. My son left smiling saying “Only Mommy can pull this off, to get a woman with such chutzpah to be a mentsch.”
These are the precise techniques I try to teach my clients, and this is how you can mitigate your own stress levels and help others have less stress as well!
Please pursue professional help to assist you and your wife in learning how to navigate stressful situations. I wish you hatzlocha in your marriage and your voyage through life!