Dear Dr, Respler,
You might think it strange for me to be turning to you because I am a man, and I know that my wife is a devoted reader of your column. She is not the only one, though.
I have 3 sisters and all of them also read your column and on rare occasions when we are all at my parents for a celebration (anniversary or Chanukah party), I hear them discussing your answers to some of the questions in your column. So even though I am male and possibly most of your letter writers are women, I hope that you will not be prejudiced on behalf of the female readership.
I married my wife 5 years ago. I was 24 and she was 22. We were set up by a well known Shadchan and it looked good right from the beginning. Our home backgrounds were pretty similar although my parents were not as financially successful as her parents. But there were no financial problems. My wife is beautiful and has a degree in computers and already had a good job when we met. I am a math teacher in College and very happy in my profession. In addition to that I teach a class in Yeshiva high school. My wife seemed to think this was a very good profession when we were dating. She went on and on about how good teachers can change a person’s life.
So, we married, and had 3 children pretty quickly. The oldest is a boy of 4 and then 2 girls, 2 and a 6 months baby. All of a sudden nothing that I do is good enough. I always compliment her, she never says anything complimentary to me. I help with the kids and she says it’s not enough.
During this Covid-19 pandemic she was working full time from home and I was doing Zoom classes also from home. We have our own home and each of us has their own office space. I scheduled my Zoom classes to give her the maximum help with the children. She says that if she had married a doctor or a lawyer or a dentist we could have been able to hire a full time nanny to care for the children who are now home without the kindergarten and nursery schools.
As much as her words hurt me, I never retaliate. I just keep quiet. Instead of this making a good impression on her she ramps up the criticism. And when she yells her insults, I see my little 4 year old son, cringe. When I put him to bed last night, after we said the Shema, he asked me, why is Mommy angry with us. I was shocked at this question. I wasn’t even sure how to answer it. I told him that Mommy is NOT angry at him and she is just upset because it is so hard to work from home.
I am afraid to repeat my son’s words to her because I’m sure she will just blame this on me.
I don’t know what to do. And truthfully I really don’t think this is because of the coronavirus. I think this is deep-seated and I don’t know where to turn.
A very sad but faithful and loving husband
It sounds like you and your wife are struggling with positivity in your marriage. I don’t know either of you, so it is difficult to respond, but I will try my best with the information you shared. It is very hard when someone is always criticizing you and I am sure that you are suffering. Obviously, your wife is also suffering or she would not have to be critical. Most times people criticize others because they are feeling insecure about themselves. I know you mentioned that you compliment your wife, but are you positive with your wife? Do you praise and compliment your wife for what she does to contribute to your family on a day to day basis? She seems to be feeling overworked and overwhelmed, and unfortunately appears to be taking it out on you. I wonder what would happen if you sit your wife down and told her that you see that she is unhappy. Maybe tell her how much you love and appreciate her and ask her how you can help make this situation more bearable for her. This will be hard because you are probably feeling very resentful right now, but if you can try to see your wife as someone who is struggling instead of someone who keeps hurting you, you may be able to do this.
We all crave to be loved and valued by our spouses and while you deserve the same treatment, perhaps your wife needs you to go the extra mile right now to help her through this trying time. Giving birth to three children in succession, caring and nurturing your children, besides doing all that she does in the home is challenging. Having all three children home all the time while working full time can really push someone over the edge. When people feel unappreciated and unloved in a relationship like this, they sometimes become critical to build their own self esteem. I, in no way, am condoning this behavior towards you. However, since you were the one to write in to me, I am trying to give you ideas to help you improve your relationship.
You obviously dated and chose to marry your wife. I know that positive, loving compliments and sincere words of affirmation can go a long way to build a marriage. “Kmayim panim al panim, ken lev ha’adam.” If you continue to try to build your wife up, the hope is that she will do the same for you. Sometimes we get stuck in a circular situation, where the marriage is like a circle that goes round and round. I heard this analogy which I think will be very helpful. Imagine if you saw your marriage as a helix. A helix is circular, but gets higher and higher. Every time you see small movement in your marriage imagine that there is growth in the marriage and you are taking a step higher as a helix is shaped. Every negative comment that you make is like staying stuck in a negative circular situation. Every positive comment is building your helix. Build your marriage in small increments as a helix gets built.
Please get professional help if you can’t do this alone. Look for a therapist who focuses on your strengths in your marriage. The last thing you need is a doom and gloom therapist who is problem focused. Hatzlacha in building this marriage and try to remember that any criticism is coming from a place of pain and not intended to hurt you!