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Dear Dr. Respler,

I am a frum man with a wife and several children. My wife is a balabuste (good housekeeper) and takes adequate care of our children. My problem is that although we are quite frum, my wife has a great attraction to soap operas and romance novels. We never had a TV in the house until my wife bought herself a laptop, which she keeps in our bedroom closet and pulls it out during the day. The whole day she watches these soap operas and the whole night she reads these novels. Even on Shabbos, instead of spending time with the children and me, she spends the whole day reading her romance novels. I can hardly communicate with her because she is so engrossed in her reading! My wife doesn’t want the children to see she is reading such material so she tries to hide the novels by covering the books with book covers.

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My wife is a sweet person, but I feel that she lives in a world of fantasy. Her unrealistic expectations of relationships affects all aspects of our personal life. She compares me to her romance “heroes” and I seem to always fall short of her expectations. I try to be a loving husband to her. I always remember to buy her gifts – perfumes and chocolates – for Valentines Day and Mothers Day, which to me are “goyish” concepts.

Our children are young and our family will hopefully grow. I can’t bear the values that my wife has. Baruch Hashem we have parnassah and I try to give my wife everything. My wife has full-time help, a beautiful house and beautiful clothes. I can’t understand why she isn’t satisfied with all that Hashem has given to us and needs this garbage to fill her time and her mind.

Suffering Husband

 

Dear S.H.,

You are not alone in your dilemma. In a community like Boro Park which has many seforim stores there is no English book store. However, there is a card shop that carries romance novels, and they sell an inordinate amount of books to frum women. In addition it is incredible how many books of this nature are taken out of our local libraries and brought into frum homes.

Romance novels and soap operas are unhealthy in their portrayal of life in general. Soap operas are stories about people with little morality who are forever engaging in illicit and different relationships. The concept of being an “Ezer Knegdo,” a wife who is loyal and supportive to her husband, is not espoused in soap operas.

I find that romance novels tend to have the same ridiculous themes. There is generally a male “hero” who is characterized as rich, powerful, stubborn, difficult and somewhat abusive who drives the female “heroine” crazy in his confusing messages and abusive ways. They then fall in love and he becomes the sweetest, most sensitive, and loving man.

In researching abusive husbands, these concepts prove to be totally unrealistic. An abusive man in the dating process generally turns out to be an abusive husband, not a sweet and loving one. It is sad, but true, that many young girls fall in love with abusive boys and convince themselves that out of love these boys, as husbands, will treat them well. It is imperative that we teach our children who are dating to look for certain character traits in a boy that may allude to an abusive personality.

Shalom Task Force is a wonderful organization which is attempting to stop abuse in our community by helping people in abusive relationships. They have an incredible program in which they reach out to high school and seminary girls and teach these girls how to be alert for a potentially abusive spouse.

I just wanted to share with my readers how unrealistic and unhealthy these romance novels and soap operas are for their minds and perceptions of real life. However, in answer to your question I will attempt to focus on your relationship with your wife. The problem may lie in her primary years [childhood], or possibly in your marriage.

Since I don’t know anything about your relationship with your wife, I can’t properly assess the situation. I am going to ask you questions which you should attempt to answer in order to help yourself.

1] Do you compliment your wife?

2] Do you validate her feelings and her as a person?

3] Is she using fantasy as a way of not dealing with her own emotional life or lack of emotions in her marriage?

4] Are you overly critical of her as a person?

I do not intend to blame you for this problem, since I honestly am not familiar with the details of your marriage. It is difficult to ascertain why your wife is seeking soap operas and novels to fill her life rather than putting more of an effort into building up your marriage. It is possible that this addiction started even prior to your marriage and that her obsessions have nothing to do with your relationship.

Please discuss this problem openly with your wife and attempt to seek professional help from a frum therapist and the guidance of a Rav. This is a problem of great magnitude and should not be taken lightly. Perhaps your wife does not realize how destructive this obsession can be to your future. She may be able to hide it from your young children, but as the children grow older they will surely become influenced by these values. Your wife must be helped to realize that this is not a healthy path to follow!

Try to create more romance in your marriage by taking short vacations – even if it is only one night away in a local hotel. Compliment your wife and try to give her more emotional love. I wish you hatzlocha in dealing with this difficult situation!

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Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to deardryael@aol.com. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.