Dear Emuna,

My husband is truly wonderful – kind, considerate, generous and fun to be around. He is also an involved and loving father to our three children and we have had 20 happy years. The only thing marring our joy is that I have recently begun a journey to explore my Jewish roots and bring more religion/spirituality into our lives and my husband wants no part of it. The Judaism of his youth was dry and passionless and he is turned off. I don’t want to give it up but I don’t want to lose him, God forbid. What should I do?

Searching

Dear Searching,

Your husband’s childhood experience is, unfortunately, an all-too common one. And it does make your job a little harder. You need to proceed very slowly so as not to overwhelm him (or yourself). And you need to expose him to the most joyful aspects of Jewish life like Shabbos dinner with good friends, delicious food and meaningful conversation. Be sensitive to topics he wants to discuss and ask his advice about whom to invite. Make him a participant and not a bystander.

But most of all don’t change your behavior towards him – unless it is to improve it!! Be more loving, more solicitous more thoughtful. He may be afraid that Judaism will take you away from him. He needs to experience instead that it brings you closer.

Go to classes during the daytime so that it doesn’t interfere with your nights together. Take this idea as a model for being sensitive to his needs and his experience.

If he feels that you are still by his side (only more so!), then hopefully he will be supportive even if he doesn’t actually join your journey.

Same Fight for 15 Years

Dear Emuna,

My husband and I have been having the same fight for the last 15 years. He makes plans without consulting my schedule, without thinking of my needs and desires and with complete disregard for my feelings. Needless to say, I get very hurt. I express my pain loudly – through yelling and screaming. He screams back and then leaves the room in a huff. He goes to his office (man cave) to calm down and then things return to normal – until the next time. I’ve finally reached the point where enough is enough. What do you suggest?

I’ve Had It

Dear I’ve Had It,

You have made an important first step. Not only do you recognize that you no longer want to engage in these unhealthy interactions but you understand that it’s a pattern that must be broken.

One of the (many) reasons that couples end up in therapy is that, despite the fact that it never works, they continue with the same broken and ineffective responses to their situations. Screaming hasn’t worked yet but it continues to be your default reaction.

Both of you need to work on change but you, of course, can only take responsibility for your share, so that’s what I’m going to address here. You know what triggers your frustrated response. Now you need to find new ways to react to the triggers – whether it’s pouring yourself a glass of wine, counting to ten, taking a long bath, writing your feelings in a journal…there are many possibilities and you need to discover what works for you.

Once you’ve changed your response (not going to happen overnight and not without consistent effort) the next step is to make a time to discuss the issue with your husband. Presumably he is no happier with the situation than you are.

Ask to be a part of his planning. Perhaps suggest some separate guys’ night and girls’ night event. Explain how he makes you feel (he’ll have an easier time hearing it when you’re not screaming at him) and solicit his input on how to improve the situation.

It’s going to take some hard work but your marriage is worth it.

Mother Envy

Dear Emuna,

I am very envious of my best friend’s relationship with her mother. Although my friend is in her mid-40’s and has been married for 20 years with a family of her own, she remains very close with her mother. They speak every day on the phone and her mother never oversteps her boundaries by criticizing her parenting, her husband or any other choices or behaviors. When my friend has faced challenges over the years, her mother has provided loving support.

My mother is the opposite. She always tries to interfere in my marriage, my parenting and all of my behaviors with her “constructive criticism” and, when I face challenges she is too busy dealing with her own emotional response to be a support for me. I feel resentful and deprived. How can I get past this?

Frustrated Daughter

Dear Frustrated,

You are deprived. You didn’t have a healthy upbringing. Your mother doesn’t provide you with the support you desire. But, for reasons unknown to us, she is exactly the mother the Almighty wanted you to have. If it would have been better for you to have a mother like your friend’s, you would have.

You may have missed out on a “normal” upbringing but clearly the Almighty thought that your development and growth would be heightened without one.

All of the circumstances of our lives are custom-made exactly for us, for our unique situations, for our particular set of strengths and weaknesses, for our character and growth.

We may not like the situation we are placed in. But we need to recognize that it’s the best one for us. If the Almighty wanted you to have an attentive, loving mother He would have given you one. It was obviously not what you needed,

Once you internalize this idea, you will be on the road to a healthier and happier life.