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Dear Emuna: Changing My Husband
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Changing My Husband

How can I help my husband change a certain trait?


Dear Emuna,

I have a wonderful husband. He cares about me, our children and the community. Sometimes I think he should do a little less for the community and a little more for his family (!) but most of the time I am proud of his volunteer work and his commitment to the Jewish people. My main complaint is that he lacks consistent follow through. If I point out ways in which he needs to change, he immediately accepts it upon himself but it never lasts. After a few days he reverts back to his old ways and I get frustrated. How can I help him?

(Don’t want to be) Nagging Wife

Dear Nagging Wife,

I think perhaps the first person you need to help is yourself. You don’t mention the areas lacking consistent follow through but I do know that no one, wives and husbands in particular, likes to receive constant criticism, constructive or not. Unless asked for, most of us are not looking for ways to change. And nagging or in any way pestering about it has the least chance of success.

So what requires follow through? If it is practical chores, then there are practical solutions. Although many women want the items on their to-do list done yesterday, most men don’t operate that way. The best tip I have found is to make a list of items requiring attention and give each one a reasonable due date. For example, “If you could change the light bulbs in the dining room before Shabbat, I would really appreciate it.” “My parents are coming to visit next month; if you could have that new cabinet in the guest bathroom put together by then, that would be terrific.” “I’m really exhausted tonight; if you could wash the dishes and put them away so I don’t wake up to a messy kitchen, I would be grateful.” Each task is paired with an appropriate time frame, making it not too onerous or demanding and giving your husband some freedom of choice as to when he accomplishes these jobs. This usually works and eliminates the need for nagging.

On relationship issues, it’s a little more complicated. Maybe you want more attention (you do suggest that). Maybe you want him to follow through on his commitment to date night. And so on. To satisfy these desires, I suggest a two-pronged attack. One is to take initiative yourself. If you want a regular date night, hire a babysitter and make a plan. Don’t sit home waiting for him to do something and then sulk because he didn’t. If you just want your husband home more often, it will also require some effort on your part. Make his favorite dinner. Plan game night. Host events at your home. Make home so inviting he won’t want to leave. This is all prong number one.

Prong number two is praise. Tell him how much you enjoyed your date night, how stimulating the conversation was, what an original thinker he is, how much you enjoy listening to him speak, what a special evening at home last night was, how much fun it was to play games together. “You catch more bees with honey” is certainly a Torah idea although not a direct quote!

Lastly, there is always prayer. Pray for a good marriage. Pray for a good and loving husband. Pray to be a good wife. Pray to have the strength to deal with the challenges to your marriage. Pray for joy and happiness. If you focus on the positive through your prayer and your actions, I have no doubt that you will turn the situation around.

-- Emuna

Changing Terms of Our Marriage

Dear Emuna,

My husband and I have been married for 25 years. For the first 23 years of our marriage we were in business together, working side by side to grow the company and support our family. We each brought different strengths to the business – he is more creative and I am more practical – so we had a division of labor and rarely (though of course not never!) quarreled. I really enjoyed working with him along with the sense that our goals were completely intertwined. Now he is bored and wants to leave me in charge of the business while he pursues a different avenue. I understand that he wants to branch out but it leaves me feeling hurt and alone. I feel like the terms of our marriage have changed and that we will no longer be as close as we used to be. I want to be supportive of him but I’m fighting constantly with him instead. Any advice?

Confused Wife

Dear Confused Wife,

People grow, evolve and change – and marriages need to respond accordingly. The main thing is that the central character traits of your husband remain constant. If he was kind, loyal and trustworthy when you married him, and he continues to embody those wonderful qualities, then the change is not destructive but an opportunity to stretch yourself, to grow in new and unexpected ways.

Marriages can become stagnant. Individuals may be trapped in their ruts. It doesn’t hurt to shake things up – in a positive way!

You probably wouldn’t want a husband who was never interested in anything new, who didn’t challenge you and promote a process of discovery. We want to take advantage of life’s many opportunities and we want our marriages to be living organisms.

This means that things won’t always stay the same (23 years is an unusually long track record). Try to face the change with excitement and anticipation. Try to imagine new growth for yourself, new expansion of character. Who knows what new adventure could be waiting around the corner?

At the very least, you need to be supportive of your husband and his needs. With good will and reciprocity, I’m sure that you will either reach a compromise or embrace the new experience.

-- Emuna


Dear Emuna,

My 15-year-old daughter just went to sleep-away camp for her first time. I know it is a good camp – two of her siblings attended – and a number of her close friends from school accompanied her this year. She was really looking forward to it and we did a massive shopping in preparation. She’s been there for two days and is homesick. She keeps calling me, sobbing, asking me to bring her home. Should I?

Summer Mom

Dear Summer Mom,

What happened to those wonderful camp rules that say kids are not allowed near the phones for the first week? And how are they always able to circumvent them?

I’m not a big proponent of bring kids home from camp, especially during the first days. The initial adjustment is tough for everyone, even the seasoned veterans, but after a few more days, the vast majority of campers settle in for a wonderful summer experience – camp spirit, outdoor activities, water sports, color war, evening programs and so on. It’s a lot of fun.

And even if it isn’t the time of her life, it’s a maturing experience. It’s an opportunity to learn some independence and to make new friends.

So I would definitely hesitate before acting. In fact, I wouldn’t let her believe that coming home is an option. If she thinks it is, then she will. She needs to believe that she has to make the best of it. And then she will accommodate herself successfully to her circumstances. It’s a little like Sundays. If your children have even the smallest belief that you are going to entertain them, they won’t stop nagging you. But if you put your foot down and assert that, under no conditions are you available for the position of camp counselor, they will accept and go off and entertain themselves.

If we bring our children home, we communicate that they can’t cope, that they don’t have the same inner strength and resources as others.

We’re so afraid that they might be slightly bored or a little lonely or briefly unhappy, that we rescue them before they have a chance to develop their own coping skills and enjoy the experience.

Insist that she stay. I can all but guarantee that she’ll be crying when it’s time to leave.

-- Emuna

July 13, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 8

(6) Anonymous, June 21, 2016 4:49 PM

(Don't want to be) Nagging Wife

When I hear a someone say of their partner, "He/she is a really nice person BUT he/she needs to change. How can I help him/her to change?", I wonder whether they knew who they married and why they chose that person. Why is it okay to demand from one's spouse that they change? My advice would be, Get up and do something yourself. If you think you and your husband are not spending enough time together, get your family organised and go and do volunteering with him. You may enjoy it and the children might get some insight into charitable work. Or, he might hate it and choose to spend more time at home. However it pans out, it will open up an opportunity for genuine dialogue: about what volunteering means to him, about your own experience of sharing his passion with him. I personally do not believe that simply changing the tone of demands would motivate me to change. I know the reward system works as a training aid with puppies. I'm not sure it works with mature, intelligent adults.

(5) Sandy, July 18, 2013 7:13 PM

Summer Camp - Not So Fast

While I generally agree with the advice to give kids a chance to adjust to camp - both of my daughters availed themselves of Jewish summer camp and one of them always wanted to come home for about four days and then bam! fine - I know of two (Jewish camp) situations where intervention was absolutely necessary. Before making your decision, explore the issue fully with your child. If she has a sense of danger or fears someone or something, pay attention.

(4) Bunny Shuch, July 18, 2013 5:59 PM

Find out why she's so unhappy

To Summer Mom,
It will be helpful to find out why your daughter wants to come home. It may be that there are some dynamics with her friends and that they could be ignoring her or ganging up on her. (Teenage girls have been known to do that.) If so, then a talk with the camp counselor or director will be in order. If it's just that she's not used to being away from you, then assure her that you have faith in her ability to adjust to camp and to explore the opportunities there, and that you're looking forward to hearing all about it when she returns home at the end of the session.

(3) Anonymous, July 18, 2013 4:28 PM

Off the hook

Why is it, no matter what, we let men off the hook for everything? It seems we have to make all the effort - keep the house, be attractive, work hard, and if we want a man to do something for us, we still have to do it ourselves. I understand it's better than complaining, but I'm tired of adding things to my must-do list while he gets away without any obligation to make an effort.

betty, July 19, 2013 12:50 PM

I agree fully. No matter what men do, we are made to feel guilty if we complain. Why is it that we women have to put up with their moods, whims etc all because "oh that's how men are". Stay quiet and put up with it !!?? No way would I agree to that.

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