Many times my husband and I will try to talk at the dinner table but it seems that every time we want to have a conversation our two year old suddenly demands our attention. It's as if she doesn’t want us to focus on each other; she wants us to focus on her. She will start "kvetching" or acting out and my husband and I have to stop our conversation and shift our attention to her. We give her plenty of attention and love so I know that's not the issue. It’s also very difficult to ignore her and our time is so limited at night since it's the only time my husband has to learn with a study partner. What do you suggest we do?
-- Needing Couple Time
Dear Needing Time,
I have never forgotten a similar question posed to a radio talk show host many years ago. In that case, the couple had gone away for a romantic weekend, along with their three-year-old daughter. At the elegant restaurant brunch, she acted up and behaved like…well, a three-year-old! The on-air advice was appalling. He explained that it was a power struggle between the couple and their child and admonished them to be tough and set firm boundaries.
My advice would have been much simpler (and less traumatic for that poor girl): if you want to go away for a romantic weekend, don’t bring your three-year-old!
That couple had unrealistic expectations and so, I’m afraid, do you. Dinner time with children (of any age) is NOT private time between a husband and wife. The amount of attention you give your children at other times is irrelevant; this is family time. And although when they get older, it is certainly appropriate to teach them not to interrupt, it is unreasonable and inconsiderate to expect to have conversations at the dinner table from which they are excluded.
All parents need to be creative about finding time for their relationship – and all parents need to have it.
There are many studies highlighting the powerful benefits of a regular family dinner hour (much less substance abuse being a prominent one of them) and it is time to be treasured. But it is for the family and not the couple.
You and your husband now need to work on finding some quiet, private time. Can it be for a few minutes after your daughter goes to sleep or after your husband comes home at night? Can you hire a babysitter to enable the two of you to get out with some regularity? Can you take 5 to 10 minutes together before you sit down for supper? Can you put her in a stroller and go for a walk? All parents need to be creative about finding time for their relationship – and all parents need to have it. But all parents also must accept that family dinner time is just not the right moment.
My husband grew up with an emotionally abusive father who was on the road often, and divorced his mother when my husband was eight. His father made him pack his bag and then load it in the car for a trip and when they got home he told him to go inside alone; that he was not coming back. He would still see his dad from time to time, but his father was frequently unkind. My husband had asthma and there were occasions when he would tell his dad, in tears, that he needed to go the hospital because he couldn't breathe. His father's reply was, "Go back to bed or I will give you something to cry about!" My husband is now 46 and the two have a relationship, although not close. His father remains a very selfish man who hasn't much room in his world for my husband and our three amazing sons. As a result of this life long emotional struggle, my husband has lived (you would not know it unless you are close to him) a fearful life. He is fearful of men, but not in a distrusting way; that would be better. He is actually too trusting, trying too hard to please the men in his life, be it peers, our children, anyone. He wants the male approval so badly that it has clouded his ability to be a "man" in the world. He is a mensch, a loving, gentle, kind, giving father and husband, but his shortcomings have caused us tremendous hardships in the form of lawsuits, people stealing money from us, bad business investments and a "tail between his legs" way about his functioning. He says he is ready to look at this painful relationship with his father and how it has steered him in to crisis over the span of 35+ years. But I don't know what resources to pull from to help him. We can't afford therapy, plus finding the counselors that are really effective takes trial and error. Jewish Family Service is too intimate in our community, and I can't find any reliable books. How can I help him heal? How can I help him face the feelings that have festered in him and controlled so many negative happenings in his/our life? What can I do?
-- Tormented by Proxy
Wow! Your husband deserves a lot of credit for being a “mensch, a true loving, gentle, kind, giving father and husband” given the background that you describe. That is some accomplishment and you need to applaud and praise him for that constantly.
While your admiration will certainly go far in rebuilding his self-esteem, his issue, as you state, is with men. He is still seeking his father’s approval in every male relationship he enters. This insight alone is very helpful. And sometimes just recognizing this can be enough. Sometimes this awareness can be used to just top him before he jumps into another habitual, unproductive response.
Sometimes – but not often.
He can certainly try to change his behavior and if he is able to work at it consistently there should be improvement. But it’s very difficult and I believe your husband would benefit from some therapy.
I’m not sure why you insist that JFS is too intimate and not an option. Competent, trained therapists will certainly not compromise the confidentiality of the therapeutic experience and I’m sure they are particularly sensitive to the privacy needs of their clientele. I think that if you and your husband are serious about making real progress on this issue, you need to explore this route and seek the assistance of a (more) objective third party.
I have been dating a wonderful man for six months now. He has all the good qualities I want in a spouse and we have similar goals. The relationship has become more serious recently and I have gotten concerned. I’m not sure if I want to marry him. Everything looks good on paper but “I just don’t feel a connection.” I used to be very excited for every date but the edge has worn off. What should I do?
It’s hard to say without meeting the two of you (and even then!) but I will share with you the Jewish way of making serious relationship decisions. The heart and its passions can be very misleading when it comes to relationships. We can all too easily be attracted to the “wrong” type of person – someone whose life goals are very different from ours or whose character isn’t everything we’d like it to be. That’s why we make important decisions with out heads and not our hearts.
The questions to ask yourself are:
- Do we have the same basic goals?
- Does he have the crucial qualities of a decent human being – loyalty, kindness, honesty?
- Do we get along?
- Do I find him reasonably attractive? (Even “not repulsive” may be good enough.)
If the answer is yes, then go for it. The excitement, the connection, the love comes later. It’s the exact opposite of Hollywood and everything the secular media tells us. This makes it difficult to implement. But it is the road to a successful Jewish marriage.