Dear Emuna,

My wife gained a lot of weight with our first three children and now doesn't want any more kids. She refuses counseling and has given up on exercise. Our relationship is rocky and so is her relationship with our kids. I'm fed up with her and want more children and a normal life. What do I do?

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

While I hear your frustration, I wonder if you are perhaps unwittingly contributing to the situation. You didn’t give me a lot of information to work with so forgive me if I make some erroneous assumptions. You don’t say which came first here – the weight gain, your frustration, the rocky relationship but let me suggest a possible scenario.

Your wife gained a lot of weight in her pregnancies. This is a blow to her self-esteem. This blow is exacerbated by the fact that you, her husband, seem to find this important. Instead of reassuring her that it doesn’t matter to you and that you always find her beautiful, you are encouraging her to exercise and to find other ways to lose the weight. In addition you are pressuring her to have more children while simultaneously making her feel that she is an inadequate/bad mother to the ones she has. Your dissatisfaction with her and her own exhaustion and sense of inadequacy has led to a rocky relationship and a sense of despair on her part.

Is any of what I am suggesting true? Even a little bit? Most (dare I say all?!) women are frustrated by their weight gain during pregnancy and many have a hard time taking it off, especially given all the demands of their busy families. My best guess is that what your wife needs is lots of love and support, praise of her looks and encouragement in her parenting. I don’t care if that’s not what you feel; you need to act as if. It will be a balm to her soul and ultimately to your marriage.

If someone feels their spouse is “fed up” with them, they will have NO motivation to succeed or change. Whether you have told your wife how you feel in those exact words or not, she knows it and she is in terrible pain. It is up to you to begin to fix it if you want your marriage to survive. And, if you can really change your attitude, I think you will find that it thrives as well. (FYI, I had my husband read this letter but not my response to make sure I didn’t have some “pro-female” bias and his response was exactly the same as mine!)

Can Our Marriage Be Saved?

Dear Emuna,

I have let down my wife more than I have let down anyone in my life. It feels so strange that I am doing this to her and I can’t understand why. We met online and had been seeing each other for a year before we got married. It’s been little over a year now and she keeps complaining that she made a mistake in marrying me.

I don’t feel that way. Am I ignoring her concerns? I can’t tell. When we met I was leaving my job. It took me close to 8 months to find another one during which time she gave me emotional support and to a point financial support. She even paid for most of the marriage expense as the money I wanted to put in was tied with a friend who could not pay it back. Sometimes I feel I should have manned up a little more. Now she tells me that’s true and I accept full responsibility of it.

The first time she got sick I told her to take care of herself. I don’t remember why I even said that and whenever she brings it up I become more and more clueless about my own actions. With the above situations she brings up the word 'divorce' every now and again. She abuses me, my existence and so on. I try calming her down promising it won’t happen again but I feel I am the most selfish person in the world as I am silently plotting to end my relationship with her.

We got married in our 30's and agreed to a lot of things like not having kids and all and that we would there for each other. I know we both are trying to keep our marriage intact but we are somehow driving each other insane. She says I am emotionally abusing her and I now feel she is abusing me more. What can I do about this?

Confused

Dear Confused,

Not only are you confused, I am as well. Do you want this marriage to work or don’t you? If you are really silently plotting to end the relationship, why are you turning to me for advice? I hope (and assume) that suggests that you don’t really want to end it; you just don’t want it to continue as is.

In order for that to happen, you both need to step back and take a deep breath. You have gotten caught up in an extremely destructive cycle where you each do things that hurt the other but don’t make any sincere efforts to change. Although you claim to take full responsibility, in Jewish understanding, complete repentance occurs when you are placed in a situation similar to the one where you made your mistake and you behave more appropriately this time. Unfortunately this does not seem to be happening in the case of you and your wife. That is because, while good intentions are certainly better than bad ones (!), they are not enough. You need a plan. How are you going to change? How are you going to avoid getting pulled back into your destructive pattern? What are you going to do to break that cycle?

Given your description of your marriage, I don’t think the two of you can manage this without outside help. I think you would benefit from the assistance of a competent third party to help each of you look at the ways in which you are damaging each other and your relationship and to give you tools to help improve the situation. This will, of course, only work if you are not “silently plotting to end” your relationship.

You mention that you agreed to be there for each other. I assume you meant for the long haul. I think you owe it to yourselves and each other to give your marriage a better shot than you have to date. Invest the time, invest the energy, find a good therapist and ask the Almighty to help. That’s the best advice I can give you.