Dear Emuna,

My husband and I have been married for 16 years, however we live separate lives. He is busy running after his desires – tennis, surfing, football, whatsapp groups etc. without making the same investment in "us". And I am tired of always being the one to run after him to invest in time together. We may live together but we are not connected emotionally or spiritually and I am feeling very lonely.

I don't feel admired, respected or valued as a person. My opinion is never given any consideration. If I say the sky is blue he doesn't really believe it or praise my remark, but someone else can say it and they are amazing. If I try to approach him about how I feel his response is "I've heard the same thing for 16 years."

He won't go to counseling because we've tried it a few times to no avail and really there's no one else to turn to now. We don't share the decisions at home either. My recently widowed mother was here with us for Passover and the atmosphere was so heavy. I felt so miserable. I worked so hard to prepare everything almost single handedly and would so have appreciated praise. Now I'm just worn out emotionally and don't know what else there is to do or where to turn.

Exhausted

Dear Exhausted,

This is probably not the best moment to make any important decisions. After Passover every Jewish mother is just plain worn out – physically, emotionally, you name it – whether they had a wonderful holiday or a challenging one or something in-between. Get some rest and rejuvenation – in all those areas – and then you can look at your situation with new and clearer eyes.

It does sound very lonely in your situation and I’m not sure exactly what kind of solution you’re looking for. I think that it would be helpful to you (and perhaps even in the long run to your marriage although no promises) if you adjust your expectations. It sounds like you are putting a lot of pressure on your husband to fill your physical time and your emotional needs. Many women expect this and it is ultimately unsatisfying. No human being can fill all the holes within us or provide constant support and confidence – nor is it their job. Yes, praise and recognition would certainly be nice but I can imagine that the constant need and requests for it would be wearing. You need to find some internal sources for your sense of self and confidence – to work on your relationship with the Almighty and remind yourself that you were created in His image and that His love for you is unconditional and that He is your rock when human beings let you down – as well as some external sources of pleasure and satisfaction. What do you enjoy? Are there sports you’d like to be involved in? Are there women you can play tennis with? Bowling leagues? Mah-jjong? Book clubs? Classes? Plays? Cooking clubs? Torah classes? The possibilities are truly endless. Are there friends you can meet for coffee and lunch?

I’m not suggesting that leading two separate lives will solve the problems in your marriage but rather that if you develop some life for yourself outside your husband you will be a happier, more fulfilled human being. You will bring a new and different self to the marriage. This may have the side benefit of rejuvenating your relationship. No one, man or woman, wants to come home to a needy, demanding, complaining spouse. On the other hand, a spouse who is invigorated, who has a sparkle in his or her eye, who has stories from her day and her adventures and who is growing as a human being is exciting to be with.

Is this outcome guaranteed? It isn’t. Does it mean your husband will now take your opinions more seriously? Not necessarily. But maybe it will bother you less and at the very least, you will be happier because you will be leading a meaningful and productive life. You will be able to approach your situation from a position of strength and confidence rather than hurt and weakness. It would also be helpful to enlist the Almighty’s help in your efforts to grow and change. I wish you only success.

Neighbors Constantly Arguing

Dear Emuna,

We live in an apartment building with very thin walls. It seems like every day I overhear an argument between the husband and wife who live next door. It’s very painful to listen to but the worst part is that my five year-old son has started noticing and asking me questions about it. What should I tell him?

Neighbors

Dear Neighbors,

As much as we wish to spare our children, we can’t protect them from all of life’s challenges or discomforts (sometimes we can’t protect them from any of them!). There is no point in pretending it’s not happening or that you can’t hear it; in fact that would be worse since it discredits your son’s perception.

He may only be five but he is old enough for a simple explanation: “It’s very sad that they speak to each other that way. Your daddy and I love each other too much to talk like that.” A hug and a kiss and he will probably be satisfied.

The real challenge, ironically, is for you. As appalling as you find the behavior, hearing it on a daily basis normalizes it. The danger is that you will come to think of it as typical behavior and will even imitate it at times. Your job is to repeatedly remind yourself how destructive and unpleasant that behavior is and to establish some fences in your own life and marriage to keep from going there. You will need to be vigilant and on your guard as long as you are neighbors. Perhaps my best advice is: Move!

Contemplating Divorce

Dear Emuna,

I don’t have a great marriage. My husband is very critical and distant emotionally, our financial situation is unstable and there is a lot of yelling and screaming (mostly from me). We have three children, aged 8, 10 and 14 and I always wanted to raise them in an intact home but now I’m wondering if I’m really doing them any favors. Maybe they would be better off if we got divorced and they had (at least) one happier parent. What do you think?

Pondering Divorce

Dear Pondering,

This is way too serious a question for an online email forum. There are serious ramifications for at least five people, not including your children’s future spouses and their children. It seems too obvious to state but it is a decision not to be taken lightly and only to be arrived at when there seems to be no other option. Whether that is your situation or not is certainly only for you to decide.

You haven’t mentioned counseling; have you tried that option? Is your husband open to it? Does he know how much pain you’re in? (He has probably become inured to your screaming.) Does he ultimately want the marriage to work? There are lots of questions for the two of you to answer and lots of soul searching ahead of you.

As far as the children go, the answer is…it’s complicated. While the statistics are not in your favor and children of divorced parents seem to have more challenges than children whose parents stay together, this is not always true. It depends. If their home life is truly unstable and if (this is a big one) it will actually be more stable after the divorce, then ending the marriage may work in their favor. I don’t know what the statistics are with respect to the marriages of children of divorce. Certainly there are those who suggest that having seen it’s possible they are more likely to adopt that alternative. I can understand why that may be so. On the other hand (and this is anecdotal evidence only) I have spoken to many men and women with strong marriages who grew up with divorced parents and have invested more deeply in their own marriages as a result. They have made a commitment not to make the same mistakes their parents made and to, perhaps, choose more carefully and work that much harder.

There are no guarantees either way so it’s back to what you can handle – seriously, long-term and not in a moment of pique. These are tough questions with, as mentioned, life-altering implications for many people. Don’t rush to choose and avail yourself of the guidance of a competent professional, competent being the operative word, and not just well-meaning friend or advice columnist. And above all, it’s time for prayer. Enlist the Almighty’s help in arriving at the right solution.