Dear Emuna

We've been married for a few years and my husband never compliments me. He's a wonderful person and he makes an effort to say thank you for many things that I do, but I would really like him to compliment me – that the supper was good, that I look nice, that he's proud of me for xyz... I know it's my own failing that I need to hear it from someone else instead of just being confident on my own, but I do think it's a natural thing for a wife to need. Is it just a man thing? Should I just give up on hoping for spontaneous compliments? (When I ask for them he tries, but it's not really the same when it goes "Are you proud of me?" "Yes.")

Should we go to counseling to learn how to understand each other better? Should I just wait a bunch of years and hope he starts doing it on his own? I think he's just not wired that way. We've had conversations about this and then he says he'll try to compliment me but he never does. Am I immature for feeling that this is important? I'm not sure what to think.

Trying Not to Care

Dear Trying,

So many difficult questions – so few easy answers. Let’s start with the good – you say your husband is a wonderful person. That means you are already way ahead of the game. You say that he expresses appreciation and makes an effort to say thank you. While appropriate, this behavior is not as common as one would expect and is a mark in his favor.

You would like more? It is not your failing and you are correct that it is a natural desire on the part of a wife. Yet, despite how wonderful he is and your repeated requests, he seems incapable of this simple act. How do we understand this and, more importantly, how do you live with this?

The answer is certainly not just to wait a bunch of years and hope he starts doing it on his own. That will never happen. You can try counseling but I don’t know if it will really work and may end up being frustrating. It seems like your husband is sincere in wanting to do it but it doesn’t come easily to him – for reasons certainly outside my understanding. If it were just a matter of some type of behavior modification, I assume he would have changed already. It seems that this is a choice so outside of his “natural” way of being that he can’t quite get there.

A compliment doesn’t have to be spontaneous to be real and sincere.

Is it impossible? Change is never impossible. Is it very difficult? Sounds like it is. So we are back to your options. I honestly think that yes, you should let go of your desire for spontaneous compliments and you should prompt him whenever and wherever possible. Your prompts could also be very specific. “Do you like this dress? I bought a new lipstick. What do you think of the color? I tried a new vegetable dish this Shabbos. Did you enjoy it?” This may ultimately change his habits – or not. But it will give you some measure of reassurance and pleasure. A compliment doesn’t have to be spontaneous to be real and sincere.

We are all very busy and distracted. Sometimes when we are ready to go out, I ask my husband if I look nice. And, of course, there’s only one answer I’m expecting!! He looks a little sheepish (he’s actually usually pretty good about compliments I have to confess) and then gives me the validation I seek. Even though I’ve asked for it, I’ve learned to accept it with good grace and assume he means it. I heartily suggest that you do the same.

Kids at Home during Summer Vacation

Dear Emuna, It’s summertime and my college kids just want to “chill”. I’m running around cleaning the house, doing laundry, grocery shopping and making dinner not to mention that I have a part-time job that sometimes seems full time. Meanwhile, they stay up late and then sleep late to catch up. I want them to enjoy coming home and to continue to do it but I’m feeling a little like the maid and like they’re wasting their lives. Help!! Frustrated Mom

Dear Frustrated,

I imagine that your letter could have been written by many if not all parents of college kids, boys and girls. From the moment the word “chill” entered the lexicon it seems to have become a life goal – or at the very least a reward for good behavior. There are two problems with this attitude – one is the waste of time and two is the lack of responsibility. Let’s start with the latter.

While it’s hard to drag a 6’2” young man out of bed (or however big and tall he may be!), in your house you can establish rules. Our kids want to come home; they won’t stop coming if we establish rules. They may stop if they are arbitrary and inflexible or punitive as opposed to productive. That’s up to you. To suggest (with your husband’s support) that you love your children very much and are thrilled to have them home but you didn’t expect to be the maid this summer is not oppressive and is completely appropriate. Although they may still be dependent, they are no longer children and it is not to their ultimate advantage if we continue to treat them as such. Not only will they never grow up in terms of abilities and attitudes, but we are teaching them bad character. Why shouldn’t they help out? Why shouldn’t they learn to be givers and not just takers?

I think you can find a way to say (with perhaps a bit of humor thrown in) that you expect some help in the laundry, clean-up and shopping department, perhaps even in the cooking one. It will not only relieve some of the pressure and frustration from you but it is good training for their character and their future.

In terms of the waste of time, this is harder for young people to see. The future seems long and unending and we pray that it is. Nevertheless we do want to impress upon them the value of time and the opportunities of the summer – to do volunteer work, to get an internship in their field, to earn some spending money for college. It is a time of opportunity and they should take advantage of it. Once again, you can set some rules – gently and with love. I wouldn’t charge an actual “room and board” but you could make something like 4 hours/day of employment, volunteer or paid, the condition of living at home. We are still their parents and we need to continue to act like it. I think you will be surprised to discover that your children actually want you to as well!