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Dating Advice #213 -  Abroad and Alone
Dating Advice 213

Dating Advice #213 - Abroad and Alone

Her marriage is a total disaster. Can it be salvaged?


Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have been married for just over a year and moved abroad to be with my husband. Before we got engaged my husband was an angel -- loving, caring, affectionate. After the engagement I started to see a different side to him. He started to blackmail me, and would threaten: "Unless you do this, I'm calling off the wedding." But because I had broken a previous engagement, I didn't want to break this one. So I passed it off as pre-wedding tensions.

Now we are married and he's saying, "Unless you do this, we're getting a divorce." Basically I have no say in anything, and I have no family in this country to support me. His mom backs him up by also telling him to divorce me. It's been an awful year but I don't want to get divorced because of the after-effects. But I also can't take the marriage anymore. We don't have any children, because my husband has intimacy issues with me.

My husband has changed and I feel like I don't know him (or like him) anymore. He won't go to marriage counseling because he says that I'm the problem. I don't know what to do anymore. Please help.


Dear Rebecca,

While we can see that your marriage is troubled and that you and your husband are both very unhappy, we don't have enough information to know what is really wrong with your marriage. We can look at the facts you described from several different perspectives. Here are two of them:

Possibility #1: A Difficult Adjustment To Married Life

Every couple is challenged to some degree by the adjustments they must make during their first year of marriage. There are a number of factors that can make the transition to married life a little easier, including how aware both people are that marriage requires adjustments; the degree to which both partners are open-minded and flexible; and whether one or both of them possess certain interpersonal skills that will help make the transition easier, or can learn and acquire these skills during the early period of their married life, possibly with the help of a series of workshops or sessions specially geared to newly married couples.

Some of the many adjustments newly marrieds face are:

  • getting accustomed to each other's life rhythms, styles and preferences
  • balancing each person's friends, interests, and the need for personal time with their need for joint friends, interests, and time together
  • learning how to communicate respectfully and effectively, so that each really hears what the other is saying and responds appropriately
  • realizing when to give in for the sake of the relationship, or because it is more important to your spouse than to you
  • learning how to resolve disputes in a productive way, and recognizing that there will always be issues about which you will never agree

While your letter highlights the difficulties your husband is having with the concept of giving and compromise, we can assure you that this is a mutual problem. It could very well be that he is also compromising on a number of issues, but because you are having such a difficult time you find it hard to see his point of view. In addition, perhaps each of you is having difficulty choosing your battles, which is something couples who have been married a while learn to do.

It may also be true that he gets his way more often than is reasonable because you may not know how to be assertive enough to give your relationship the balance it needs. Your husband's "threats" about divorce have to be seen in context. While they could be efforts to force you to give in during an argument, they could also be his somewhat immature way of expressing frustration with your unhappiness or his own, or a misguided way to get a problem resolved when he doesn't know another way of doing so.

The challenges of your first year of marriage have been compounded by the fact that you moved to another country and have been isolated from your family and support system. This makes your transition from being single to being married more difficult. The adjustments of being in an unfamiliar culture are also stressful. It is common for people in your situation to expect their new spouse to become everything for them -- their family, social structure, entertainment, and source of happiness and comfort. These expectations put unfair pressure on the person who is expected to be Superman or Superwoman, and causes a lot of friction in the marriage. While husbands and wives assume many of these roles at different times during a marriage, no one person can be expected to fill them all at the same time and to be the exclusive source of their spouse's comfort, security and happiness.

Another factor that contributes to the difficulties you and your husband are experiencing is that his family, particularly his mother, is nearby, and your family is not. While your letter makes it seem that your mother-in-law is actively encouraging the two of you to break up, there could be other explanations for her conduct. It is possible that she is commiserating with her son's unhappiness by telling him that if he is so miserable he can always get divorced. She could even be frustrated by his complaints and be telling him, "If you refuse to do anything about your marital problems, stop complaining to me and get divorced."

The physical intimacy issue that you alluded to can have many sources, but it is definitely a symptom of a troubled marriage. Since you didn't go into detail, we won't address it other than to say that this is a difficulty that can be more successfully addressed once you make headway in resolving some of the other problems in your relationship. We're going to discuss our ideas about this in a moment.

Possibility #2: A Classic Controlling Relationship

From another perspective, your letter could be describing what some might call a classic controlling relationship, in which the male partner acts charming and affectionate during the courtship, but begins to display his controlling tendencies during the engagement or after the marriage. Often, the controller unconsciously selects a partner who is vulnerable to being controlled, because she is insecure, dependent, or unsure of herself. He may begin to isolate his partner from her support system by complaining about her family and friends, and telling her not to see them.

He may marry someone who is willing to move from another city or country, because this will further isolate her. He may take control in other ways, such as limiting the spouse's freedom of movement and access to money. To obtain the partner's compliance with his demands, he may threaten to hurt or punish her, or in your case, to get a divorce.

Not everyone with controlling tendencies becomes a controlling spouse. Such a man may marry someone who is able to assert herself, so that the pattern of control never begins. Out of necessity, he may learn the art of negotiation and compromise (or they may frequently argue because they do not learn this art).

It's important to understand that many people who become controlling spouses don't plan to become bullies. They want to have a happy marriage, but have difficulty doing so for a number of reasons. They may not have seen a mutually satisfactory marriage when they were growing up and have nothing to model their own behavior upon. They may lack interpersonal skills, or may be immature. And they may be receptive to learning how to have a more egalitarian marriage, especially when their marriage is relatively young.

Based on your letter alone, each of these two scenarios is plausible. Perhaps the truth is a combination of the two, and perhaps if we heard your husband's input we would have a different assessment. One thing that husband and wives who are wallowing in despair do not realize is that in most cases, no one person is to "blame" for a troubled marriage. There is a problem with the way they interact with each other. No matter what the source of your problems may be, we believe that your marriage needs immediate help if it is to survive.

Can Your Marriage Be Saved?

Is it too late to save a young marriage in which both partners seem so unhappy? In many cases, the answer is, "No!" We have seen marriages, particularly young ones, rise from the brink of despair, with the help of a trained and qualified marriage or family therapist. Often, success occurs when the husband and wife believe they can work together to help their marriage succeed, and they decide to make the effort. Other times, it is because one of the partners works with a therapist and starts to make changes that have an affect on how they interact with each other. Then at some point the other spouse realizes that therapy can be beneficial and starts to attend counseling, too.

We understand that your husband isn't interested in marriage counseling right now, but that could be because at this point, the two of you are busy blaming each other for your unhappiness. With such an attitude, neither of you will be able to make any progress toward improving your marriage. It would be much more helpful for both of you to change your view of the situation. Isn't it better to say that each of you wants to have a good marriage, but you are both are having trouble achieving that because you've lost your way? That one or both of you is unnecessarily wallowing in self-pity? That you both need help, and instead of blaming each other should try to learn to work together with the help of a counselor?

We cannot predict the effect that counseling will have on your marriage. However, since you want to keep your marriage together, we believe that this is the next step that you should take, even if your husband cannot be convinced to attend at this time. Choose a therapist who specializes in family therapy or marriage counseling, and who comes recommended by people you trust.

Hopefully, counseling will also help you to gain a clearer, more balanced view about your situation. You may make progress so that your marriage improves, or you may ultimately decide to leave your marriage. You should also be prepared for any progress to take time and be accompanied by some regression -- for every two steps forward, you'll take one step back. But you will continue to move forward.

In addition to counseling, we recommend that you take steps to enrich your own life. If you are not working now, you should consider entering the workforce, even part time. How about volunteering a couple of days a week? There may also be other venues for you to enrich yourself Jewishly as well. It's also important for you to develop friendships, if you have not already done so. You can do this through volunteer work, involvement in the local synagogue, or participation in projects in which other young, Jewish women are involved. If you have a talent or hobby that you have neglected, this is the time to pursue it, or to take a class about something that interests you.

It is easy to feel sorry for yourself when you are not being proactive. By following these suggestions, you will feel better about yourself and this can have a positive impact on your marriage.

We wish you the best of luck,

Rosie & Sherry

September 2, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 28

(28) AbrahamK., October 12, 2006 4:26 PM

Hello Rebecca,

I know of a very similar case with one difference - the couple had children. In your case, you don't have much to lose by divorcing him. On the contrary, you can start your life over again (being stronger than before because of your life experience).

Good luck!

(27) Anonymous, October 11, 2006 8:31 AM


I certainly agree that this is not a good relationship. But, as you have many concerns about getting out, why not try to build yourself up first. For instance, you mention he has a lot of your money. Why not first try concentrating on somehow getting it back. Or, if you are working, try putting a little money aside each month in an account with only your name on it. Also, try to keep track of threats and any proof you have of his behavior. Even secretly tape record it. While not pleasant, you could take your documentation to a bais din and they could help you out. Is your husband a frum person? Maybe try talking to a Rav in your city, the Rebetzin of your shul. Maybe ask to be invited over for a Shabbos meal (don't tell your husband it came from you). There are shalom bayis experts in every city. Find one NOW and seek advice. My main point it that sometimes looking at the whole situation may seem overwhelming and it is. But try to break it up and empower yourself. Then, if the time comes that you do have to leave, you will be more prepared and confident about your decision. Your husband is succeeding in exactly what he wants to do. He wants to control you to the point that you do what he wants. Don't let yourself be stepped on. You are a whole world - a very important person. Allow yourself that knowlege. Internalize it. Next time he threatens you, stand up for yourself. Not rudely or sinking to his level. But calmly explain that you would appreciate respect. See how he reacts. Hatzlacha with this and remember - HE is the problem, not you.

(26) shawncathey, October 10, 2006 10:34 PM

Abroad and alone

Blackmailers and controllers seldom ever change. Fear of what others are going to think of you for the "failure" will keep you in this prison house.I hope you get

(25) Sharon, October 8, 2006 7:52 AM

People are smarter than you think

Don't worry about his ruining your name among your friends and family. Over time the truth will emerge and the more he tries to besmirch your name, the more people will see who he really is. The world is a lot bigger then you think. You need to move on and realize that he will not continue to be in your circle of acquaintances. And that is if you leave before you have a kid which will tie you together for life. I sense that you have low self esteem. Your fear of a broken engagement before and your fear of divorce now is exaggerated. Please get help while you are still young so that you have time to rebuild your life in a healthy relationship.

(24) J.L.W., October 3, 2006 6:51 AM

Rebecca – Our Hearts Go Out For You!!

Rebecca – our hearts go out for you. It is so noble and courageous of you to admit that you really do want to leave him, and also that you are aware of your own guilt feelings. This is a tremendous step forward, to identify your inner feelings which are holding you back from doing what you know is right for you.

That you wish that things might get better over time, and look for any possible faults within yourself, is a sign that you have a great Jewish heart of gold. I myself am moved almost to tears after reading your wishes for our best coming from someone who is suffering so much as you are. I am sure that you did more honest soul searching on Yom Kippur than I did, and probably more than most of us.

Perhaps it might be fruitful for you to try and take apart each of the feelings that you have mentioned and see where they might realistically lead.

First, you ask "what if I give it more time?" May I ask, what has your experience shown? What has happened up to now after you have already given it time? Are things getting better or worse? What can you realistically expect to happen if you give it even more time? Will your further suffering make you stronger or weaker? Is there any real justification to afflict yourself any more?

My experience after 26 years of an abusive marriage was that time did not make things better. My divorcee threatened a broken engagement before our marriage, and a divorce during the first year of our marriage. I should have taken her up before we married… Heaven had other designs for me, but if you are writing to us and we are answering you, then it's obvious that there's a reason for it – that you should not have to go through what I did…

Like you, I also tried to rationalize things by my own shortcomings. Again, this is a great Jewish trait of being humble and working on yourself. But what will come of it? I am sure that you did your best on Yom Kippur to resolve not to repeat any real sins that you may have committed in the past, whether between you and G-d or your fellow man. Thus towards your husband I am sure that you did everything realistically possible to reconcile with him, such as moving abroad with him as you mention. Beyond that you are not accountable to him for anything. He is not G-d, and there's no mandate in the Torah for you to obey him and endure his abuse! Given his nature that you reveal to us, and your own guilt feelings, I am very concerned that staying with him – for any reason at all – will cause you immense spiritual damage, such as to your self-esteem.

Thus, my efforts to "correct myself" in my own marriage came to nil and only brought me to several psychologists for depression. Since my divorce I have consulted with several people, and one of them suggested the book on self-esteem by Rabbi Abraham Twersky, "Let Us Make Man", because she sensed that I was being overly critical of myself.

What about your fears for the future? Suppose you get divorced and your worst fears really do come true – that he turns everyone against you and leaves you penniless. Do you really think that is worse than consigning to a living hell by staying with him? True, being divorced, poor and alone isn't easy, but look at it this way – you will then have nowhere to go but up! You will be free to do whatever you want with your life. With a little help from Heaven you will be able to rebuild your life, slowly but surely. Believe me, G-d has given you more strengths and resources than you are aware of.

From your letter it appears that part of your problem is your fears themselves. As Franklin Roosevelt said in his first inaugural address in 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression, "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." The best way to cope with your fears is to confront them head on. Elsewhere in this column, Rosie and Sherry have recommended the book by Susan Jeffers, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway".

For example, I know of a woman whose ex-husband left her and her children with nothing but debt. She took several jobs, paid things off, and made Aliya to Israel where her children are now happy and well adjusted in school.

I likewise had to give up my share in the apartment in order to get divorced. Being homeless doesn't make me a great catch for many women, and my life isn't easy, but I'd rather not like to think what the alternative of staying with her would have been like.

Your case is so much simpler since you have no children. At the very least I would suggest taking a break from everything, coming to Israel (even if you have to borrow money for the flight) and learning a few months at a school like Neve Yerushalayim. If you don't have money for tuition, there are scholarships. Learning at such a place will enrich you spiritually, enable you to make new friends and connections, and even prepare you for a loving and fulfilling marriage (they have a course in relationships and marriage, and two professional matchmakers for their students).

Thus, based on what you tell us, I would advise you to tell your husband, simply and bluntly, with all your self-confidence (rehearse it several times in advance, you'll see how easy it is): "You say let's get divorced? Fine with me, let's get divorced!" See how he reacts!

You seek someone to talk things over with… I would start with Chabad. Wherever there are Jews in the world, there is Chabad. They have their Internet site with a directory of their representatives the world over. I know them as very kind people. If the local Chabad rabbi or his wife is not qualified to give you individual advice, such as helping you cope with your fears, they will be happy to recommend someone else. Of course, if you live in a place with a larger Jewish population, it will be easier to find someone.

May this New Year bring you the best of everything, a year of spiritual and material prosperity, in which all your heart's desires are fulfilled, in which all the blessings of the Torah come to pass for you, including a happy and loving marriage!

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