See companion article, "Primer for Men"
There are so many marriage books available, with more being published every day. There are workshops and weekend retreats, tapes and CD's and classes to download. But with all this information, marriage boils down to one simple idea: giving.
Marriage is about giving, in all its incarnations. It sounds like such a simple statement. In fact it is. But it demands serious work and thought. And digging deep within ourselves for the requisite strength and willpower.
Both men and women have to be focused on giving to create a successful marriage. As Jewish scholars frequently cite, marriage is not 50/50, it's 100/100.
This piece will highlight some of the myriad ways in which women can give to enhance their marriages. (Don't get frustrated yet; you can relax and just absorb the information – there will be a counterpart for men!)
1. Clothing. If we dress up for our girlfriends and put on old schlumpy clothes at home, we appear to be making a statement about our priorities, and how distorted they are. It is a kindness to our husbands to dress attractively for them. This may include wearing the styles and colors they appreciate as opposed to the ones we favor. (I'm still working on this one – trying to reconcile my love of fuchsia and turquoise with my husband's preference for pastels.)
2. Paying attention. Everyone wants to be listened to – and heard. At the end of a long day, either at work or with the kids, you may not feel like listening to your husband. Do it anyway. It is a kindness to him – and you may be surprised by what you learn.
3. Being interested. Paying attention is good, being sincerely interested is even better. If it interests your husband, it should interest you. While you may have separate hobbies, still be curious about what your husband does. Let him tell you the (boring) details of his golf game or share the (exciting) description of the winning touchdown (I'm letting my preferences show!). The same is true with respect to his job. He's spending so many hours at the office: don't you want to know what he's doing?
4. Stay awake. In order to accomplish #2 and #3, you may have to stay awake past your desired bedtime. Especially when your children are young. While this may not be easy, if you go to sleep early every night, chances are you and your husband will not be spending quality time together. If your husband needs to go out in the evenings – to learn, to work, to a charitable function, it is meaningful to him to come home and find you waiting up. It says "I care." It makes a house a home.
5. Cooking dinner. In today's world, if you suggest that women should dress nicely and cook delicious meals, you risk the label of Stepford wife. But there's nothing robotic about giving, about being considerate and thoughtful. While it may not always be possible, men like a home-cooked meal. They prefer it to the fanciest restaurant. It doesn't have to be gourmet (although for some tips, you can check out my new website: gourmetkoshercooking.com), it just has to be made by you. And you need to take into account his likes and dislikes.
6. Be sensitive to his needs. If your husband likes to stay in at the end of a long day (they all seem to be long days!), try not to fill your evenings with social obligations and cultural events. If he likes to go out, hire a babysitter and try to be accommodating. With giving and goodwill, you can usually reach a satisfactory compromise.
7. Express your affection in words. Yes, even big tough men need to know they are loved. Actions are not enough ("For 25 years, I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house..."). Tell them.
8. Show your admiration. Even more than our love, our husbands want our respect. Don't hesitate to tell him how proud you are of the way he handles certain tough situations or people, of the work he does, of the kind of parent he is. This kind of giving is absolutely crucial to our husband's sense of well-being. It is so easy to do and yet we do it so rarely.
9. Encourage him to share his dreams and help make them come true. Set some time aside to talk about his deeper goals. How's he doing? Does he need your support to move forward? Part of giving in a truly meaningful way is to help your husband make his dreams a reality.
10. Assist him with tasks he doesn't enjoy. Many men (my husband included) hate to shop. The whole experience may make them cringe. But even in this age of ecommerce, there are still some items that need to be purchased in person, clothing that he must try on. So when my husband's suit gets that shiny look, even though I don't enjoy shopping either, I go along – to make the experience more pleasant (and to make sure he chooses something that actually fits!). Everyone has certain household chores they don't particularly enjoy. If you can take some of those off your husband's plate, he'll probably respond in kind. Even if that isn't your motivation.
11. Be an "ezer k'negdo." It is also giving to be what the Torah describes as a "helpmeet against him." If we see our spouse about to make an erroneous decision or head down a destructive path, it is our job to find a loving and creative way to stop him. And then to redirect him. This is giving at its best.
The secret to a good marriage isn't an esoteric kabbalistic formula. It's simple and straightforward. But it can be so difficult – when we're tired, when the kids are pulling on us, when we have a job deadline, when we're cooking for the holidays, when the house is a mess, when our nerves are frazzled... in other words, almost all the time! But if we still continue to give, even under these trying circumstances, then we reap the very great rewards inherent in having a successful marriage.