Do I Look Fat?
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Do I Look Fat?
Mom with a View

Do I Look Fat?

And other times best not to say exactly what you're thinking.

by

A recent query from a reader asked me to discuss the issue of keeping things from your spouse, particularly if you think it would upset them. This is a very broad question and each situation is individual but I will offer some general guidelines, starting with the most important rule of all: It depends.

We are given permission to omit the truth for the sake of Shalom Bayit, peace in the home. Our role model in this area is none other than the Almighty himself who doesn’t mention to the 99 year-old Abraham that his wife, Sara, said he was old!

Some classics in this category (besides the too obvious to mention “Do I look fat?”) may include situations such as: Wife (looking in mirror): “Oh my gosh, look how wrinkled I am!” Husband (whose sight is still sharp): “You look beautiful.”

Or how about this variation?

Husband: “I think I have to take all my pants to the tailor to have them let out.” Wife: “Well you were too skinny when we got married; you look better now.” (This works; I speak from experience!)

Or even this:

Wife: “I just don’t seem to have the energy I used to.” Husband: “I find you more energetic and pleasurable to be with than ever.” (Hopefully only the first part of this is an exaggeration!) Alternatively he could say, “I enjoy your quieter, calmer self. It gives us more time together.”

But when is the appropriate line crossed? I read recently that many women like to downplay their new clothing purchases by bringing them home in plastic bags from the dry cleaners, relying on the typical lack of observance on the part of many husbands. (That wouldn’t work in my home. Since picking up the cleaning is a chore I abhor and thus never do it, I would immediately come under suspicion!) Is this behavior wrong? I don’t know. It depends:

Can they afford it but her husband gets overwhelmed if he sees it all at once? Is it a rare extravagance? Does she regularly max out the credit cards?

Few situations are black and white and everyone’s marriage and circumstances are different. It is clear that we never want to be cruel and insulting and that we prefer to avoid fights over silly issues. Since “silly” may be in the eyes of the beholder, I leave that judgment up to you.

If the issue is something your husband (or wife) would be justifiably upset about or for some reason needs to know about, you can’t withhold it to avoid confrontation (he’ll see that dent in the car anyway). There’s nothing wrong, however, with getting him in a more relaxed mood before telling him!

Of course it is a not a good idea to get in the habit of shading the truth, even where permissible. This can alter our character in less than positive ways and we have to be careful about justifying all fibs in the name of household peace!

It’s complicated. There are days when our spouses can be irritating, annoying, frustrating. This is the kind of “information” you keep to yourself. We do NOT believe in honesty -- or “authenticity” as it is popularly called -- at all costs. If you recognize that kindness is the higher value, that giving and caring are what matters, it will probably lead you to the correct decision.

Published: December 19, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 7

(7) Anonymous, December 22, 2009 5:04 PM

Truth

When I was about four or five, I was going to tell my mother something. Hashem spoke to me and said, "It's very, very good to always tell the truth, but sometimes it's not so good to tell all, for in the end they'll dislike you. Note" the last three words are similar to what Hashem said, the rest is exact. I have to have the wisdom to know when not to tell all.

(6) Rachel, December 22, 2009 4:56 PM

"everyone's marriages and circumstances are different"

This is the heart of the article. I don't want to be complimented for a new recipe if no really likes it and next time it will be thrown away. I want to be told if something looks unflattering on me. I am trying to get my husband to diet and exercise because I'm concerned that his sedentary career and recent weight gain are bad for his health -- but I'm not going to say "you're fat", but rather encourage to join me in walks and try to keep the junk food in the house to a minimum.

(5) Anonymous, December 22, 2009 4:23 PM

Unless it's hurtful, please be honest.

I don't think that we can have a better Teacher than Hashem regarding being diplomatic, etc. I also don't think that it's advisable to lie or try to fool a spouse regarding expenditures. "You can fool some of the people some of the time; but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." I think that most spouses catch onto the tricks after a while and prefer to keep quiet; but I cannot believe that these practices are good for the marriage! It must create distance and a feeling of mistrust and that's never good.

(4) ruth, December 22, 2009 4:07 PM

truth and/or consequences

I think there are white lies, and I think there are omissions we all make, and I think there is also sugar coating, as in the icing on the cake, and the I Sing on the cake, and for me, it's all governed as you say, by kindness. If we stop and think about consequences, about hurt, and about what enhances another person's well being, I think it's just fine to sometimes bite our tongue to hold back the "bite" itself. Honey is always something of value, when it is given with love and with caring thought.

(3) Beth Newman, December 22, 2009 3:09 PM

Chesed and Beauty

Emuna, I especially love the article's title considering I'm a big fan and 'user' of your Food site! But, more importantly...kindness, compassion and respect for our fellow Jew, loved one, friend is never based upon deceit; especially if that compliment, that voice of support serves to encourage, motivate and reinforce what is already inside one i.e. inner beauty that is only magnified when acknowledged by others. What is that notable example of whether one should 'compliment a bride on her beauty' even if perhaps she is not?

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