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Help! My Spouse Is Becoming More Religious Than Me!
Rebbetzin Feige

Help! My Spouse Is Becoming More Religious Than Me!

Do I have to give up me to be loved by you?


A young wife writes:

My husband and I have been married for 8 months. My husband has changed his outlook on a number of religious issues since we met and we have recently been experiencing some conflict over differences in religious observances. I wish that my husband could accept who I am and not try to change me. I feel that if I change certain things to please my husband, I will resent this. When is it appropriate to do what one's spouse would prefer and when it is appropriate to ask one's spouse for acceptance?

This young wife's letter has touched on some very critical issues because at the core lies the question: "Do I have to give up me to be loved by you?"

Her dilemma creates a no-win situation. If she doesn't do as her husband would like, she risks his displeasure at the very least, or a diminution in his regard for her and perhaps further consequences. If she does defer and comply, despite her aversion to his request, her perception in all likelihood is that she is not being true to herself and that her husband is trying to change her.

I don't think it is ever appropriate in a spousal relationship to impose one's opinion or will on the partner.

I don't think it is ever appropriate in a spousal relationship to impose one's opinion or will on the partner. Controlling and determining a mode of behavior or response should be limited to one's self. Marriage does not confer that right. As someone aptly put it, "marriage is not a rehab center." At the very least, this type of controlling approach does not work. At the worst, it is destructive and counterproductive. Invariably, it will give rise to resentment and ultimately anger. Everyone is entitled to make his or her own decision and the refusal to extend that right is demeaning to the spouse.

Torah philosophy sees the human being created in the image of God. We understand this to mean that the Almighty has invested us with His likeness, His attributes. The Master of the Universe is the only wholly and totally independent being. He answers to no one. While we are mere mortals and certainly cannot be totally independent of others and certainly not of God, being created in His image does posit within us a natural resistance to being controlled, manipulated and being told what to do. Deference, while often necessary, is a learned response, not a natural one.

Perhaps that is why, when babies becomes aware of their separateness from their mother, one of the first words they learn is "no."

The basis of a marriage must be mutual respect, appreciation and even a celebration of differences.

At the same time, one of the manifestations of an intact relationship is an openness -- a non-threatened posture that allows for one to consider possibilities previously unexplored.

This can only happen if there is no fear that the spouse has hidden agendas or ulterior motives. Such relational issues can muddy the waters of the marriage. They need to be addressed, clarified, and dealt with.


"Her paths are those of pleasantness," is the description of Torah and observance of its value. The Torah views the spousal relationship as pivotal to Jewish life and the mitzvoth are intended to enhance rather than thwart this objective.

The writer points to the fact that her husband has "changed" since they were married. In other words, the conditions of the contract were changed. I would point out for her consideration that while it is true some change has taken place along the way, we know that human beings are not meant to be stagnant. We should ever be learning and growing. Today should be different than yesterday, and tomorrow we should hopefully have insights and understanding that we don't have today. In the professional, material, and physical arenas we are not satisfied to remain in a status quo state.

Deference does have its place in a healthy marriage.

There is always the necessity of ongoing education and upgrading our standard of living. Certainly in the world of the soul that impacts on eternity, we need to aspire to loftier goals.

I would advise the writer to pursue further learning and exposure to Jewish experiences at her own initiation. It is only when we are informed that we have choices. Perhaps she can then more objectively, without the distortion of a bruised ego or control issues, make her own decision of where she wants to be religiously at this moment with the understanding that tomorrow is another day with its endless possibilities mandated by continuous learning and growing.

Additionally, I do need to point out that deference does have its place in a healthy marriage. Each partner should be respected in his or her particular domain -- his or her area of expertise. The suggestion has been made that we ask ourselves on a scale from 1 to 10 how much does this issue mean to me -- or as one put it, "is this the hill I want to die on?" This kind of self-examination may help determine whether we stand our ground or defer.

There is a humorous anecdote about a husband who says that he makes all the important decision in his marriage -- such as whether to go to war with China or whether the Federal Reserve Bank should lower interest rates. He leaves the smaller decisions to his wife -- where to live, what schools their children should go to, etc.

Acknowledgement and appreciation for a decision that necessitates negotiation and is not mutually arrived at is critical to a marriage. Gratitude and ongoing positive feedback are extremely important dimensions in all relationships and certainly most critical in the marriage relationship.


July 7, 2001

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Visitor Comments: 8

(8) Devorah, April 17, 2014 6:44 PM

Are there support groups for this?

I have been searching for support dealing with this exact issue. We have amazing rabbis who help us, but no one has been able to really help us bridge the gap. My husband grew up reform. I did not grow up religious at all. My husband began to become religious/ observant after we started dating. Years later, knowing very clearly that he was on his Path and that I did not share that Path, I have my own spiritual Path, we decided to get married after long and detailed negotiations. I was willing to do as he requested: "explore" Shabbat, Keep a kosher kitchen and "explore" the laws around family purity. Our agreement included a time of separation but no requirement to go to the Mikvah. After a couple months of being married, I realized that his request to "explore" was really an expectation to observe. I know the laws, I've experienced the practice, and it's not for me. I kept going to the Mikvah but became very resentful. I was so shocked by his imposition and his resistance (anger/frustration) to discussing what we had agreed to that it took me a long time to finally say "ENOUGH!" I would love to be in a marriage of acceptance but that's not our reality. I accept him, but he can't accept me. I told him before we got engaged that if he needs someone on that Path, he has to find her because it's not me. He wanted me. He continued to persue me. He said he accepted me and only needed me to keep a kosher kitchen and "explore". He has continued to grow in his observance. I accept that. What I don't accept is that he continues to need me to do things or we really can't have a marriage. I'm finally taking care of myself. I'm very willing to compromise in an atmosphere of acceptance and choice, but not in an atmosphere of oppression and imposition. I'm ready to say goodbye. I am confident that I have shown up to my part and more. I know I can't change my husband. I really wish we could find a way, but I'm losing hope.

(7) Valerie Schweitzer, November 17, 2001 12:00 AM

While helpfula nd inspiring, the article still leaves me with questions. I wonder how gently open my husband's mind to a more observant way of life, including the attendance of an orthodox synagogue as oppsed to conservative. My husband, while extremely loving, thinks such steps would be "fanatical". He wants us to live a life of moderacy even if he will grant that g-d exists.

(6) Boruch Aplebaum, September 17, 2001 12:00 AM

I agree whole heartedly with the Rebbetzin. Marriage is the joining of three sparks. The husband's the wife's and HaShem. A jewish Marriage is or should be build on respect for each other. And no matter what level a person is on they should and must respect the level of the other. It is taught that if one knows Aleph that is what they should teach. The more observant spouse must help the other to reach whatever level of observance they will both be comfortable with, Without JUDGEMENT.

(5) Gregory Chalik, August 9, 2001 12:00 AM

what's the sourse

Your psycho-philosophical discussion lacks a source for your arguments from the Torah. The one line you do quote "Her paths are those of pleasantness," refer to the development of middot one goes through in seeking Shalom which is what Torah is all about. However, how is this quest possible between husband and wife, if one of them has not resolved conflicts with the First party, HaShem?

(4) Anonymous, August 2, 2001 12:00 AM

Do I have to give up me to be loved by you?

I have been in this person's shoes, and walked the same path. Your advice was correct.

My husband became more observant before I did (we were Conservative and very active in our synagogue). So, I decided that I valued my husband's need for a greater spiritual awakening. This was not directed at me – this was his journey. So instead of rejecting out-of-hand this phase of his development, I decided to learn with him to see what he valued so highly. As a one time card carrying feminist, I felt I could withstand any challenges to my inherent beliefs, and could confront back. So I questioned. I disputed. I once asked a rabbi (regarding the mehitzah in shul), "... why should I pay full price for obstructed seats?" The answer from this particular rabbi was less than appropriate, so my husband and I found a rabbi who didn't spout pabulum and expected us to think for ourselves. I learned, and accepted torah and halachah -- but never the pervasive sexism that often going with it. That is a condition of men and society, not a result of Torah.

If she fears losing her own “personal identity”, there are options and answers within the halachic spectrum. Organizations such as Edah, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance can possibly help -- or even Aish HaTorah. A community's Women's Orthodox League is also a good place to start. Many women within the community have experienced similar problems.

She needs to analyze and understand what her primary/gut level fears are regarding his new levels of observancy.

She may fear being cut off from "normal" people if she follows her husband's lead. She may fear her husband is a hidden chauvinist, if she views women within the observant community as “lesser.” She may fear having to "keep kosher", and be different from her co-workers and not being able to eat out. She may fear how her children will be treated. She may fear concerns that she will become a "second class citizen" in a religion where the Conservative and Reform movements tout their egalitarianism. All these fears can be addressed, including her own inherent prejudices -- although there are no easy, formulaic answers.

The only suggestion I can make is that the lady and her husband explore options together. Compromise is the key. If his levels of observancy become the flash point in their marriage -- no one will win. And it is a shame. Orthodoxy has many, many rewards that both can share.

The sad situations I know in light of this topic, are like those men who belong to my/any shul whose wives never accompany them, never attend simchas, never get involved. When children view religion as only a "daddy thing" and not a "mommy thing" then patterns and conflicts can be set for a lifetime.

Fear of change is the true enemy.

Best wishes to them both.

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