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.