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Can My Marriage be Saved?
Rebbetzin Feige

Can My Marriage be Saved?

My husband believes there’s only one right way of doing things – his way.


I feel worn out trying to improve my marriage. We have had good times and done great things together – raised wonderful children, and realized our dream of moving to Israel.

But there have been bad times as well. My husband does not believe in the concept of a married couple making compromises. He believes that both halves of the couple should always do what is "right" to do. At times he is open to hearing my opinion about what is "right," and has changed his mind to agree with my way of thinking. But in the vast majority of cases, he sticks to what he thinks is right, and since he has the stronger personality, we usually do as he thinks.

Before we were married, I resolved (without telling him) to be flexible and go along with most of his ideas – because I thought that would be a good way to get along with a man with strong opinions, and because I genuinely am flexible in most matters. I don't have a problem with what I see as trivial matters. But sometimes an issue will come up with the children that is important to me. Since I am the one doing most of the child-raising, and I know them the best (he's away on business a lot), I have confidence in my methods. Yet he still insists on analyzing the question with “what is the right thing to?”

I have tried for years to do everything he asked of me. And it took me years to realize that the more I tried to act on his requests, the more disrespectful he became toward me.

And woe to anyone who fails to act in the “right way.” He can become irritable, impatient, angry, and contemptuous. In our 22 years of our marriage, he got physically aggressive with me three times (two shoves and a punch). I don't fear he will ever hit me again. But he will blow up when I'm disagreeing (even politely, even calmly) with him, and shout at me nose to nose.

All this has left me in bad shape. I have basically given up on trying not to frustrate him, because I am constantly frustrated on several important matters, and he sees that frustration as being solely my problem.

So here I am. My oldest children are out of the house, but many younger ones are still at home. My youngest need extra help and attention because of some developmental issues. I do at least the minimum for them and I want to do more for them and for me, but where I used to always have another idea to try or some inspiration that kept me going, I'm all tapped out now.

I'm dependent financially on my husband because I've been a stay-at-home mom for years (though I was a professional for several years just after university). We’ve been trying to improve our marriage for years, and there have been improvements, but I am stuck in the reality that I can’t talk to him without him shouting in my face.

I have done counseling at several different points in my life, while my husband despises social sciences and will never go to counseling, preferring to solve his own problems.

He feels that he has been making most of the changes, and that it's my turn to start carrying more of my share. That is the last thing I feel able to do right now. I'm worn out emotionally, and just want to spend mostly empty time in front of the computer. I have had enough.

Any wisdom on your part would be very, very welcome.

Dear Reader,

The first thought that comes to mind is that the definition of a healthy marriage relationship is a "harmonious" one. The term harmony is borrowed from musical arrangements where the sounds brought forth from the various instruments are not identical, but blend and resonate well with each other. Similarly, in a marriage, husband and wife can have differing opinions and different ways of looking at situations, and an accord can still be struck. As a matter of fact, different perspectives create balance. One spouse can have a more laid back view and the other a more intense orientation, and together they can reach the ideal middle of the road approach.

The critical factor, however, is that there has to be an inherent understanding and implicit contract to agree to disagree respectfully. Marginalizing the thinking or viewpoint of another is never in order. The assumption, of course, is that the issues at hand are not matters that challenge moral statutes or ethical behavior – e.g. murder, theft, gossip or Torah laws should not be up for discussion. Matters, however, of how to best deal with a given situation effectively, that is not written in stone, can be subject to discussion and varying opinions.

Doing the "right thing” does not give him permission to treat you dismissively.

It appears from your account, dear reader, that your husband is adopting an excessively authoritarian and autocratic posture. Even if the "right thing” that he insists on is based on an objective value system, it does not give him permission to treat you dismissively. A civil discussion is always mandated. It is not a question of being right or wrong; discourse should be engaged with a willingness to exchange thinking.

Physical abuse is absolutely and categorically never acceptable.

Respect and real listening are the key ingredients in positive communication. Sadly, we as a culture have lost the ability to listen effectively. Deep listening entails total focus and attention to what the other person is saying. Typically, we are so invested in our own thinking that even as the other is still speaking their mind, and trying to articulate their position, our minds are occupied with formulating our own response. We are not totally present. To divest ourselves momentarily of our personal bias and truly listen is a skill that takes practice, effort, and a true desire to acquire.

I gather from your remarks that if you would feel heard and respected, the final conclusion would not be such an issue for you. Yet when time and again one is treated dismissively, that can crush the spirit and destroy self esteem. All of us get a better sense of self when we sense that our thoughts are of value to others.

Though you refer to yourself as "flexible," you clearly bear a great deal of resentment for your many concessions. Sagely advice tells us that when any issue arises, we assess it on a scale of 1-5, and insist only on that which is highly important to us. It seems, dear reader, that you have done that and more, and alas even in areas the should be your domain – the house, the children, etc.

No Consent

Practically speaking, I would recommend the following:

(1) Sit down with your husband when there are no burning issues or bad feelings, and you are both in a good mood and kindly disposed to one another. Share your feelings with him. In a context of all the positive qualities that you appreciate about him, tell him that in the area of being heard and listened to he has not done the "right" thing by you. Express your hurt and frustration. Ask him in advance to allow you to say your piece without interruption. Then let him respond without your interrupting him. Speak calmly. Begin your sentences with "I" messages, not "you" – e.g. "I feel such and such when you…," not "You make me feel…"

Remember to go for deep listening and not only for getting things off your chest. The objective is to try to open up lines of communication and to make it safe to share feelings. In the event that you feel a face-to-face discussion will not work, consider putting your feelings in writing.

(2) Recognize, dear reader, that women become accustomed to subtle forms of abuse over time and make excuses for the abuser – i.e. “He is so nice otherwise; he has such a great sense of humor,” etc. Consider the example of the boiled frog. How is it, they ask, that a frog can be boiled in water? We would expect that as soon as a frog senses the very hot or boiling water, it would jump out and boiling it would be impossible. The key, however, is to begin with lukewarm water and slowly increase the flame, imperceptible to the frog, until it is too late and the frog finds itself boiled.

In cases of abuse, overt or subtle, a husband plays on a wife's vulnerabilities. Because the picture is not totally black, the wife tolerates it and at times becomes convinced that she deserves the abuse. Before she knows it, she is "boiled."

Eleanor Roosevelt's wisely commented: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." Your task, dear reader, at this point is not to give your consent.

Make it clear that you are not willing to suffer abuse any longer.

If no change occurs, you will have arrived at the point of needing to identify a rabbi, mentor or other person that your husband respects. Offer that he can see anyone he chooses. If he refuses to go, however, perhaps you will need to go speak with that person directly and share your concerns. Mentioning this to your husband might give him the impetus to join you, or at the very least make him aware that consequences will now become part of the picture. It will become clearer to him that you are not willing to suffer even the most subtle of abuse any longer.

(3) Despite the fact that you have tried counseling in the past, I would strongly advise you to find a good objective party to talk to, regardless of whether your husband chooses to join. Divesting yourself of your pain and frustration will be therapeutic. Additionally, the perspective gained will hopefully clear your head and heart and energize you. The affirmation and validation of this process will make you emotionally healthier and far better equipped to handle the heavy load you carry.

(4) Remember that it takes only one person in the relationship to affect the energy in the home. A more confident self will perforce evoke an altered response from your family.

Finally, take care of yourself physically and spiritually. Instead of sitting in front of a computer, take a brisk walk, or better yet get a friend to join you for a consistent daily exercise program. It will boost your body chemistry and ward off depressive thinking. Fill yourself up with learning to whatever extent possible. You will feel more equal to life. And as in all situations that we are confronted or challenged by, pray for heavenly assistance.

May God bless you!

January 15, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 32

(32) Anonymous, July 28, 2015 3:17 AM

This really hits home

I read so much.This one really hit home. Hmm. Who should know. He made mistakes. but it got worse and now the mistakes have cost us money. One of the children did't get the treatment from the right specialist. Hubby doesnt' learn from his mistakes. He is so stubborn. I read again: no one tells you it can be easier after divorce. Some of us cannot try to make it better & then hear junk and stubbornness. Therapy was a mixed blessing. Therapy made me think of divorce. Immature therapist made too many mistakes. The good was very good in therapy. The bad was very bad. Therapist helped me to see things could be different. So I try to focus on making it better.

(31) Anonymous, March 9, 2011 9:57 AM

Rebbitzen Feige, you recommend that this wife say to her husband, "I feel bad when YOU..." Her husband will not pick up on the "I feel". He will pick up on the "YOU". Abusive husbands have low self-esteems. Such a conversation could be a disaster for this poor woman without better word-for-word guidance.

(30) Anonymous, January 26, 2011 8:30 PM

Could be a personality disorder

I felt so sad to read of this writer’s predicament. I have almost exactly the same situation: a husband who is always “right” and willing to go to extreme lengths in order to “win” every argument. I am still married to him. All the children are out of the house and doing well. I stayed in the marriage for all the usual reasons: money, shame, the children, and lack of courage. Neither the Rebbetzin nor the comments mention that the husband may have a personality disorder. I discovered Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder just recently and was amazed. The description fit my husband perfectly. This is not the same as OCD. Rather, OCPD is a “pervasive characterological disturbance” that has “devastating effects on one’s interpersonal relationships.” (See Such a man will not accept any authority figure. Even if he goes to a counselor or rav, he will find ways to twist what the rav says, because the definition of this disorder is that the person always has to be “right.” The things that helped me were building my own life. Volunteer and paid work gave me great satisfaction and led to relationships with people who appreciated and respected me. I also disengaged from my husband emotionally. I stopped trying to have a real relationship, since I saw that all his energy goes into protecting himself and his dysfunctional beliefs. I became more assertive. This kind of man respects only power. Having my own money was a tremendous help. It meant a little less control for him. How are things today? They are better in the sense that there is less fighting. But emptiness took its place. I often wish I had left, although who knows what problems I would have had then. Remain strong, and good luck to you, whatever you decide.

(29) SR, January 23, 2011 8:58 AM

Rebbetzin, this is not a question but rather a response to your article on marriage as a partnership. You are so very wise and insightful. This piece just reassures me that I made the right decision to move forward with my own life and without my ex-husband. Why is it that otherwise smart and educated women always feel the need for reassurance that they can make the right decisions for themselves? Why do we always feel the need to get permission or feel guilty when making decisions that are good for either our physical, emotional or mental well being? Thank you again for your wisdom and rational thoughts.

(28) Anonymous, January 21, 2011 12:58 AM

I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional home, where there was a lot of yelling and my mom usually had to give in to my dad. It was very painful to watch as children, and even more painful when my own marriage appeared to mimic my parents'. The flipside is I am very educated about family matters because I am Torah observant and my parents weren't, AND I am willing to fight back and voice my opinions. I stuck by my husband with a lot of bad choices he made that I had to swallow and deal with, and quite often he tried to impose his ways on me and not accept that he had depression, anxiety and OCD. After two and a half years of fighting and a difficult childhood, I picked up one day, asked him to leave and asked for a get. It was such a difficult period and I was very read to do it. He refused to go to therapy, saying "I don't need no shrinks" and was in denial that there were problems---until I threatened divorce. Luckily, with the help of good friends, we were both convinced to try therapy together and see if we could work through things. I am happy to say two years later, there has been tremendous growth and change. We bought a house together (huge committment) and have a third baby on the way. It took work though, a lot of work. My advice to women is, it's not about fighting back. It's about learning how to fight. You have to learn to discuss and when to discuss---NEVER discuss while still under the influence of angry feelings. It's better to wait til you calm down,even if it take a few days. Marriage is not easy and definitely not easy when you have one or two highly opinionated parties involved. But, with care, patience and a willingness to work, divorces can be prevented and harmony can be found. Be encouraged---more frum marriages can be saved than can;t.

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