"M

y husband is a really great guy and I’m glad I married him. But we have one big problem and I just don’t know what to do about it. We have five children under the age of eight, and I could really use his help — but I can never count on getting it. Chaim says that he’ll be home in the evenings to help with dinner and bedtime. But when I ask him to please help a kid cut his meat or go out to the succah to calm down the kids while I’m preparing food in the kitchen, Chaim will say, ‘Sure,’ while scrolling through his phone. He’s always busy with work but then he doesn’t do anything.

“It’s like dealing with an uncooperative child — if I remind him, he’ll either do it halfway, like cutting two pieces of meat instead of the whole piece, or he’ll make things worse, by maybe screaming at the kids, which will just escalate their fighting.         

I could give a million more examples, but it all boils down to the same problem: I can’t count on my husband’s real help and I’m left exhausted and resentful.”

 

When a Spouse Won’t Step Up

This is a common scenario. Both husbands and wives may feel abandoned by a spouse who, for one reason or another, can’t or won’t keep an orderly or well-functioning home, doesn’t do anything to contribute financially to the wellbeing of the household despite need, or who otherwise do not work side-by-side with them in meeting the needs of the family.

Although either gender can function as a “single parent” when thrust into that situation, no one wants to do that when there’s a healthy spouse right there in the same house. In fact, when a healthy spouse doesn’t step up, the unsupported spouse will feel alone, hurt, and angry — emotions that weaken a marital bond.

You may hear another story from the spouse: “My wife wants my help for all sorts of ridiculous things, and I don’t understand why I have to go along with her. Her standards are impossible and her priorities are all messed up. For example, she wants the kitchen spotless as soon as we make Havdalah. Why? We can just relax and clean it the next day. We even have a cleaning lady who’ll come on Chol Hamoed. Succos is a busy time, and even when I have a few minutes, cleaning up the kitchen isn’t the way I want to spend my night. But if I don’t do it, my wife goes crazy.

“Then there’s the way she wants me to put the kids to bed — the full works: read to them, talk to them, lie down with them for half an hour. That isn’t on my agenda at all. And honestly, I think it’s unnecessary and harmful. Why should we baby our kids? They’ll never learn to go to bed that way. If she wants to do it that way, she can, but when it’s my turn to put them to sleep I’m just telling them to get into bed and that’s it.”

 

Two-Way Merge

Spouses will often have differing opinions. They come from different homes with different values, priorities, and strategies, and they are different people with different thoughts, feelings, and preferences. It’s futile and often destructive to debate who’s “right” and who’s “wrong.” But it’s equally harmful to refuse to budge one’s own worldview.    Marriage requires that both spouses merge their opinions and views.                If only one person changes course (i.e., the husband does everything his wife’s way in order to ward off arguments and fights), then that person will usually end up experiencing deep resentment — and that’s never a good thing for marital happiness.

Of course, you can always do something (not everything) for your spouse just because you want to show your love. When you see your spouse working “too hard,” keep in mind that he or she also goes above and beyond for you. You should always intervene to save this most important person from fatigue, illness, or despair: Pitch in and provide the help that your spouse really needs even if you do have different priorities, and do so without making your partner beg or cajole you. By doing all this, you are investing in your own marriage. Being a good team player is one of the major tasks of a spouse — and there’s no team more important than the home team.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 610)