hanukah was a quiet affair in our home — we’d light candles and that was it. My husband, on the other hand, comes from a large, multi-generational family. They do everything big, bustling, and together. Chanukah is an official invitation to party. My husband loves it. He’d always assumed his wife would too — at least that’s what he tells me when we have our inevitable arguments.

I like his family but I just don’t like being around people all the time. I wouldn’t mind popping in for a short party for the kids, but that’s not how the Bergmans do things. We’re all supposed to get together for latkes, donuts, and singing — every night at a different home. It’s way too much for me. I just want to stay home with my own family and have a quiet Chanukah.”

Every married couple brings their family of origin to the table. Each of the spouses has grown up in his or her unique family. Their task is to merge and create their own family culture. But in order to do so, they must know a thing or two about marriage. They must know, for example, that apart from halachah, there’s no right or wrong way to live. Folding socks, rolling socks, or laying them flat are all ways that socks can be put in a drawer — just because one’s mother did it one way doesn’t mean that one’s spouse must follow suit.

The same applies to lifestyle issues: how one spends money, prepares food, selects clothing, decorates a house, takes vacations, or enjoys family time. Personal preferences are only preferences: they’re not the one and only right way. Some people give Chanukah gelt, some buy gifts, and others give nothing — it’s all good.

Often people are fondly attached to their own ways of doing things, having learned them in the warmth of childhood from people whose words are second only to Hashem’s. They then present these practices as the gold standard, complete with explanations, testimonials, and research findings (“Nine out of ten normal people do it my way!”).

Marriage, however, requires merging and compromise. Trying to convince or control one’s partner never ends well.


Sour Cream or Applesauce?

Of course, differences occur in couples due to factors beyond family backgrounds. One likes soft latkes while another likes them crispy, one loves to spend time outdoors, the other loves to curl up with a book. Each human being is unique.

Some of these differences aren’t that significant: put both sour cream and applesauce on the table, and the problem is solved. But others do impact family life. When one spouse feels strongly that nightly gift-giving is materialistic and un-Jewish while another treasures her gift-laden childhood and desperately wants to pass the custom onto her own children, conflict can ensue. The couple needs to decide how things will be done.

Here’s where the lesson of Chanukah can help. The tiny flask of oil that lit the menorah in the Beis Hamikdash has been illuminating our world for more than 2,000 years. A little light goes a long way and dispels much darkness. Similarly, a little kindness in marriage creates lasting impact.

“I want the children to bask in the spirituality of Chanukah and to have lifelong memories of candles, latkes, and Chanukah stories. You want the kids to be as excited about Chanukah as you were, and you feel that gifts were a big part of your Chanukah experience. Although I don’t believe that gifts are important, I believe that you are important! Would you mind if we gave the gifts after we light candles, sing songs, and play dreidel?”

Recognizing and accepting differences is the first step. We don’t want to just tolerate our spouse’s preferences; we want to fully endorse his or her personality. Welcoming differences gives each person the room to be his or herself. Being accepted fuels feelings of safety and love.

When differences arise, we want to look for solutions that work for both spouses. “I like my way but your way is great too. How can we do a little of both?” Or, “We did it my way last time. Let’s do it your way this year.”

Honoring differences by making room for them and allowing our spouses to achieve their desires create a relationship that is big enough to hold two hearts, nurturing a flame bright enough to light up the world. 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 620)