“Perfect for your relationship with Stu?” Chavi’s face is stony. “I’m so glad to hear that. What about your relationship with me? Does that matter to you at all?”
"Shmuel Chaim Sternfeld, you are not to be believed.”
We all know the rule — if your full name is being used by a woman who’s meant to have your back, be it mother or wife, then trouble is brewing. I want to tell Chavi that I just walked in the door and can she let a guy take off his coat and chill for three minutes before she starts yelling at him, but that will just make whatever this is worse, so instead I lean on the counter opposite the island where she’s cutting up a salad and brace myself for the deluge.
“What’s the problem, Chavi?”
“I’ll tell you exactly what’s the problem,” she says, her voice dangerously low. “I met Melissa Steinhart at the grocery store. And she told me how excited she is to be joining us for Shabbos lunch, could she bring anything?
“And she just wants to remind me that in addition to not eating sugar, she and her husband went vegan a few months ago. They feel so much better, it’s like their bodies were totally reset. But I don’t need to worry about it, not at all, because they’ll just eat what works for them. No need to make anything special.”
I feel a headache coming on.
“How could you?” Chavi is getting hysterical. “How can you invite your boss and his impossible wife without even asking me? You know I had three kids home this week, you know I haven’t slept a full night in months. And not only do you invite two vegans to our Shabbos seudah, you do it without even checking first to see if it’s okay with me!
“You know what? You can do the cooking! You can make a vegan cholent, and a vegan kishke, and a vegan potato kugel, and a sugar-free vegan dessert! You made this mess, you clean it up!”
“Chavi,” I say, drumming my fingers on the island countertop, “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier. But don’t you think you’re overreacting? You know we have to have Stu and his wife over at least once a year. And it’s been a lot longer than that since we had them last. I was planning on telling you right away, I just forgot.”
Chavi is glaring at me. I wish she’d realize how important this is.
“You’re not the only one dealing with a lot,” I add. “Do you have any idea how much pressure I have at work right now with that Bayside project? I figured some time together, on friendlier turf, would be perfect for my relationship with Stu.”
“Perfect for your relationship with Stu?” Chavi’s face is stony. “I’m so glad to hear that. What about your relationship with me? Does that matter to you at all?”
“Chavi! That’s ridiculous! Of course you matter! This isn’t about you. Not everything is. You always—”
Chavi sweeps past me and bolts out of the kitchen. I hear her pounding up the stairs. Sometimes she’s like a petulant teen.
I guess we’ll finish this conversation some other time.
Or not. Hopefully not.
I truly believe that your average frum wife doesn’t mean to be a nasty shrew. It just kind of happens.
She starts off nice, sweet, even caring. Back in the beginning, it’s all about having a delicious three-course dinner waiting when her husband comes home, greeting him in makeup and a sheitel, asking about his day — and actually wanting to hear his response. In those early days, she respects him, values his opinion, treats him the way a husband should be treated.
But then, over time, she starts to take him for granted. She expects that of course he’ll work long hours each day to support her and the kids, of course he’ll go to Avos U’banim with the boys and help the girls with their fractions ’cuz she’s “not a math person.” Of course he’ll take care of taxes and the furnace and the light bulbs that burn out way too quickly since no one bothers to turn off the lights.
From there it’s all downhill.
He comes home to congealed lasagna, never mind soup or cake. His wife is wearing a splattered sweatshirt and a tichel. And the only thing she says to him is, “The baby hasn’t stopped crying all day. Take him!” as she thrusts a screaming infant into his hands before he’s even taken off his coat.
And then, when he makes some little suggestion about how she can manage her time better so this doesn’t happen every single day, she flies off the handle, telling him he’s insensitive. As if he’s the problem.
I’d watched this happen before. With five older sisters, I had plenty of opportunity to observe the transformation from happy wife to obnoxious grouch. But I was sure it wouldn’t happen to me.
Until it did.
I tried to be patient. To ride the wave. To wait until my wife came back to her senses and started treating me the way I deserved to be treated. But months went by, then years, and thing were only getting worse. I realized I needed to stop waiting and be proactive.
It’s Friday night and Chavi is in the living room, curled up with her magazine and mint thins. (I make sure to pick up a copy of Kulanu and her favorite chocolates every single week. Do I get thanked for that? Ever? No, I do not. But I say nothing.)
After the stressful Shabbos meal with the Steinharts last week, I suggested she invite Meira, her single sister who she’s super close to, this Shabbos. Meira’s sitting on the couch next to her with the kids’ magazine. Every few minutes, one of them comments on something they’re reading, and there’s a spurt of conversation, laughter, some teasing. With other people, Chavi is still the sparkling girl I married. It’s only when I walk in the room that everything gets frosty.
I sit at the table, my Chumash in front of me, and try to be maavir sedrah. The house is very warm, and I’m very tired. I start to doze off. I’m startled awake by an exclamation from Chavi.
“She gets it! Meira, you must read the ‘Real Relationships’ column by Dr. Klein. It’s so on target this week.”
“You say that every week, Chav. You’re kind of obsessed.”
“Well, she’s more than kind of amazing. She’s talking about the importance of appreciation. She calls it ‘the sun that every being reaches toward, that every relationship needs to flourish.’ Isn’t that beautiful?”
Meira nods slowly. “Mmmmm. That is pretty. Now I just need to find my knight in shining armor who will appreciate my many talents and gifts.”
“It’s not so simple.” Chavi’s voice is taut.
“You’re telling me? You, who dated for ten minutes and married her third guy? I’m the one who’s up to guy number forty-three. Thanks for reminding me that there aren’t many knights in my neck of the woods.”
“No, no, that’s not what I meant.” Chavi reaches out and touches Meira’s arm. “I wasn’t trying to pour salt onto wounds. I just meant—” Abruptly, she looks up, notices me, and her face shutters. “Never mind. Did you see ‘Silk Threads’ this week? Things are really heating up!”
Meira takes the bait, and they’re off and running, analyzing a bunch of fictional people.
Later, much later, I jerk awake to find myself alone in the dark dining room.
I shuffle over to the couch, pick up Kulanu, and take it the well-lit kitchen. I flip to “Real Relationships” and skim.
“It’s so easy for us to take the people closest to us for granted…. When a loved one does something for us all the time, we often no longer notice the effort being expended. When was the last time you thanked your husband for putting in a long day at work? How often do you thank your wife for ensuring that you have clean socks? But appreciation is crucial. It’s the sun…” there’s that line she loved. I read on.
“Even worse is when we become laser-focused on the negative, finding the faults and slipups rather than the victories….”
I shake my head. Does Chavi not process what she reads? How can she be so blind to what Dr. Klein is telling her? How can I bring the point home?
Suddenly, I know exactly what I have to do.
Unfortunately, I’m a living example of what happens when people don’t follow the excellent advice offered in your recent column by Dr. Klein.
I’ve been married for 14 years to a wonderful man. My husband works hard and provides well for us, learns each day, is a good father, and a kind and caring husband. But that wasn’t enough for me.
I could see only the little things he didn’t do, the times he couldn’t schmooze with me, the days he’d oversleep or come home late. I kvetched and demanded and criticized, rather than appreciate all he did for me and the family. I focused only on his mistakes.
And now my husband is fed up and resentful. My marriage is a mess. And it’s all my fault.
I wish I had thought about the importance of appreciation years ago and made it a regular part of my life. Things would look very different now.
But it’s never too late. I hope I can still turn things around.
A Regretful Wife
Here it is! They’ve printed my letter on the first page of the Inbox. And with the clever way I’d camouflaged my identity, there’s no way Chavi will ever guess the truth. I read it again. And then again. Finally, Chavi will wake up to the reality of the trouble she’d created in our marriage.
Just then, Chavi comes through the living room, carrying a laundry basket piled high with neatly stacked clean clothing. I quickly drop the magazine and take out my phone, pretending to read a text.
Chavi looks at me quizzically. I search for something to say to fill the awkward silence. My eyes rest on the magazine, then on the basket in her arms.
“Thank you,” I stutter.
“For what?” She sounds bewildered.
“For doing the laundry. All the time. It’s nice to always have clean stuff. Folded, too.”
“Uh… you’re welcome?” She’s staring at me. I look down at my phone, avoiding her eyes. A minute later, she’s climbing the stairs. Crisis averted.
The next day, the thought of Chavi reading the letter and things changing in our home buoys me. I decide to leave work before my usual just-enough-time-to-get-home-and-shower departure time. I walk in the door a full two hours before candlelighting.
The kitchen is frenzied, pots bubbling on the stove, something smelling good in the oven, and I can hear the kids bickering in the basement. I look around for a long minute.
“Should I wash the floor?” I finally ask. Back when we were newlyweds, I used to mop every week; it’s the one chore I know how to do.
Chavi looks up from the cutting board. “Oh, you’re home. Yeah, that would be great. But the dishes need to be done first, ’cuz the water ends up dripping on the floor.”
Give ’em a finger, they take a hand. But there aren’t many options at this point. “What dishes? Which sponge?”
An hour later, the sink is empty and the floors clean. Two hours later, I’m downstairs when Chavi lights — something that hasn’t happened in forever. I watch as she sways before the candles, lips murmuring tefillos, and wonder what she’s asking for.
When she finishes, she looks up, and smiles. “Thank you for the help this afternoon,” she says.
I wait for the inevitable “but.” For the inevitable recrimination to follow. But Chavi heads to the couch, where Rivky is waiting for her with a picture book.
Could she have already read the Inbox? I wonder as I knot my tie and hurry off to shul.
The good times never last. By the time I get home, Chavi is snippy again.
She complains that I didn’t take out any of the dips or drinks when I went into the kitchen to wash. She tells me I’m not patient enough with Dovy when I do his parshah sheet (he does need to listen to his rebbi better, she just doesn’t want to face the reality that her kids aren’t all perfect angels). She glares when I yell at Rivky for spilling her cup of soda (it’s not like she’s clumsy — she was trying to pick it up with her elbows. Of course it was going to spill!).
And then she gets mad when I bentsh before dessert and head upstairs to have an early night.
Women! There’s no pleasing them.
The next week, I buy Kulanu on the Thursday grocery run, as always. Slit open the plastic so it will be open before Shabbos, as always. But this time, I find myself flipping to Dr. Klein’s column. What advice is she dispensing this time?
The opening line shocks me.
“Last week, ‘A Regretful Wife’ wrote in response to my column, and I’d like to address the points she raised.”
Hmmmm. So she noticed my letter. I bet she sees loads of people with the same problem as Chavi. I read on.
“While I’m impressed and moved by her desire to improve her marriage, the tone of the letter saddened me. Marriage, by its very nature, is a dance between two people. It’s rare for a single spouse to be a paragon of virtue while the other is a heartless witch/uncaring brute. I can’t imagine this wife is as awful as she thinks she is — or, quite frankly, that her husband is as perfect as she makes him out to be.”
And she’s off and running, going on about expectations and reciprocity and how every small change can shift the dynamics. Blah, blah, blah.
I skip to the end. “So, Regretful Wife, by all means do whatever can be done to strengthen your marriage, but don’t take so much blame on yourself. Let the change be fueled by the desire to make your life together better, not from fear that you’ve destroyed the relationship.
“And Perfect Husband, if you’re reading this, it’s probably a good idea to see what steps you can take to improve your marriage. While either spouse can shift the dynamic by making changes on their end, when both spouses are committed to improvement, the results are that much more powerful.”
I toss the magazine onto the coffee table in disgust.
How dare she? How dare this woman try to undo my work, and dilute my message? I bet she’s not even a real therapist. She probably got her PhD in some random field like art history, and now she thinks she’s a shalom bayis expert.
Here I thought Chavi would see the light, and instead, this therapist is undermining me. I head to the cabinet and work my way through a bag of chips.
This is a setback, but I can handle it. I’ll find another way to open her eyes.
On Friday afternoon, I leave the office early again. No point letting Chavi see that the new column got under my skin. Not only am I going to act like everything is fine, I’ll go the extra mile.
I get home, drop my stuff in the coat closet, and head straight to the sink. I pretend not to see the surprise on Chavi’s face as I work my way through the mountain of dishes, then set up the candles, straighten the study, and mop the kitchen.
So there, Chavi! Don’t you see what a lucky woman you are!
Shower, Shabbos clock, wave to the kids, and I set off to shul.
An hour later, I sidle up to the gabbai, Tzvi Sanders, as he does his whole “be sociable and friendly to the mispallelim” thing.
“Hey, Reb Tzvi, how’s it going?”
“Hi, Shmuel. Things are good, baruch Hashem. What’s doing with you?”
“Baruch Hashem, baruch Hashem.” There’s an awkward pause. He looks at me expectantly.
“It’s nice to get to see everyone in shul again. Between Covid and the flu, the place was pretty empty for a while.”
I look at Tzvi and wait until he nods in agreement.
“And I was recently thinking that the women of the kehillah don’t have this. I mean, we get to see each other at least twice a day, whether we want to or not” — I chuckle heartily here — “but our wives don’t have anything like this built into their day. Maybe the shul could arrange a shiur or something? I’m sure the rebbetzin has a lot to share. Chinuch or shalom bayis,” I linger for a moment, hoping it will register in some subliminal way. “They’d get some chizuk and also have a social… uh, outlet, that’s what they all want these days, right?”
Tzvi’s eyebrows are inching impressively close to his hairline, but he says nothing, then nods thoughtfully. “It’s gradeh an interesting idea. Just the other week, the rav was telling me how he’d like the shul to be a real kehillah, not just a place where people come to chap a minyan, but where we learn and grow together.”
Tzvi’s voice is getting more animated; he’s quite the chassid when it come to the rav. “This may be just the kind of thing he had in mind. If we cover something like shalom bayis, we can do it for the whole community; the rav can speak to the men one night, and the rebbetzin can address the women the next night.”
He’s already scanning the room, probably calculating how many chairs he’ll need. I have to nip this in the bud.
“No need to get carried away,” I say a little more forcefully than I’d intended. “I’m not sure the men need another shiur. It’s hard enough to keep up with the daf, if you know what I mean.” But, of course, he doesn’t know what I mean. Tzvi finishes the daf before I wake up. I guess when you work for your rich shver you can go to sleep at nine and get up at the crack of dawn. I plow on. “I think it’s the women who need something. Like a Neshei sort of thing, but with the rebbetzin, so there’s also some inspiration.”
Tzvi shakes his head. “If we’re going the shalom bayis route, we need everyone on board. The rav always says that shalom bayis works only if both spouses are trying to do one hundred percent. But I think this could work out really well. The rav and rebbetzin can coordinate the shiurim so they cover the same topics each week. It can be a real hisorerus for the tzibbur.” Tzvi claps me on the shoulder. “Thanks for coming over, Shmuel. Great idea. Let’s make it happen!”
I try to smile, hoping it doesn’t emerge as a grimace. This is not how this was supposed to play out. Then again, all I have to do is get Chavi to the shiur; just because the rav will be giving a parallel shiur, doesn’t mean I have to attend.
One thing I’ve gotta say about Tzvi — that man is efficient. By Wednesday there’s an email from the shul with the subject “Secrets to the Marriage You Always Wanted.”
I roll my eyes. Does he think he’s a copywriter now? None of this is secret — show your husband basic respect, stop kvetching, and start appreciating. That’s really all there is to it.
But I guess women need pretty words. There’s even a fancy floral border around the text, and “Refreshments will be served” is prominently displayed. I immediately forward the email to Chavi; she’d never bothered signing up for the shul emails, said she really doesn’t care what time Minchah is on Friday and her Inbox is crowded enough as is.
Two minutes later, there’s a response: If this is a hint, please be more subtle
Gosh. So aggressive.
I take a deep breath — can’t let her realize what’s going on. Let her think this is a teamwork sort of thing. Got this in my Inbox, and thought you might want to go, I wrote back. Get out, see friends. I’ll babysit.
Babysit??? You’re the father. It’s called watching your children.
I will not let her bait me, I will not. K. I’ll watch my children so you can get out.
Shalom bayis shiur? Not my idea of a good time.
UGH. Do I have to spell everything out? I stare at the screen for a long minute, thinking. Another message pops up.
I see this is a couples activity. I assume you’re going to the rav’s shiur? I’ll babysit so you can get out and see your friends.
I don’t think this time, just quickly type a response. Of course I’m going. Thought it would be cool if we both went
Now there’s a long pause on her end. I’ll think about it is the best she can manage.
The men’s shiur is on Monday night. After a long day at work, the last thing I need is another person telling me what to do. But I need Chavi to go to the women’s shiur on Wednesday, and it looks like this is the only way to make it happen.
After supper, I make sure to find Chavi and tell her, “I’m off to Maariv. And I’ll be home late, that shalom bayis shiur is right after.”
She looks up from the shirt she’s ironing. “Oh, right. Enjoy.” Is she smirking? No time to figure it out, Maariv’s in ten minutes.
Half an hour later, Rabbi Meyers is sitting in the front of the shul, looking pensive as he gazes around the room. I’m surprised at the turnout — I didn’t think we’d even have a minyan, but apparently the his-shiur-her-shiur format is a draw because there are about thirty guys here. Most look like they’d rather have their teeth pulled without Novocain, and I heard plenty of muttering along the lines of “Here for my wife” and “Yeah, she threw me out of the house and said I better not come back until the shiur is over,” but they’re here.
“Good evening, rabboisai,” the rav begins. “I’m impressed to see the size of the oilem. Each one of you here is showing that you appreciate that shalom bayis isn’t just a nice extra. It’s not the cuff links that complement the suit, it’s the suit itself. It’s not the fries that go along with the steak. No, shalom bayis is the steak. It’s the foundation of a life of happiness.
“The gemara in Yevamos tells us many things about a wife. Without a wife you don’t have simchah, brachah, tovah.” He starts delving into each of the descriptions — and I start to zone out. Sure, of course, we need a wife. I’d know that even without the gemara; just walk into any bachelor pad and you can figure that out. The problem is when the women don’t realize how much they need us.
Forty-five minutes later, the sounds of chairs scraping jerk me awake. Gottlieb, on my right, tries not to laugh as I stagger to my feet.
“Good shiur, eh?”
“A nap in the middle of the week is great for shalom bayis,” I tell him.
When I get home, Chavi, instead of reclining on the couch texting her sisters, is in the kitchen, wiping a counter that looks really clean. And there’s a plate of fresh brownies on the table. It’s been a long time since Chavi baked during the week.
“So, how was it?” she asks.
“Uhhh, good, good. The rav always has nice things to share.” I drop into a seat and reach for a brownie.
“Want a tea?” asks Chavi.
Okay, this is officially weird. “Nah, but thanks. Great brownies,” I say through the chunk in my mouth.
Chavi sits down across from me. “What did he talk about?”
“The usual. That gemara about what a wife provides a man with.” I catch a look on her face, and try to remember something else. “Oh, and he said that a wife isn’t just the fries on the side. She’s the steak.”
“The steak???? The rav called me a steak?”
This isn’t going anywhere good. “No, no, it wasn’t like that—”
“Well, that works out well, doesn’t it? Cuz that’s what you think, too. That our relationship is all about the stuff I do for you and make for you and clean for you. That a wife is glorified household help, that—”
“Chavi, stop, just stop. You make it sound like you’re the only one who does anything around here. Do you realize how much work it takes to pay five tuitions, to keep a family of eight fed and clothed, to deal with bills and taxes and the mortgage?”
“Money, that’s always what it boils down to. Do you think I want to be married to an ATM machine? Did it ever dawn on you that marriage is supposed to be a relationship?”
I have to get out of here. I stand quickly and brownie crumbs rain down on the clean floor. I bolt to my study and slam the door.
I’m pretty sure I’ve officially blown it, and there’s no way Chavi is going to go to any shalom bayis shiur, so I’m surprised when I see the text at six on Wednesday: reminding u that shiur is at 8. Need you here by 7:30. I wrap things up quickly and hurry home.
Chavi is back by ten.
“How was?” I ask.
She’s quiet for a long minute. “Good, I guess? I mean, I like Rebbetzin Meyers, and she has smart things to say.” A long pause. “She did not call husbands steak. Or fries, for that matter.”
Oooookaaay. I know when it’s best to zip it. I murmur something that can sound like whatever she wants it to be, and then tell her I’ve gotta run to Maariv.
The next week, I’m committed to staying awake. The rav does a quick recap of the previous week’s shiur — that’s convenient — and then he says, “It says chochmah b’goyim taamin, and my wife recently showed me an excellent book by a fellow named Gary Chapman. He’s actually a pastor, so I guess we’re in a similar line of work, l’havdil.” That gets a few chuckles.
“Mr. Chapman describes five Love Languages. So often, we show love in the way we’d want to receive it, but we don’t realize that our wife speaks a different language and needs other things to feel appreciated and cherished.” I sneak a peek at Gottlieb, but he doesn’t seem to think it’s bizarre for the rav to be talking about Love Languages in front of the aron kodesh. “Let’s look at the languages.”
And he’s off and running. At the end of the hour, Tzvi hands out little booklets. “Inside, rabboisai,” the rav tells us, “is a quiz that can help you discover your Love Language. The rebbetzin and I have altered the language so it’s fitting for a Torahdig family. Take the quiz together with your wife and then compare notes. It’s a great activity for the date night I’m sure you already have in place.” A long pause as he looks around the room. A few guys squirm.
“On the last page, I included a few resources, including the names of some excellent marital therapists. Many marriages are basically fine and just need a little watering. But some of you may find yourselves feeling alienated from the person who is meant to be your closest friend.
“It could be you’ve hit serious challenges in life and that put a great deal of pressure on the marriage. Or maybe it was just many, many little things that slowly built a wall between the two of you. The situation is never hopeless. And there’s no shame in reaching out for help.”
There’s a heavy feeling in the room as men take the booklets, try to fold them — they’re that annoying thickness that doesn’t fold easily — and stick them in pockets. Out of sight, out of mind.
There are no brownies when I get home. I stick the booklet under a pile of junk mail on the desk in my study and try to forget about it.
But on Wednesday, Chavi comes home from her shiur and the first words out of her mouth are, “So you got the Love Language quiz? Should we try it? What do you think your language is? I’m pretty sure I know mine, but I’m not totally sure about yours. What do you think?”
I look up from my laptop, where I’m trying to catch up on some work. “My Love Language? Ummmm. I don’t know.”
“Don’t you think it’s Acts of Service? ’Cuz that’s always what you focus on — you’re always telling me how you support us, and learn with the boys, and pay the bills, and go grocery shopping and—”
I can’t listen to this. “Chavi,” I interrupt her abruptly, “do we have to fight about the same thing every single time? Don’t you get sick of it?”
“Fight? This is a fight? I was just talking about the ways in which we show each other that we care. I thought…” Chavi gets choked up. I look up and her eyes are huge and shiny with unshed tears. For a moment, I hate myself for doing this to my wife.
“I’m sorry, Chavi, I thought you were criticizing again.”
“Me criticizing you? Aren’t you mixing things up? Isn’t it the other way around? Aren’t I the one who isn’t appreciative enough, caring enough, devoted enough?”
Suddenly I feel so weary. I dig out the booklet and open it at random. There’s a long list of choices:
“It’s more meaningful to me when a. my spouse gives me a little gift or b. I get to spend uninterrupted time with my spouse.”
I read on. “It’s more meaningful to me when a. I am complimented by my spouse on something I did or b. my spouse takes the time to listen to me and really understand my feelings…
“a. I hear my spouse say ‘I’m proud of you’ or b. my spouse helps me with a task.”
The silence between Chavi and me screams as I read the endless list of the ways in which we fail each other.
I keep turning the pages. There’s a scoring key. A short explanation of what each language requires from the spouse. And then, on the last page, a list of therapists.
There are phones numbers and email addresses, lines about orientation, whatever that is. Is this what Chavi needs? I never thought we’d come to this, but maybe this is what can help her get back to herself.
I push the paper across the desk toward her. “Do you want to try one of them?”
“A therapist? You want us to go to marital therapy?”
“No, not marital therapy. Of course not. But you seem so sad, I thought maybe you’d want to talk to someone. I’m sure they’d see you alone….”
“So it’s about me and my problems again? All my fault?”
“Forget it, Chavi. Forget I said anything at all.” I slam my laptop shut and head to the stairs.
The next afternoon, there’s an email from Chavi in my Inbox, not a forward, a direct email. “Second thoughts” is the subject line.
I’m sorry things went south last night. I’m still not sure exactly what went wrong — but that can describe so many of our interactions these days.
WAIT! Before you stop reading or get defensive, what I’m trying to say is that you’re right, things aren’t what they should be. And I’m sad. For me, for you, for us.
I thought about it a lot last night (couldn’t sleep) and maybe therapy is the way to go. But I want us to go together, as a couple.
Maybe it is my fault, maybe I’m the problem here. I don’t know whose fault it is — and I don’t care. I want something to change for both of us.
Would you join me?
She wants me to go to therapy? Therapy is for people with problems. I’m fine. She’s the one who’s changed. Who’s always telling me what’s wrong with our marriage. Who’s never happy. I think about what the guys in shul would say if they knew I was going to a shrink and cringe.
I go back to my spreadsheet, but I can’t concentrate. I head to the kitchenette for my third coffee of the day. I listen to the machine hissing, watch the frothed milk pour out in two streams. I stir in three sugars and head back to my desk. Read her email again.
In my mind’s eye, I see the scene from last night. Chavi’s face. She’d been…wounded. She had been trying to reach out, I realize in retrospect. I just couldn’t hear anything beyond the familiar fights, the paths we’ve gone down so many times.
I read her email a third time. Would you join me?
I want her to be fixed, but maybe this is work we need to do together.
Hi Chavi, I type.
Fine. I’ll come with you.
I take a long gulp of coffee.
Pick whichever therapist you want — just make sure they live in a different neighborhood, don’t go to our shul, and don’t have kids in any of our kids’ schools. Oh, and it should be a guy.
The last thing I need is another woman telling me what to do.
I’ve never been to a shrink before, but this guy’s office looks like a cliché. It’s all gray and pastel green with a cheap watercolor of flowers on the wall. The therapist — Hopfer, Yosef, MSW with specialties in DBT, EFT, and the Gottman Method — is a tall, lanky guy who clearly takes himself too seriously.
He shakes my hand, nods at Chavi, and then we all sink into gray armchairs. Hopfer makes some small talk about the traffic (lousy) and the parking (nonexistent). Then, in this fake cheery voice, he asks, “So, what brings the two of you here today?” I look at Chavi, Chavi looks at me, Hopfer looks at both of us.
There’s a long silence. Hopfer just sits there, intent on winning the “I’ll make you speak first” game.
Finally, I start to talk. “When we first got married, Chavi and I were really happy. It…” Ugh, this is harder than I thought. I try again. “We liked to hang out together, we were always talking and laughing. Things were good.
“And then the kids started coming, and I had to work longer hours, and Chavi changed. She—” this is my chance. I can tell him about all the ways in which she’s failed me, about her snappiness, her constant criticism, her lack of appreciation.
But Chavi is looking at me intently. And suddenly, I see the vivacious girl I married. I see the mother of my children. I see a pale woman standing in the kitchen begging her husband for a relationship.
I turn away from the shrink and look at my wife.
“We’ve become disconnected. And I want to change that.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 907)
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