“That’s it? Get a babysitter and take my wife out for a Belgian waffle?”
his wasn’t the kind of shalom bayis case that normally came through my door. While many of my referrals regarding couples therapy are associated with psychiatric issues, Shimshi wasn’t a slave to his anger and Raizy wasn’t a one-woman demolition squad. It was equally apparent that Shimshi wasn’t struggling with a drinking problem, and Raizy wasn’t suffering from depression. There weren’t any issues with OCD, borderline personality disorder, or a host of other clinical issues that could wreck a relationship. But their marriage was the pits.
“I can’t remember the last time I laughed when Shimshi made a joke,” Raizy told me during our session together. “If he even makes jokes anymore.”
Shimshi echoed her dismay when he came in the following day. “I haven’t smiled coming through the door in a least a year.”
As we all sat together the following week, I felt as if I was between two sworn enemies who happened to share the same cubicle at their office. They both needed the job, but it looked as if it would blow up any second.
“Well, here we are again,” Shimshi lamented.
“Back to couples therapy and a few shekel poorer with nothing to show,” I attempted to break the ice.
“Exactly,” he muttered in agreement.
Raizy jumped in, “If we were just a few shekel poorer, I’d be fine with it. But every time we get into the car after therapy, I feel like my kishkes are falling out all over the place.”
“Gross, Raizy,” Shimshi made a face.
“No, I’m serious,” she said. “And I know you feel the same way, you just bottle it up inside and then don’t talk to me or the kids for a day or two.”
“Then why are we here?” I threw the question out.
It was clear why we were here. They had a family together, and both were good people who were dedicated to the idea of raising the next generation of Klal Yisrael. They were from good families, and neither had done anything terrible for things to get to this place.
After a great shanah rishonah with learning in the Mir, they’d been blessed with the first of three sons. Shimshi kept learning, and Raizy worked hard to finish her degree as a physical therapist. After the birth of kids number two and three, Shimshi went to work as an accountant for his uncle’s real estate business in order to support his growing family. And then things began to deteriorate.
Juggling the balls of an early morning seder, a long day in the office, and being a present husband and father was, frankly, exhausting. For Raizy it was the same: Working hard, managing the family, and preparing her patented Shabbos feasts was becoming impossible. Something had to give, and apparently it was their marriage.
“He used to take me out to Waffle Bar every Wednesday night when we lived in Yerushalayim,” she said, longing for those times.
“And she always had a sparkly ‘hello’ for me when I walked in the door. Now she just hands me a baby to change or a bag of trash to take out,” Shimshi grumbled.
We agreed to meet again even though they both looked like they felt hopeless.
They’d been to therapy before, but the success had been minimal. I needed to think about how things had failed and make sure to avoid the same pitfalls.
Shimshi and Raizy sat before me with the heaviness of doom and gloom as I opened our session. “We are not going to talk about feelings today.”
“Okay,” Raizy said. “So what are we going to talk about?”
Shimshi began to let me know that he felt underappreciated, and Raizy butted in that she felt even more underappreciated, so I cut them off. “Forgive me, but we’re not getting into feelings today. It hasn’t helped in the past and it isn’t going to help now.”
“Hey, aren’t you a therapist? How can you not care about feelings?” Raizy demanded.
“I care about them in general but not with you and not today,” I answered, as Raizy and Shimshi both laughed, seeming to relax a bit.
“I’ll tell you a story about a colleague I once worked with. Great guy with a great wife. They’d been married for a decade with good kids and all good sorts of stuff. Suddenly one day he told me out of the blue while we were eating our lunch that his wife never appreciated him, that she didn’t care for him at all. ‘How’s that?’ I asked him, knowing them both as good people who most certainly cared for each other. And so he told me: Every day when I opened my lunch, I had a loving note from my wife wishing me a great day. ‘She’s a true eishes chayil,’ he told me, grabbing the note off the desk and waving it in the air as proof that his wife couldn’t care less about him. ‘You have no idea how lucky you are.’ Well, I definitely appreciated my wife and wanted him to appreciate his, and if it was as simple as a note in his lunch box, I figured I could have my wife let his wife know and it would solve the problem. And guess what — when he opened up his bagel sandwich the following morning, there was a note from his wife: ‘Dear Mike, you’re the best. Love, Shira.’ ”
“So you want me to write a note for Shimshi and put it in his bag when he goes to work?” Raizy asked incredulously.
“I’m not talking specifically about a lunch box note,” I explained. “I’m talking about building a sense of trust because there’s a Cold War going on in your home. We need to take practical steps towards a truce.”
“Like what?” They responded in unison.
“Shimshi, it sounds like you need to get a babysitter for Wednesday nights and take your rebbetzin out for a date,” I said, looking over at Raizy who nodded her head in approval before I continued. “And Raizy, you need to give this guy a bit of varmkeit when he walks in the door after a long day of learning and working.”
“That’s it? Get a babysitter and take my wife out for a Belgian waffle? That’s what they pay you the big bucks for?!” Shimshi said sarcastically as Raizy giggled.
“First time your wife laughed at a joke of yours in a year, Shimshi?”
Raizy laughed again, and Shimshi slowly looked like understanding was dawning.
“You’re both good people who have a marriage that took a beating. It’s hard working and raising a family. But let’s prioritize by getting back to the basics. Shimshi, you’ll try to help out more at home without being asked, and throw in a date night. Raizy, you’ll try to show Shimshi how you value his learning and his hard work by giving him an extra smile.”
We were all feeling optimistic as they left, and I sat down to my lunch. I was grateful for my own eishes chayil as I opened my bag to find a note. “Keep on helping people, just don’t let it get to your head.” I laughed as I bit into my apple.
Jacob L. Freedman is a psychiatrist and business consultant based in Israel. When he’s not busy with his patients, Dr. Freedman can be found learning Torah in the Old City or hiking the hills outside of Jerusalem. Dr. Freedman can be reached most easily through his website www.drjacoblfreedman.com
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 796)