If you insist on trying to change your husband, you’re going to pay for it
Written with Zivia Reischer
I’d like to ask a question that I’m sure a lot of women secretly struggle with too but isn’t spoken about enough. My husband over the last year has put on a lot of weight. This is putting a strain on our marriage for two reasons.
Firstly, even though I’m not the type of woman who is very “into” the way my husband looks, for some reason his appearance is really making me more distant. I’m not even sure why it’s bothering me so much — it could be because of the second reason.
The second reason is that he has started to snore. I am a light sleeper and don’t do well when my sleep gets interrupted countless times a night. I think this is what is bothering me so much about his weight. This constant broken sleep is just making me resentful.
My husband has tried everything to solve his snoring — from doctors to sleep apnea testing — but ultimately we know it’s because of his weight gain. He does try to diet, but he can never stick to it. This makes me feel like he doesn’t care, and I end up feeling annoyed and upset.
I know this question may sound silly, but it’s causing real strain on my marriage and distance between us. I’d love to hear any advice and thoughts you have on the matter.
This is certainly a serious issue and one that needs to be dealt with.
The first point I’d like to focus on is your feeling that “he doesn’t care.” I find that a bit curious, because you say that he tried treatments for sleep apnea and he tried to diet. I would have to imagine that his own sleep has been affected by the snoring as well. Which brings us to the real question: Why won’t he lose weight?
The answer has nothing to do with him or you, but rather is something that plagues all of us.
A man once asked me for advice. He’s happily married, but when his wife had their first child, she put on a little weight. The same thing happened after the births of her second and third child. They are now married seven years and his wife is 40 pounds heavier than when they met. She’s not obese — but it bothers him.
“Rabbi, you have to understand,” he explained. “I offered my wife anything she wants to help her lose the weight. I offered to pay for a private trainer. I offered to pay for a dietitian. She’s just not willing. What should I do?”
“Young man,” I replied, “you have a choice to make. Either accept her as she is or suffer.”
He was stunned.
“Believe me,” I said, “I’m sure she would like to lose that weight. I don’t know of a woman who looks in the mirror, sees that she is 40 pounds overweight and says, ‘That’s great! Just what I always wished for.’ You can be sure that it bothers her. But right now, she can’t do anything about it. Do you know why? Because change is very difficult.”
You might think, What’s so hard? She can join Weight Watchers and stick to the diet. She can learn to eat nutritionally balanced meals and snacks; she won’t go hungry. What’s so difficult?
The answer is that change is difficult. Changing your eating habits is hard. Sticking to a diet is hard. And many times there are just too many things going on in life for a person to take on a new set of obligations. One of the basic realities of life is that while our spouses have many strengths and talents, they also have weaknesses and shortcomings.
You may feel that this isn’t fair. Here we’re dealing with issues that are more important than cosmetic; the snoring impacts your ability to sleep, which impacts your ability to function, and if your husband cared, he would do something about it. Nevertheless, the same obstacle applies: Change is very, very difficult even when a person is highly motivated, and even when a person is driven, it’s something that doesn’t usually happen, and for many people won’t happen.
It may make it easier if you frame it differently. What if the reason for your husband’s snoring was an irreversible medical disability? What would your attitude be? I would imagine you would be far more accepting. Your difficulty here is your sense that he could change and he should change, so why doesn’t he change?
It’s possible that if he were to stop everything else in his life and dedicate himself to nothing other than losing weight, he might succeed. But given everything else going on, the reality is that he won’t, and probably can’t, lose the weight. And so your choice is either accept him as he is, or suffer. In this case suffer both the lack of sleep and the ever-increasing distance between yourselves.
Practically speaking, what does it mean to “accept” the snoring? I would recommend trying ear plugs and a noise machine; you might find them very helpful for getting a more restful night sleep. Beyond that, I have a strong sense that if you make peace with the fact that this is who he is and that he’s not doing it to bother you, then you might learn to sleep through the snoring.
If you know anyone who moved into a new home near a train station, they will tell you that their sleep suffered terribly the first few nights. But the mind is incredibly adept at learning which noises are dangerous and which are just background and should be ignored, and within a few nights, most of these people were able to sleep peacefully.
One of the keys to personal happiness is accepting yourself; one of the keys to being happily married is accepting your spouse — flaws and all.
Accepting your spouse’s flaws is similar to the process of self-acceptance that every adolescent undergoes. Adolescents are painfully aware of their flaws and shortcomings. While you were growing up, you had to learn to make peace with who you were and accept that you didn’t make yourself, and you didn’t choose your strengths or your weaknesses.
If you were born with a fierce temper, that’s not something you chose. You are responsible to work on your anger, but you didn’t make your anger. You are responsible to work on being generous, but you didn’t create your stingy nature. You have to work on not being lazy, but you didn’t choose that personality trait. Therefore, your flaws aren’t a source of shame. Your flaws are your challenges, your areas of growth — but they don’t make you defective or unworthy. Hashem created you with these flaws and gave you a lot to accomplish. You are a work in progress.
Just as you learned to accept and tolerate yourself, you have to apply the same acceptance and tolerance toward your spouse. The minute you decide that there is something in your spouse you can’t accept — I can’t deal with his laziness, I hate how she can’t keep this house together — you’re no longer acting like a friend. You’re stepping outside the commitment of your marriage. (And you’re not being fair; I’m sure you don’t hold yourself to that standard of perfection.)
Just as it isn’t simple for you to perfect your issues, it isn’t easy for your spouse. If a husband demands that his wife be skinnier, neater, or whatever, he’s going to pay the price. His words aren’t going to be received as words of love. Every time he points it out, he’s damaging the relationship. The same thing happens when women try to change men.
Women, it’s not your job to change your husband. Men, it’s not your job to change your wife. It’s the worst thing you can do. The minute you accept them for who they are is the minute you can begin to be happily married.
But I’m right. He does need to change.
Yes, you are right. But you have a choice to make. You can be right, or you can be happily married. You’re not going to get both. If you’ve tried and tried and it hasn’t helped until now, then this issue is unlikely to change. It’s up to you whether you accept that reality or pay the bitter price of damaging your relationship.
This is one of the most fundamental concepts in any relationship: All human beings are flawed. Some things can change. Some can’t. But if you insist on trying to change your husband, you’re going to pay for it. He’s not going to say, “Yes, dear, I love you so much for helping me change.” He’s going to feel hurt. He’s going to feel disrespected.
Should he work on his bad habit? Absolutely. Should she work on what’s annoying him? No question about it. He shouldn’t leave his socks lying around. She shouldn’t make large purchases without discussing it with her husband. That’s 100 percent correct. But you also have things to work on. And just as you have great difficulty changing the things you do, so does your spouse.
Whenever his annoying habit surfaces, say to yourself, My job is to change me. And my job is also to accept my spouse for who he is.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 888)
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