"Instead of holding her to the standard of a male, you need to consider what’s normal for a woman"
Written with Zivia Reischer
I’m 24 years old and married for three years. My wife and I live in Eretz Yisrael, where I learn full-time and she works part-time remotely for an American company. We have two beautiful children, kein ayin hara.
I feel bad asking this question because my wife is really a wonderful person and works hard so that I can learn, as well as running the house and taking care of the kids. But there is something that’s been bothering me for a long time. When we were dating, I thought we were on the same page hashkafically. I thought she believed, as I do, that life is about ruchniyus, and gashmiyus is unimportant and a distraction. We both wanted a kollel life and I thought she valued my learning and a Torah lifestyle. And technically, we are living that lifestyle — for which I am very grateful to her.
But the problem is that she’s just very involved with gashmiyus. She spends an enormous amount of time and energy on her appearance. She’s always running to the sheitelmacher to get this or that fixed or adjusted or whatever. She spends a lot of time on how the kids look also. It’s not even that she spends a lot of money — it’s just a lot of time and shopping and preoccupation with how the kids are dressed and what color socks match their new shoes. When we have a simchah to go to, there’s always a whole deal about what she’s going to wear and then it takes her hours — literally — to get ready.
She’s a wonderful person with fine middos and I have a lot of hakaras hatov for everything she does for me and our children. But I feel like we’re living in two different universes. She’s just so attached to gashmiyus, and I find it frustrating and disappointing. I read your article about not trying to change your spouse, but this feels like a much more meaningful issue than being messy or neat, it’s the whole ruchniyus of our lives together.
Thank you for writing.
You believe that you and your wife have very different priorities. You value and prioritize Torah. You perceive that she values it as well — in fact, invests time and effort supporting it — but what she is really attached to is gashmiyus, her image and how she looks.
I would like to offer you a different perspective on the situation.
When I say I would like to offer you a different perspective, I mean that literally. But I’m not going to offer you my perspective. Rather, I’m offering you your wife’s perspective.
You are viewing your wife and her actions through the lens of your own experiences, personality, and perspective. Instead, you need to view her through the lens of her experiences, personality, and perspective.
Men and women are totally different in many ways (maybe even in every way). And this is especially pronounced when it comes to things like personal appearance.
A woman’s care over her appearance, her need to feel beautiful, is part of her nature. Hashem created women that way. You might be considered makpid on your appearance if you look in the mirror once in the morning and run a comb through your hair. For men like yourself, appearance is a technicality.
But women have a different makeup. Caring about appearance is integral to the essence of a woman. If on a scale of one to ten, you rate the importance of how you look as a 1 or 2 or maybe even a 3, a typical woman — typical, not extreme — rates the importance of appearance as a 9 at least.
And it’s not just that appearance is important to her — it’s also how deeply she feels bad when she doesn’t look good. If a man starts balding at a young age, it might be a source of concern, he may note it and it might bother him. But a woman who thinks she doesn’t look good will be deeply distressed, self-conscious, and insecure, and will be completely preoccupied with those feelings.
You are measuring your wife against yourself and concluding that she is way too attached to gashmiyus. But you are measuring her against the wrong standard. Instead of holding her to the standard of a male, you need to consider what’s normal for a woman. You can’t judge her based on your own experience. Your attitude toward dress and appearance is typical for a male, and her attitude is typical for a woman. If a man were to have her attitude, that might indicate an attachment to gashmiyus — but for a woman, this is simply her nature.
One of the really dumb mistakes that very smart couples make is “mind-blindness.” Mind-blindness is the belief that your own perspective is reality.
It’s the belief that everyone thinks as you do, and those who don’t are wrong.
Mind-blindness is probably a factor
in every machlokes, but it’s especially relevant to marriage, where the differences between men and women are so extreme. If spouses remain locked in their own versions of reality, everything is going to be an issue. A successful marriage requires the ability to get out of your own mind and into someone else’s — to see the world, and evaluate the situation, based on the perspective of the other person.
The fallout of mind-blindness is that you inevitably demonize the other person. When you take your lifetime’s worth of experience and assumptions and apply it to your spouse — who is not only a separate person with her own lifetime’s worth of experiences, but is also the opposite gender, as in completely opposite from you in every way — it’s inevitable that your spouse will not measure up. That’s how you get from “cares about her appearance” to “way too attached to gashmiyus.” Unless you learn to understand her version of reality, you’re going to be left thinking that she is not only wrong, but deeply flawed.
When you make the mistake of being mind-blind, you define reality according to your own personal experience. Then, you assume that your spouse’s experience is the same as yours. You assume they know what you know, and feel as you feel. In that case, there’s no way their actions are acceptable. Any nice, normal person would never do that. So the only conclusion that makes sense is that they are not a nice, normal person. Mind-blindness always leads to demonizing the other party.
But there’s a way out of this. In two words: That’s strange.
Whenever your spouse does something that disturbs you, or seems inappropriate, practice using the expression “That’s strange.”
That’s strange — she’s such a spiritual person, why would she get so worked up about what she’s going to wear?
Instead of jumping to judgment and thinking “She’s wrong,” the words “That’s strange” give you the opportunity to pause and assess. Approaching the situation from that angle leads you to consider why she’s acting like she is. When you can consider her perspective, you have a chance at understanding your spouse.
He’s usually so considerate and now he’s being so rude — that’s strange.
She’s not usually late — that’s strange.
When we were dating, she wanted a kollel life and valued learning. Now she seems so busy with what she wears and how she looks. That’s strange. Why would that be?
Cultivating a scientific curiosity will help you avoid mind-blindness. Instead of demonizing your spouse as unfeeling or irresponsible, “that’s strange” opens you up to their point of view and their inner world, and allows you to access a deeper understanding of who they are. With that perspective, you’ll probably find their behavior understandable, or even appropriate.
Why does mind-blindness happen?
Did it ever happen to you that you and your spouse were discussing an event, and you couldn’t agree on the details?
“It was pouring rain while we waited.”
“No, it wasn’t, it was barely drizzling, maybe a little mist.”
Sometimes you even disagree on something that happened five minutes ago.
“Why did you just say X?”
“I never said that!”
“But you just said it a minute ago!”
The reason for this is because when something happens, you don’t only experience the present moment. You bring all your life experiences, perspectives, biases, prejudices, assumptions, values, and ideas with you, and those inform how you process what’s happening. Your spouse likewise brings all her own perspectives and assumptions to the situation. You have different versions of what happened because even though you were both there at the same time, you actually experienced two different things. When you recount events, you describe the way you experienced it, but the other person describes the way she experienced it.
Mind-blindness is the inability to accept that another experience is valid. Don’t make that mistake. Cultivating a scientific curiosity will help you avoid mind-blindness. A successful marriage depends on the ability to see things from your spouse’s point of view. This is the key to success in marriage as well as almost all relationships you will ever have.
Rabbi Bentzion Shafier is the founder of TheShmuz.com, a life-changing mussar shiur that is available on TorahAnytime, The Shmuz Podcast and The Shmuz App. His newest book release, The Ten Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make, is available on TheShmuz.com and will hit Jewish bookstores later this year.
Note: This column is intended to offer an understanding of the mechanics of a good marriage. In situations of chronic abuse, a qualified professional should be consulted.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 883)
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