He thinks his wife is crazy; she thinks he’s selfish and uncaring
We’re all subjective, seeing things from our own point of view.
Chaim: I don’t get my wife. I think there’s something wrong with her. She asks me a simple question, I answer her, and then she goes stark raving mad!
This poor man is genuinely confused. His wife’s behavior seems bizarre. Let’s see if we can learn more from the woman herself.
Shira: Yes, I asked him a question but it wasn’t really a question, and he should have known that. It was Erev Shabbos. My job allows me to be home on Friday afternoons so I’m able to do some errands, look after the kids, clean the house, bake and cook, set the table — I do it all even though my husband is also home a couple of hours before candle lighting. So that Friday we were both in the kitchen — me making some last-minute side dishes and him drinking his coffee — and I asked him if he’d like to give our four-year-old a quick bath. That was the “simple question” he’s referring to. And his answer was, “Not really. I’m still drinking my coffee.” So I went on a total rant reminding him of how hard I work, how he doesn’t pull his weight, how I’m sick of doing all this, etc. I’m sure he didn’t like it, but he deserved every bit of it. I don’t know how he can sit there and feel like such a victim! If anyone’s the victim here, it’s me!
From Shira’s point of view, her question was a rhetorical one. It wasn’t an invitation to explore feelings and preferences as in, “There’s a couple of things you could do right now — finish having your coffee break or give your son a bath. I’m wondering which activity speaks to you more?” It was actually intended as a politely structured command, “I need you to give our son a bath right now — please go do that.”
To Shira, this was obvious — her husband obviously saw how busy she was and would know that her “simple question” wasn’t a question at all. It was a call for help. When her husband declined to take it the way it was intended, she was outraged. The story, she told herself, was that her husband was a lazy, selfish, uncaring man.
For his part, Chaim had been enjoying sitting in the kitchen with his wife, feeling safe and relaxed in his home. His father had sat in the kitchen with his own coffee many decades ago while his mom had rushed around getting ready for Shabbos. His mother never asked his dad to help out — they each had their spheres and happily fulfilled their responsibilities. The warmth of home, embedded in the husband’s memory, had nothing to do with logic. His child’s mind made no economic calculations (Mom runs the house, Dad pays the bills, it’s all fair) but rather absorbed the sights, sounds, and feelings of homelife while he was growing up and translated all this into the language of love.
Now, as an adult, Chaim knew his home was different from that of his parents. His wife did ask him to do things. But he never felt in his bones that these tasks were his responsibilities. And although he intellectually recognized that his wife’s life was nothing like his mother’s (his wife was an equal breadwinner whereas his mother was a full-time homemaker), he didn’t “put it together” with his feelings about the role of a wife and mother. Sure, he could help sometimes (if it worked for him), but that was just a function of the new demands of modern life.
Therefore, Chaim could not fathom his wife’s aggressive reaction to his desire to finish his coffee. He told himself the story: “She must be crazy. Women are just unstable.”
Creating a New Reality
When this couple calms down, they need to have a debriefing. This is their chance to share their stories and reactions and to rewrite those stories. Shira might come away with something like: “Chaim is a good, smart man. I can help him understand my need for greater domestic partnership than his parents shared.” Chaim might come away with something like: “Shira has more outside responsibilities than my mother had. I need to be more domestic than my father was.” With their new stories intact, the couple can enjoy greater marital harmony.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 801)
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