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Desire or obligation? To share or not to share?

First of all, thank you very much for the responses!


You've emphasized several times that a couple's intentions and actions toward each other should be based only on desire, not obligation, as per, "They accepted His kingdom willingly" [from the Emes V'emuna blessing].


On the other hand, you discuss "the role" of the woman and "the role" of the man, which suggest that certain actions are required and in a certain format. So in reality, a couple's actions toward each other are obligated, as are the Torah's commandments. How do these two approaches fit together?


Second question: you discuss the need for a husband to share the details of his life and feelings, that this is beneficial. However, if he shares his difficulties, doesn't the wife feel that the person who is supposed to be a strong support to her is shaky and unreliable? As our sages write, "Since he tells her that his friends have condemned him and shamed him, she also despises him in her heart, and this causes harm to himself" (see the commentary of the Bartenura [Rav Ovadia ben Avraham of Bartenura] on Ethics of the Fathers 1:5).


I would appreciate it if you could sort out these issues for me.


Answer:

Great questions!


Regarding your first question, in the Q&A entitled "No one owes another anything"—really?? I addressed a similar question. However, this is a complex issue and, in my opinion, requires further explanation based on the comments I've received.


In the service of G-d, there are degrees, as we know. Some are motivated by a fear of punishment, and indeed, heavenly punishments are intimidating and a deterrent to doing less than good. Nobody wants to go "down there." This knowledge, as strong as it is for us, can push us to do God's will. You can also expect to be rewarded, and the reward is huge, beyond what we can imagine. One hour of pleasure in heaven is more pleasurable than anything this world can offer. So also anticipating to be rewarded can attract us to learn Torah and perform its commandments.


However, G-d wants a different relationship with us, a connection based on love, of a lover to his beloved, of desire (as we have explained many times in our Q&A here). Whoever fulfills G-d's will based on a fear of punishment and an expectation of reward will indeed receive the reward, but to a large degree, the connection will be missing. In doing so, that person will have lost the real purpose of Judaism, of the connection to G-d as described in the Song of Songs.


The same principle pertains to the home and your relationship. If you only act from as sense of obligation, then your relationship will be a type of agreement, such as the understanding between an employer and an employee. If one person in the relationship is afraid of "punishment," that is, the other person's negative reactions, there is a problem with this connection. If you fear that the other person will explode or lash out, you should not be the recipient of this behavior. If you don't know how to leave this type of relationship, seek professional help.


Along these lines, if you give to your wife only in order to receive from her some benefit in return, she will sense that you are not giving from the heart, and you will not achieve your goal. You must put aside the question of obligation and instead give to your spouse from a place of desire, from "the desire of the heart and passion of the soul" (Mesilat Yesharim 7:21). This is the only way to build a relationship based on love.


It is clear that we have obligations toward our spouse. A person has no permission to grieve the other, or to deprive him or her of any pleasure. Everyone is also obligated to "love your neighbor as yourself," especially at home, and in all actions that will benefit the other.


But this charge is not actually toward the other. No one should feel that the other is standing over and demanding him or her to behave in a certain way. I have to be good to my spouse for my own sake: for my own desire to be good and to fulfill G-d's will that I be good.


From the perspective of those who receive the benefit, they must live with the clear knowledge that the other owes them nothing and everything the other does for them is a bonus. This is the mental attitude that should be practiced. This way we can truly live in love, harmony, and peace, as the Torah commands us. If your actions are only based on a sense of obligation, there will be no love.


It's important to emphasize that desiring is the role of the desirer. You don't have to wait for others to make you desire to give to them. (On the other hand, we should behave in a way that will inspire the other to desire to be good to us.) Everyone should try to make themselves desire to give, to try to accept the "kingdom" of the other willingly — as an obligation to themselves, not the other. No one can demand from others, as a right, to be agreeable, pleasing, and compliant out of sheer desire, as opposed to acting from a sense of obligation.


As for the second question: the Chazon Ish (Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz) wrote that when the Torah sages said, "Do not increase conversation with the woman" (Ethics of the Fathers 1:5) they excluded shana rishona (the first year of marriage) when a couple must invest in building the relationship, as well as when the husband specifically needs to please her through conversation. As we know, the foundational "first year" of marriage can last several years, and in our times, it can last decades in my opinion.


The general idea is that "do not increase conversation" applies to an excess of what is needed for proper communication. Sharing with each other is needed for proper communication — very much so. (Of course, the conversation should stay within the limits of Jewish law, without gossip and slander, etc.)


Regarding the words of the Bartenura and a husband being a support to his wife: yes, a woman needs a strong supportive husband, but his strength should be toward himself. The more he is able to exercise self-control and self-discipline, the more she will feel that she can rely on him.


The same is true when a man shares his troubles, including his being condemned or shamed by others: a person is allowed to feel hurt! The question is how he deals with it, what he does with his injury. Does he disintegrate, or is he in control of it?


When sharing his wounding, the energy he transmits should be as follows: yes, it hurt me, but it won't take me down. Nothing will wipe me out. You can share the facts that actually occurred and that you were hurt by it, that it was unpleasant for you, but not with a tone of misery and brokenness. Rather, express that you were hurt but are dealing with it. You're not falling apart, are still strong, and nothing will beat you down.


That's the message behind your words, the "tune" you need to broadcast when sharing. Transmit that tune not only to your wife but to yourself and your own feelings: strength, power, confrontation, and victory. Thus a man will indeed remain a strong support for his wife, even while sharing his troubles. "He crouched, lay down as a lion" (Numbers 24:9). Even when the lion lies, he remains a lion.

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