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So what's HIS place in the home?!

A Talmudic college student who is currently going through my counseling process asked me a short question this week: What is the husband's place in the home?


Seemingly it's an innocent question, but not in this case. His question was asked defiantly, something like, "So what's the husband's place in the home?!" This question was posed after his wife did not listen to his demand (not request but demand) and after she possibly did so in a particularly defiant way, which really bothered him at the time it occurred. So he reacted, and his reaction was extreme. In his opinion, his response was proportionate to what she did.


I tried to bring him to the understanding that since she doesn't "owe" him anything or any type of behavior, his reaction is not really proportionate. However in actuality, her behavior was directed toward him, and he didn't like it. His injury was understandable, although it doesn't excuse his extreme reaction, and it's essential for him, or anyone, to learn how to react when hurt. One thing still holds true, in my opinion: you cannot ascribe to your spouse any requirement or obligation toward yourself. It is neither valid nor good form to command or demand anything from your spouse.


During our conversation, I realized that in his opinion the husband always, or at least usually, "has the last word." When I tried to dispute this notion, his posed the question that makes up the title of this Q&A, or rather he spit it out in frustration and much emotion.


So really, what is the husband's role in the house?


Answer:


Does a wife have to listen to her husband? I'm not familiar with such a one-sided obligation.

What I do know is "a worthy woman does her husband's will" (See Yalkut Shimoni on Judges Remez 42 end). But there is also another side:

he should "honor his wife more than his own body" (Talmud Yevamot 62b). If he forces her to listen to him, that's not so respectful, certainly not more than he respects his own body. So if she asks him for something, shouldn't he be listening to her? Fulfilling her will is honoring her, after all. So when she says what she wants, he should respect that!


So who should be listening to whom here? Or rather, who has leave to ignore the other? What happens when husband and wife want different things? Who should rightfully subdue him- or herself to the will of the other?


First of all, in past generations, marriage was conducted differently. There was a different customary hierarchy that both spouses accepted and were happy with. Today, we are raised differently, and the "rules" today are clear: no one has to listen to other just because "I said so." Never. Everyone must attempt to fulfill the wishes of the other, not because of an obligation toward the other but rather toward yourself and toward G-d, Who is ready to erase his holy name to bring peace between husband and wife. So he must, must try — that's his job — to respect her more than he respects his own body, or if a woman, to be a worthy woman who does her husband's will. One spouse does not have the innate right to demand anything from the other. And yet...


With all that, a woman by her very nature gives of herself. She is able to do more and more until she almost collapses. Her husband is the one who should propose that she take a break, go to sleep, take over for her. It can be hard for her to stop. This characteristic of hers is mainly intended for her husband's benefit, yet he cannot demand this dedication from her. She can only demand it from herself. He can inspire it by being respectful, by showing her that there is nothing more important to him than her, that he is ready to do everything for her and her happiness.


When something bothers him, he should not complain about the past but only express a desire toward the future. He should tell her what he would like to happen or experience in a respectful, accepting, and understanding manner — and with a compliment on the side! He should always express himself, never keep it inside! The difference between a painful quarrel and a fruitful discussion is the difference between complaining and expressing a desire for the future. That's all. (This approach is what the Rambam probably meant when he said that "his conversation with her should be pleasant, without sadness or anger." [Mishneh Torah, Nashim, Hilchot Ishut 15:19])


He should try to fulfill her wishes even before she expresses them, to sense them. In short, he should do everything he can to be an absolute giver. His wife will feel it and feel confident in the relationship and safe in her husband's hands. She should feel sure that her husband will do anything for her, that her well-being is guaranteed with him. In such a situation, she will undoubtedly dedicate herself to him. She will enable him to be a king. If the husband desires to be the leader of his household, then he will achieve it by being the leading giver and giving to his wife. If the husband takes the lead as a giver, then she will take second place and willingly so. She will see him "as a minister or king" (ibid.) in the way a divine king is willingly served. If she serves a king by compulsion, he is not a king but a tyrant.


For the women reading, you too can unilaterally lead the way in giving, if necessary. Don't wait for your husband. If you take the lead, then he will follow. It's not just acceptable but actually a sacred duty. If each one waits for the other, it will never happen.


What do you do when disagreements occur? First of all, when mutual devotion and caring is the norm in the relationship, true disagreements rarely happen because they are experienced as two sides of the same person. Each spouse has learned to feel and anticipate the desires of the other — almost as much they feel their own desires. For example, if the woman's desire is not fulfilled in the end, then her husband will feel (or will almost feel) her same disappointment, together with her really.


In any case, in our counselling, we give clear guidance how to handle disagreements without involving a third party. If it doesn't work, you can always bring in a third party, a counselor or rabbi. I recently heard from a great rabbi, that a foundation of a Jewish home is to have a rabbi who can provide decisive guidance. I expected to hear that it's practical, or even necessary or essential, but not foundational. That was new to me. However, if you learn how to resolve conflict in your relationship in a fundamental way, as mentioned above, you will rarely reach the stage that you need the intervention of a third party.

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