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Married and Frustrated

June 24, 2009 | by Emuna Braverman

How to handle those moments of frustration in marriage.

In every marriage there will be moments of frustration, likely many of them. Only the very young or the very naïve believe otherwise.

Moments of frustration are not the reason marriages fail. The way we deal with them may be.

If we respond positively, we diminish the emotion and open up the possibility of an important and revealing conversation. If we react negatively, chances are the conflict will escalate.

Let's say you gave your husband a list of chores you want done and you come home at the end of a long day to find that none of the items on the list have been attended to. (Has this ever happened to you?) The ineffective, though perhaps natural, reaction is to shout (high decibels being a must), "You never do anything I ask you to. I can't rely on you at all."

If an outside observer would ask you to rate the chances of success of this outburst, what do you think they would say?

There are a number of problems with this technique. The first is the screaming. When people (husbands, children, co-workers) hear screaming, they sometimes get defensive and, more frequently, just tune out. Your own credibility, not to mention your character, is damaged by yelling.

The second problem with this tirade is the word "never." "Never" and "always" when used to criticize make the recipient feel attacked and unappreciated. It is as if all the times they behaved as desired, all the acts of kindness and good, have been forgotten; all their former efforts are nullified. This breeds resentment and anger (and does not further the ends of getting the chores done either!).

The third issue is the general way of expressing frustration as a complaint. Did you clarify with your husband ahead of time when he thought he could get to those tasks? Was it a realistic list given the time frame? Did you express an order of priority? If you didn't tell him, there was no way he could figure it out. These are not details available through intuition.


Giving the benefit of the doubt is most important with respect to our spouses.


Finally, we have a mitzvah to judge favorably, to assume good will and the best of intentions even if a superficial view of the situation would suggest otherwise. Nowhere is this more important than with respect to our spouses. Did you stop to ask what your husband was doing all afternoon before launching into your harangue?

Was there an unexpected work crisis? Did the kids need more homework help than anticipated? Did his parents or even yours call with an urgent request? Or was he just desperate for some time to relax? (Believe it or not, the latter is a legitimate need as well.)

Presumably he takes your requests seriously and wasn't deliberately trying to thwart you. If you didn't give a time frame or prioritize your list ahead of time, then perhaps the responsibility is yours.

Either way your preferred reaction now should be much more loving. Remember that you are both on the same side. The chores are probably to benefit the home that you are building together.

Try instead: "I'm sorry. I should have recognized how tired you are. Is it possible you could just take out the kitchen garbage?" "Everything doesn't need to be done today but it makes me nervous to have the front porch light out. I'd appreciate it if you could fix that." "I know it's a long list; when do you think you could get to it?"

If you recognize these as better strategies but your self-control fails you, don't despair. Apologies can work wonders.

"I'm sorry I yelled. I had a frustrating afternoon." "I didn't mean to talk to you like that. I was just looking forward to getting our books off the floor and onto the new shelves." "I shouldn't have lost it with you; how can we help each other?"

Conflicts are usually conducted in an adversarial manner; me versus you. But this is a marriage. You are not on opposing teams. Your goals are the same. Holding on to this recognition should remove (or at least diminish) the tone of animosity. The two of you are creating a marriage together and dealing with frustrations effectively is another way of strengthening the bond. Don't look for (or provoke) moments of frustration, but when they arise, see them as the growth opportunity they really are.


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