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Criticizing My Husband

May 18, 2017 | by Emuna Braverman

I knew I was blowing it as the words came out of my mouth.

I don’t usually send my husband to the grocery store; we’re both busy and we’ve worked out a division of labor that works (he does those trips to the dry cleaners that I have an irrational psychological aversion to). But things were extremely hectic and I needed help. Since it was an unfamiliar store (which can take double the time for even the experienced shopper) I was very careful about my list, including detailed descriptions of the products needed, including quantity, brand name and size (I probably could have just gone there and back myself in the time it took to make the list).

My husband happily agreed to go and took one of our granddaughters along. I breathed a sigh of relief that one errand was off my list.

Until I saw what he bought. I know he didn’t do it so he would never be asked to go again (are they really men who do that or is it just an urban legend?). I know he meant to be helpful – truly. But not one item on the list was correct. Not even one!

There’s a reason I wrote the list! I wanted to scream. Years of marriage classes were flying out the window.

Some may not have been his fault; maybe the store was out of my specific request. But in other cases he made an executive decision – this brand was cheaper, this size made more sense. I bit my tongue. There’s a reason I wrote the list! I wanted to scream. Years of marriage classes and marriage wisdom were rapidly flying out the window.

I knew that the correct response was gratitude and appreciation. I knew that he had tried to be helpful. I held it together for a few minutes before giving in to my “lower self.” I didn’t yell. I even began with a thank you. “I really appreciate that you went to the store for me…” and it went downhill from there. “But it wasn’t really helpful because you didn’t get anything I needed and I now I have to go return everything and buy the right products!” Arrgh….

I saw his face fall; I knew I was blowing it as I said it. And the truth is, I also knew it really didn’t matter. We might have spent a little more money and someone might have had to go back later, but was it worth the dent in my shalom bayis, my domestic peace?

Our tradition is filled with story after story where our sages (or their wives!) exercised self-control, chose the higher road in situations where the stakes were much larger in order to preserve their shalom bayis. How could I allow myself to risk mine over something so foolish? And when I knew I was wrong. It was self-indulgent to give in to my frustration and take it out on him. I knew that too. It’s not true that I couldn’t stop myself; of course I could, but I didn’t.

Criticizing him defeated my ultimate goal. One less cake, one less batch of cookies, one fewer pan of brownies – none of that really matters, but my relationship with my husband does.

We get frustrated over the trivia and lose sight of the big picture.

I may be slightly exaggerating the situation but we do this all the time – get frustrated over the trivia and lose sight of the big picture. My husband always points out how foolish the silent treatment is (which, thank God, I’ve outgrown – mostly). The goal is usually to get more time with our spouse and we are frustrated that it doesn’t happen. How do we respond? By not speaking with them and thereby ensuring even less time…

The goal is closeness, peace, warmth – not the generic brand of sugar or the larger box of Ziplocs. Of course we know that. And we may even recognize how foolish it is to start up over a mistake, how churlish it is to be ungrateful when someone does us a kindness, especially when that someone is our husband whom we love. Yet when we are tired or stressed (did I mention that both of those are our normal state of being?) our defenses are down. We may not react the way we’d like. This is our chance to lift up and be the person we want to be.

After all, the quality of our relationship is on the line. It can be improved or, God forbid, damaged.

We do have a choice. If my husband ever goes to the grocery store again (I may think twice before asking) I plan to just be grateful for his assistance. And perhaps to write the list in all caps (maybe he needed his reading glasses….)


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