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Dear Emuna: My Needy Wife

May 11, 2011 | by Emuna Braverman

Help! My accomplished wife wants to stay at home with the kids and is overly dependent on me.

Dear Emuna,

I’m a 50 year old man, married for almost four years. When I met my wife she was an accomplished executive in the banking industry. She was successful and popular and independent. Soon after our wedding she became pregnant and informed me that she wanted to stay home to raise our children. We don’t need the income but I was a little taken aback by her decision. It just wasn’t how I thought of her. Additionally, she seems to be very dependent on me for love and approval, often getting hurt when I don’t call to check in or express affection or when I am inattentive at the end of the day. I feel like I was deceived as to her real nature. Can you help?

-- Mystified

Dear Mystified,

You’ve only give me a superficial glimpse into your marriage so it’s hard to adequately respond, but I’ll try. My initial thought is that you weren’t deceived about your wife’s nature; you were naïve about women in general. Firstly, many women who enjoy their careers would still rather be home raising children if they have the option. This is their primary goal and desire. Sometimes they don’t even it realize it themselves. But it’s certainly not deceptive or manipulative. It’s very basic and primal. We call it the maternal instinct.

The second issue – her dependence on you – is also universal. It is in the established nature of male-female relationships that the woman is emotionally dependent on her husband. His love and approval are like oxygen to her. This metaphor is not an exaggeration. If deprived of this support, women feel as if they can’t breathe. And it doesn’t seem to matter how “independent” they were ahead of time.

Instead of finding it frustrating, your best bet is to just give it to her. Give her love, give her support, praise her mothering, praise her other qualities. And tell her – often – that you love her.

Marriage is a lot of work. For both sides. It requires learning new patterns and habits (and breaking some old ones). It requires lifting out of your own thoughts to understand someone else. It requires giving – and giving – and giving – even when you’re tired and don’t feel like it. Especially then.

Your wife didn’t deceive you. You had erroneous expectations (Discuss it with your other married friends, not your single buddies; they’ll confirm it!). With a more realistic view of who women are and your wife’s needs, you can now respond in a more appropriate fashion and truly build a deep and lasting marriage.

-- Emuna

Related Article: What Women Really Want

Dear Emuna,

I am in my mid-20’s and am happily married to the most amazing man in the world. Although we've been only married for a year, people are subtly asking us when we plan on having kids. My inbox has been inundated with adorable baby videos saying that I should experience something like this soon. People look at my abdominal area to see if there are any signs that I may be pregnant. My parents and in-laws have politely expressed their desires to be grandparents.

My husband and I are the first ones in our families to get married. We both come from communities where people get married as early as possible and have a baby before their first anniversary. For our own reasons, we've mutually decided to postpone family planning. Before you assume that we have selfish motives and are influenced by secular society and their attitude towards marriage and family (which I'm slightly guilty of), we are not one of those couples who delay having children just so we can splurge ourselves. We are living on a very tight budget. We are not receiving financial support from any of our parents. We are struggling to make ends meet. We both hold jobs that pay us below minimum wage. Babies may be cute but they are expensive. Having a child right now would cause more stress and inconvenience with the income we are earning than it would bring us joy. I have to live with the reality of our situation. Plus I fail to see why I should have to rush into parenthood. At this point in time, I do not feel I am physically, psychologically, and emotionally ready to assume the responsibilities of motherhood.

I am frustrated and annoyed with people's lack of insight and their intrusive behaviors towards us. I try to remind them that my fertility matters do not concern them and it’s not their place to remind me of my priorities but they don't seem to listen and continue to take matters into their own hands.

Wish for Privacy

Dear Wish for Privacy,

You are certainly correct about one important thing. What you and your husband are doing is no one else’s business. Certainly our tradition encourages having children and advises consulting with a rabbi if you believe there are compelling reasons to delay this process. But the specifics of each family are private and you do not owe anyone an explanation. In fact, it is completely inappropriate and invasive for them to ask.

One of the hallmarks of the Jewish people is our modesty. This does not just refer to a mode of dress. All behavior must fall within this rubric. We should speak modestly – using refined words and making sure that what we say does not make anyone else uncomfortable or violate his sense of privacy. Questions and prying about someone’s child-bearing plans, even that of close family members, crosses that line. As does staring at a woman’s body looking for signs of pregnancy. We need to carry ourselves modestly and we need to treat others with the dignity and respect they deserve. That also means (I know this isn’t your question but indulge me while I throw in a pet peeve!) that a woman’s stomach is not suddenly available for public patting just because she is carrying a child. It is still appropriate to keep your hands to yourself!

Unfortunately no matter how polite you are, no matter how hard you try to deflect the questions, there will always be busybodies who insist on asking when you plan to have children or, for those with a lot of chutzpah, if you are expecting right now. Or, as I was once asked in the middle of the market, if you are spacing your children.

These are frequently not your closes friends or family, which is why you could avail yourself of my friend’s slightly sarcastic rejoinder, “I’m not sure but you’ll certainly be the first to know!”

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

Many of my children are married and living in Israel. I am very grateful that they are happy, that their families are growing, and that they have made lives for themselves in the holy land. I live in Los Angeles and since it is such a schlep to get there (not to mention costly) I can only go once or twice (at the most) a year. The challenge of having so many kids there is that they seem to all be competing for my attention. I wind up feeling stretched to the max and I come home many dollars lighter, physically exhausted and emotionally drained. In the end, I always feel like I please nobody. What do you recommend?

Pulled in Many Directions

Dear Pulled,

I understand your dilemma. It doesn’t matter how old your children are or how many of their own children they have. They still want their “fair” share of your attention – which is usually defined as all of it. They still want something they will never have – complete exclusivity.

But since what they really desire is something completely impossible to fulfill, don’t bother trying to give it to them.

Accept your own inherent limitations. You can’t be all things to all people all the time. Even if those people are your children. Try to spend time separately with each family and give yourself a rest break between visits. A worn-out mother helps no one.

As I’m sure you remember from when your kids were small, they will take as much as you are willing to give. And then still push for more.

It’s up to you to set the boundaries. It’s up to you to clarify your limits. It’s up to you to adhere to your resolve.

The surprising thing you will discover is that once you clarify what you are prepared to do, your children will willing and gratefully accept. The ball has been in your court all along.

-- Emuna


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