Dear Emuna: The Misunderstood Wife

July 21, 2011

5 min read


Why doesn't my husband understand me?

Dear Emuna,

I have been married for 10 years. My husband is a decent person and basically good husband but sometimes I get very frustrated. I feel that after all this time he should be able to understand my moods and needs without my always having to tell him. When he doesn’t, I get very hurt and end up lashing out. What do you suggest?

-- Misunderstood Wife

Dear Misunderstood,

I can’t state this often enough. Our husbands (or wives) are NOT mind readers. They do not instinctively know what we are thinking or what we need. It is an unfair and unrealistic expectation to place upon them. And it’s a complaint I hear all the time.

I’m not sure what the root of it is – perhaps some foolish romantic notion found in 19th century novels – but it has no basis in reality. And, more importantly, it is not a reflection of your husband’s love for you. It is not a litmus test of his true interest in your life. And it is destructive to you and your marriage to turn it into one.

We know that marriage is about communication. If you have a need that you would like your husband to satisfy, tell him. If you have a mood you would like your husband to respond to, let him know. You said he is a decent human being. I will assume he cares about you and wants the marriage to succeed. But you have to help him; you have to work with him.

If you don’t want to be misunderstood, share your thoughts and give him the information he needs to understand you. Don’t allow romanticized notions of telepathic abilities to derail your relationship with your spouse. He wants to help you – but you have to let him in.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna

I realize that in marriage it "takes two to tango" and that both spouses need to take responsibility for the relationship. I do not intend to paint myself as the tzaddik who does no wrong as that's simply not true. I have made and continue to make my fair share of mistakes. However, I am struggling to know how to respond to my wife in the following scenarios.

1) My wife is carrying with her a lot of anger which I feel is poisoning her own peace of mind as well as affecting negatively our marriage and our kids. I often find myself walking on eggshells, not knowing what will trigger her anger next. Sometimes her anger has nothing to do with me and at other times I know that I say or do things to trigger it. Even when I may be the cause, I often feel that her level of anger in response is disproportionate. Her anger often expresses itself in passive-aggressive behavior. How can I help her and what would be the appropriate way to respond in these situations?

2) My wife complains frequently. I don't claim to be the best husband and father in the world, but I do try and yet nothing that I do seems to be "good enough". She generally seems to view the glass as half-empty as opposed to half-full. Perhaps it's my fault. Perhaps I need to focus on treating her better and then her complaints would gradually disappear. How could I respond appropriately?

-- Trying Hard

Dear Trying Hard,

I heard a beautiful idea in a class recently. The teacher said that “marriage is the finishing school for your soul.” The challenges that our marriages present are opportunities for us to grow. And frequently the reason our spouses seem to push out buttons is because they’ve hit on the exact spot where we struggle the most. So take heart; if you work at it, the best is yet to come.

Let’s take question 2 first. Seeing the glass half-full or half-empty is often innate. People are usually born with a more pessimistic or a more optimistic perspective. Additionally the home we grow up in may reinforce or counter this viewpoint. If there was a lot of dissatisfaction in your wife’s family of origin, that may also have contributed to her half-empty outlook. This doesn’t mean that she – or you - is stuck. It means that you need to begin with some empathy and understanding. It means that someone with a half-empty world view will need to work hard to change it – and will need a lot of support in so doing.

Try to be patient with her complaints. Try to respond humorously to help her gain some perspective and maybe even laugh at herself. Give her frequent compliments so she can experience the power of praise versus negativity. And if she is receptive, maybe you could even study together the topic of trusting in God and recognizing that everyone has exactly what they need. You are not responsible for her attitude but, hopefully, these tips will help you respond in a way that is more appropriate and more helpful to your wife.

With respect to her anger, the last point applies here as well. Try not to react with anger yourself. Try not to react defensively (I know this is difficult). Try to have empathy for whatever underlying pain has created this feeling in your partner. And try to find a quiet time (maybe take her out for a little while) to gently raise the issue and discuss it calmly. I assume it’s not a feeling she enjoys and that she feels trapped and confused. Explore together how you can both help her move on from this negative place. If you are both united in this effort, I’m sure you will experience positive results.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I am a happily married man. I have a wonderful wife, well-adjusted children, a nice home and a good job. I seem to “have it all”. Yet I’m tormented inside because I feel like I present a perfect image on the surface yet underneath I am riddled with insecurity, petty concerns and other selfish traits. I am afraid that if my wife finds out, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down. But I’m having a hard time keeping up the front. Can you help me before I crack?

-- Outer Image

Dear Outer and Inner,

I actually think I can. You don’t say how long you’ve been married but since you mention more than one child, I can assume at least a few years. So I’m going to let you in on a secret. Whatever you think you’re hiding, your wife already knows! The Torah informs us that women are endowed with bina yesera, an extra dose of perceptiveness. They see people very clearly. Your wife lives with you. She knows you like no one else. She sees your strengths and your vulnerabilities.

And it’s okay. She knows you’re not perfect. She knows you are human with all that implies. She recognizes your faults. But she doesn’t judge you for them or associate you with them. She focuses on the good – and you should too. She accepts the whole package and would laugh away your concerns. No one is perfect – not ourselves, not our spouses, not our children. But when we love, we put our emphasis and focus on the positive and play down the negative. It sounds like you’re a lucky man. Don’t waste the blessing in your life by being too naïve about marriage (and your wife!) to relax and enjoy it.

-- Emuna

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