July 22, 2024
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Chaim and Esther both realized that something was wrong with their connection within a few months after their marriage. Esther tried to engage with Chaim and talk about her feelings but he seemed to be withdrawn. She decided to ask her mother if she thought the situation with Chaim was “normal.” Esther explained that she didn’t feel Chaim was paying attention to her when they spoke, as he always seemed preoccupied. He was would often look at his phone when they spoke. Esther was bothered by his behavior and was starting to become concerned about their communication. Her mother listened intently and offered suggestions to help her daughter communicate effectively. Esther tried desperately to find the right moment to garner Chaim’s attention. She was pleasantly surprised when one afternoon he seemed willing to listen and empathize with her. Chaim confessed that when he was on his phone he was in a different reality. He told Esther that he knew this was something he needed to work on. Esther was so relieved that they were being open and honest with each other. She was certain to compliment and thank Chaim for his honesty and willingness to be attentive to her.

The conversation then took a dramatic turn when Esther mentioned that her mother was right. “Your mother?” asked Chaim. “Yes,” responded Esther, “I asked her for advice about how to talk with you about my feelings.” Chaim was clearly devastated. “You spoke with your mother about our issues?” He was beside himself. He felt betrayed by Esther, and was embarrassed to face his mother-in-law. Esther insisted that she didn’t mean to hurt Chaim, but just didn’t know where to turn for help. A series of reactive encounters ensued, and only later in the evening were they able to speak calmly with each other. They agreed to formulate a plan where they would identify an independent third party whom they could call upon for advice and counsel at challenging times. This idea is a good suggestion for couples. For some it may be a rabbi or rebbetzin, for others it may be a therapist or kallah teacher. Engaging parents about the details of one’s relationship with one’s spouse will likely cause a sense of resentment toward the parents and invites the parents into the couple’s relationship. Esther’s mother may very well have had wonderful advice for her daughter, but her involvement may have caused a sensitive betrayal of trust between Esther and Chaim. She may have been better off telling Esther that she needed to work things out with Chaim herself.

When Yosef was finally ready to reveal his true identity, the Torah tells us he cleared the room of all Egyptians so that he was standing alone with his brothers. Rashi explains that Yosef could not fathom that the Egyptian people would become aware of what transpired with his brothers. Rav Simcha Raz points out that we learn an important lesson from here about the need to keep conflicts among family private. While, generally speaking, this may be effective and suggested, there are always exceptions. There are occasions where our failure to share our struggle with someone else causes us to suffer in pain for a longer period of time. The critical factor is not determining whether one should share sensitive issues regarding family conflict with others, but rather with whom should one share these issues. One must use discretion in making sure that the dignity of all parties involved is preserved while, at the same time, one should not hesitate to get help for the problem that he or she is experiencing.

This may be true when it comes to marriage as well. Couples should try as best as they can to engage each other in conflict resolution, in a way in which they can learn about each other and grow from the experience. When a spouse shares information about their spouse with others without permission, they are violating the trust of the spouse. Before a couple even marries, it is a good idea to identify and formulate a plan of action for a situation where either spouse may feel that outside help is needed in their relationship. The person identified should be independent and capable of keeping the best interests of each partner in mind. Engaging one’s family members in the discussion should be avoided at all costs in a healthy marriage. It can result in a feeling of betrayal that can raise tensions and create unnecessary conflict.

The exception to all of this is the person who finds themselves in an unhealthy, abusive or potentially abusive relationship. One should get help in such a situation however one possibly can without hesitation. May Hashem bless us with the insight and ability to learn from moments of conflict and grow throughout life together.

By Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler

 Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler is rabbi of Congregation AABJ&D in West Orange, New Jersey, and is a licensed clinical social worker in private practice. Rabbi Zwickler can be reached at [email protected].

 

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