By Five Towns Marriage Initiative
Rachel saw that she did not have children and she came to Yaakov and said, “Havah li banim v’im ayin meisah anochi,” “Give me children; if not I am as a dead woman.”
“Vayichar af Yaakov b’Rachel va’yomer ‘hatachas Elokim anochi asher mana mimeich p’ri vaten’,” “And Yaakov’s anger was kindled against Rachel; and he said, ‘Am I in the place of G‑d, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?’” (Bereishis 30:1-2).
The commentators explain that Yaakov’s sharp response to his wife was out of sincere concern for the honor of Hashem. Nonetheless, it says in Bereishis Rabbah (71:7) that Yaakov was punished for having less sensitivity than would be expected of him at this time.
Empathy can be an extremely powerful tool. When a spouse chooses to be empathetic rather than display insensitivity, it strengthens the bond in a marriage. Empathy is helpful because it removes the feeling of being alone in the difficulty. When a spouse behaves and communicates in an empathetic way, it helps enable the partner to express his feelings, which is very important in dealing with a difficult situation. Additionally, it enables the one suffering to reach a place where they feel understood. These three elements—not feeling alone, being able to express one’s feelings, and feeling understood—all contribute to a person finding the strength to deal with the situation. This helps the marriage to weather the difficulty intact, growing stronger in the process.
Empathy doesn’t only have to be reserved for big and dramatic difficulties. We can train ourselves to feel and express empathy to our spouse in little things as well. There are many situations where a spouse would appreciate some empathy. While the big difficulties are obvious, recognizing the minor difficulties in which empathy would be appreciated requires tuning in to your spouse and paying attention to their tone of voice and body language. If one recognizes the change in the tone of voice or posture, he can acknowledge the change and then express empathy.
Let us try to instill in ourselves the trait of being empathetic to our spouse and others, and may Hashem help us to be there for our spouses in times of difficulties. In this way our marriages will be able to grow and flourish through the easy times as well as the difficult times. v
Five Towns Marriage Initiative provides educational programs, workshops, and referrals to top marriage therapists. FTMI will help offset counseling costs when necessary and also runs an anonymous shalom bayis hotline for the entire community Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings, 10:00–11:00 p.m. For the hotline or for more information, call 516-430-5280 or e‑mail firstname.lastname@example.org.