By Esther Mann, LCSW
This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
I am recently married, and am very disappointed in my kallah. When we were dating, I was very specific with her about the home I wanted. I thought she and I were on the same page, but now I am not so sure. She doesn’t observe mitzvos in the way she described to me on our dates. I have already spoken to my rebbe about this and I am always shocked at his disregard for my feelings.
There are certain things I expect my wife to do, and when she doesn’t do them I feel outraged and like I made the biggest mistake of my life. She has fallen asleep Friday night on the couch without benching. I often have to remind her to cover her hair in the morning. I notice her rushing through her davening in the morning as well. I feel like she is a child and I have to teach her everything.
In addition to her poor regard for Yiddishkeit, I cannot see myself really developing feelings beyond physical attraction for my wife. Everyone says the first year of marriage, shanah rishonah, is hard, but I don’t know if it is supposed to be this hard. I want to be heard and respected, and it seems that nothing I do gets my wife to listen to me. I am frustrated and confused. I am genuinely interested in the mental-health perspective on my situation and would like to know if there is any hope for us to have a successful marriage.
Dear Frustrated Chosson,
This column is wonderful because it is an avenue for people to reach out and hopefully gain clarity, or at the very least feel heard or be pointed in the right direction. The flip side is that it can be confused for actual therapy, which it is most definitely not. This is a column and by its very nature is not conducive to the therapeutic process. I have no knowledge of your history and I know very little about your current situation, your feelings, or your kallah. I need to make it very clear to you and my readers that yours is a delicate situation and let you know my clinical advice is that you need to pursue therapy.
I read your e-mail many times to fully digest it, and I want to be honest with you. While reading the first portion where you write about the ways your wife has been a disappointment, I felt distanced from you. As a therapist (and columnist) I am forced to constantly deal with my feelings because every person I work with and every e-mail I read gets filtered through my personal lens of experience, history, and neuroses. I think I felt distanced because upon reading all the ways your wife has let you down, I found myself struggling with the perfect way to write this column so you will like it.
It is in the second part of your e-mail where I find the ability to connect to you. You write about your feelings of outrage, frustration, and confusion, which may be in part because you don’t understand why you are not respected by your kallah. When you shared your feelings, I felt myself let my guard down and then from there began to figure out how I would respond to you. Just as I was able to connect to you after I found your feelings, I think you may find the success of your marriage when you understand the feelings driving your rigidity.
Have you thought about why you are feeling unheard and that your wife isn’t listening to you? The three examples you mention about your wife’s disobedience to her promised hashkafah are forgetfulness in the morning, falling asleep before benching, and rushing through davening in the morning. Is your wife doing this intentionally, because she is a liar? Or is it within the realm of possibility that she is adjusting to married life and taking on responsibilities that are new to her as a married woman? I don’t have the answers to these questions. I am trying to provide you with a different framework to view her behavior, if applicable.
If we go with the premise that none of her behavior is born out of deceit or childishness, then perhaps you are feeling unheard and disrespected because you are being controlling and overbearing. Control is a sort of insatiable monster. It never really thinks it has any, and is always trying to get some more. Have you felt the need to control before you met your kallah?
Shanah rishonah can be a very difficult time, and you are not alone. You have reached out to your rebbe and to me, and I think that is wonderful and a strength of yours. In reaching out to others, you are essentially surrendering your control and saying something isn’t working and “I need help.” As I see it, right now you are at a crossroads. You can either continue examining the behaviors of your wife that you feel you need to change or control, or you can examine your desire to change or control your wife. Choice 1 is free and easy, but you are guaranteed more of the same with no resolution. Choice 2 requires therapy and may at times be hard and uncomfortable.
I do not like to assume anything, but I will go out on a limb and say that you have been hurt in the past and that this “watchful eye” of yours was once watching you. The opportunity to heal is presenting itself to you in your marriage.
All the best,
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached