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I Dare Me: No More Complaining

As told to Elisheva Appel

How would it impact my marriage if I just stop complaining, cold turkey? Will the mood in my house pick up? Or will I spontaneously combust?

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

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With six kids under age nine, there’s a lot going on in my house — some of it happy and wholesome, and a fair amount of it whiny and irksome. I’m a gentle person and don’t scream at my kids. My natural response to the everyday frustrations of child-rearing is to hold everything in all day, and then get it all off my chest when my husband Moshe comes in at night. But greeting him with a litany of the day’s woes brings a lot of negative energy into my home.

How would it impact my marriage if I just stop doing that, cold turkey? Will the mood in my house pick up? Or will I spontaneously combust from the rising tension before I ever find out?

The Challenge

The idea to do it as a dare takes me by surprise, but I’ve wanted to work on my shalom bayis for a while and this seems like a pretty good start.

So, for one week, from Shabbos to Shabbos, there will be no complaining about the kids fighting, the baby keeping me up at night, or the annoying red tape I need to untangle at work.

If there’s something that needs to be discussed, it will be matter-of-fact, just the relevant stuff: “Dovi had a tantrum, he seems really tired. He needs to go to bed early.”

The fact that it’s just a week makes it possible. I could never commit to this on an ongoing basis, but I’m looking at it as a week-long experiment.

I’m not used to that buildup of tension. Holding it in will be tough. But my number-one concern isn’t even that I’ll fail — I’m more worried that I’ll succeed, but that Moshe won’t even notice with all the chaos. We’ll get to the big reveal at the end of the week and he’ll be like, “Really? You did? Uh... nice!”

Getting Ready

No prep for this one. I’m just jumping right in on the spur of the moment. What’s the worst that can happen?

How It Went Down

Much, much better than I expect! The hardest times are when my husband comes home from work, and I’m bursting with eight hours of frustrations that want to spill out. When he asks how my day has been, it feels almost physically impossible to put on a bright smile and say “Good!” But I find that if I hold myself back for that first minute, then I’m past the temptation and it’s smooth sailing.

The unexpected snow day in March, when all the kids get an extra day home in middle of the Pesach prep and seven-year-old Shuey spends the day smacking his sisters, does throw me for a loop; I start to kvetch when Moshe calls from work, but quickly catch myself.

This week, I also successfully avoid commenting on the sticky situation with my manager at work — though I am quick to correct Moshe when he remarks how much better this week seems to be.

The most motivating thing is watching the difference in Moshe’s mood. He’s always Mr. Super Cheerful, and typically bounds into the house after work full of high spirits, which slowly flag as I dump all the day’s complaints on him. But this week, his buoyant mood stays — and pulls up the whole family.


Looking Back

At the end of the week, it’s time to tell Moshe the big secret, so I brace myself to hear that he hasn’t noticed a thing. I’m careful not to rub it in his face (“Look at me, I’m such a hero!”), instead presenting it as my personal source of satisfaction.

Moshe laughs, and is clearly chagrined that he hasn’t pinpointed what’s up. “I noticed something different, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was!” he exclaims. “I was just so happy you were having such a great week and everything was going so smoothly for once!”

Without my preparatory pep talks, that might have burst my bubble, but now I’m genuinely glad to hear that he’s felt the positive change in the home’s climate. That’s what I’ve been hoping for; I don’t mind if he doesn’t identify the exact mechanism that produced it.

I can’t keep this up forever. It’s hard work! It’s also not realistic to not discuss problems with my husband; I need his support and ideas. The challenge will be to figure out how to do it in a constructive way, without negativity or self-pity.


My Takeaway

Our generation is very psychologically aware. We know all about how stress is bad and that repressing our emotions is toxic, and we’re super fond of the halachah that makes allowances for lashon hara in certain instances where venting is necessary.

I’m a product of that sort of thinking, so I was sure I’d be bursting by the end of the week. To my surprise, though, all the small annoyances I’d saved up actually dissipated. Everything was okay! By the end of the week, everything I’d been storing up to tell my husband turned out to be water under the bridge — Esti’s hysterics on the way to school on Tuesday morning just didn’t matter anymore.

All those clichés about the mother determining the atmosphere of the home? They turned out to be true. And it was easier than I expected to change.


I dare say: The Gemara says that in the times of Mashiach, the reshaim will cry when they see that the yetzer hara was only as thin as a hair, and will ask themselves, “How could we not have overcome it?” In the moment, the challenge feels impossibly hard, but then you look back, and see it wasn’t as huge as you thought.


My dare role model: Anyone who takes concrete steps to make herself a better person


Easy-peasy: Being self-aware of things I’d like to change. Actual change is much harder.


(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 590)

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