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heri and Yaakov had their twins less than a year after they married. They were ecstatic. Not long after, they welcomed another son, then a daughter, and then another boy. Sheri stopped working when the twins were born, and since the others came in rapid succession, she was never able to return to her job; the cost of childcare made it prohibitive. Neither she nor Yaakov “came from money” and Yaakov had to support his growing family on his own.

Yaakov was happy to fulfill this obligation, but it meant working long hours. He was seldom home. Meanwhile, Sheri carried the full responsibility of childcare and homemaking on her frail shoulders. While she had always wanted a family, she never realized how exhausting it could be. She was one of only three children and her mother had been able to maintain a fulfilling career while raising her family. Sheri was stuck at home with (often difficult) children and felt like she was slowly losing her mind.

Sheri: “I can never get ahead. There are piles of laundry everywhere and I’m happy if those are clean piles! It’s the same with dishes — they may be washed on a good day but I never have time to put them back in the cabinets. There are toys all over the floor, groceries waiting to be unpacked… it’s total chaos here. My priority is the kids; I’m very hands-on with them. Another priority is healthy meals and that takes a lot of my time. The kids need to be fed, bathed, put to bed — it all falls on me.

“Yaakov leaves early and comes home late. He’s always working or learning or davening, doing what he needs to do. I get it. But by the time he shows up, I’m a wreck and he’s not much better. We can’t even talk to each other. I hand him the baby and a bottle, and then I go take care of the other kids.

“Yaakov acts like it’s unreasonable that he has to help when he comes home. He talks about his long day and how he needs a break — like I don’t! We constantly argue and I can’t remember the last time we had a normal conversation. If we didn’t have kids, we’d be divorced in a flash. Both of us feel trapped.”

 

All Work and No Play

Sheri and Yaakov are leading the ideal life; raising a family, building a Jewish home. Why does it feel so hard and unsatisfying?

One reason is that neither spouse is thriving. Both are sleep-deprived, exercise-deprived, and downtime-deprived. Their bodies and minds are stressed to the limit. When evening comes, each is desperate for relief and is eager for the other person to provide it.

Yaakov imagines that his wife will be waiting for him at the table with a warm dinner and a sweet smile, but instead comes home to a ragged and irritable version of the woman who was once his happy bride. Sheri counts on her husband to take over for an hour, to give her the mental space and physical rest she so badly needs, but finds that he only begrudgingly helps with a small task that reduces her load by a mere fraction.

Each resents the other. Each feels abandoned, neglected, and unappreciated. They enter a downward spiral of anger, disconnect, and hurt and neither knows the way out.

What this home needs is a serious dose of positive energy. Imagine Yaakov entering his home saying something like, “Hello, beautiful mother of my beautiful children! I can’t believe you’re still standing up — you must be so exhausted. You work so hard and do such an amazing job. Did I ever tell you that I think you are the most amazing woman in the world?”

Imagine if Sheri responded, “And you’re the best husband ever! I’m so glad you’re home! How did it go today? Do you want to chat after you give the baby his bottle?”

Can you see how dialogues of this sort can help them despite their individual stresses and challenges?

Burnout, fatigue, and overwhelm are caused by too much to do combined with too much negativity and insufficient positivity. Even if the workload can’t be reduced, couples can make it through these challenging years by routinely speaking loving words to each other. The resulting influx of positivity will strengthen both the individuals and their marriage. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 618)