Some needs are incompatible. We need to ensure that they all get addressed some of the time
“You know I can’t stand your mother. We already went to her three months ago. I’m not in the mood to go again so soon.”
“Why can’t we have nosh in the house? I like a snack once in a while. I know you’re on this health kick but I think it’s a bit extreme and the kids should at least be able to have a Shabbos party.”
“But I really need to get away every six months — I just need a break. Travel is important to me and we need time for ourselves. The kids will survive for a few days at their grandparents!”
Who Makes the Rules?
The way decisions are made in a marriage strongly affects the emotional quality of that relationship. We all want our spouse to be flexible, open to suggestion, ready to compromise. Making decisions with such a person is an easy, comfortable, and respectful process, one that strengthens the marital bond. No one likes a partner who is stubborn, rigid, or controlling. Trying to make decisions with a “brick wall” is not only unpleasant, it is also invalidating — making it seem like there is only one right way.
When one partner’s voice is squelched, the other might feel temporarily satisfied to have gotten his or her way. However, as the domineering dynamic continues throughout the years, the costs of that momentary satisfaction begin to soar; the silenced spouse often backs up so far that he or she is no longer emotionally connected.
Criteria for Decision-Making
How many times a year should Dovid have to visit Rachel’s parents when he really doesn’t like her mom? In order to answer the question, Dovid has to know what his goals are. Here are some of his possible choices:
Notice that some of these choices are incompatible. For instance, making one’s marriage as strong as possible is often inconsistent with making one’s life as easy as possible. The marriage will be happier and stronger if spouses help each other do the physical work of caring for a home, but doing that work is not as easy as not doing it.
So to answer the question of how many visits to make to Rachel’s parents, Dovid has to decide what his priorities are. He knows that more frequent visits are very important to Rachel. He can make her happy and increase his marital happiness as well by agreeing to go more often. However, that may not be as important to him as feeling safe and comfortable. If he decides to look after himself, he may have to pay the price of less marital happiness. It’s up to him.
Winners and Losers
What about the woman who truly values the health and wellbeing of her family? She wants them to avoid candy and other unhealthy foods but her family wants the occasional nosh. If she refuses to allow it in the house, her husband and children will be unhappy. She must decide what is most important to her: her family’s physical health or their happiness. Flexible partners usually realize that most matters are not “black or white.” The occasional bit of junk food will probably not seriously derail a predominantly healthy eating style. Is the woman willing to be flexible? Or would she rather “stick by her guns” and deal with a displeased family?
Then there’s the man who needs a vacation with his wife every six months. His wife says that a short trip once a year is good enough, claiming that this is all that “normal” people take. The couple spend a fair amount of time arguing about the definition of “normal” before giving up in frustration. In this case, both husband and wife must assess their priorities. How important is it to make the spouse happy? How important is it to take care of one’s own needs? In marriage, both of these goals are usually important. However, if one always chooses to take care of one’s own needs, there will be negative repercussions on the relationship. If one always choose to take care of the spouse’s needs, there will also be negative repercussions on the relationship, since extreme self-sacrifice eventually backfires. Again, flexibility is the key.
Although it’s easy to tell if one’s spouse is inflexible, it may be harder to assess one’s own flexibility. Ask your spouse how you’re doing on this trait — and trust the answer you receive.