Sailing Relationships with R’ Ali

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QUESTION:  

Dear Rabbi Ali, 

I would appreciate some advice regarding my marriage. My wife and I have a great relationship and a wonderful family. However, we have one disagreement that brings so much frustration to the marriage.  

Holiday time is very tense. She doesn’t like going to my parents or
siblings for the holidays, and wants to go only to her family. It becomes a fight every
holiday and it would be great if you could give me a solution.  

Thank you in advance. 

R’ ALI’S RESPONSE: 

I will try, with Hashem’s help, to give you some ideas that work for many people I counsel who are in a similar situation. I assume from your question that during the year your relationship is great and that arguments and fights are not a constant in your home. That is something to be grateful for, as there are many couples who would love to say that things are great.  

The following is a very successful formula. It will take some patience and persistence but is well worth the effort. 

The first thing you should do is to discuss the holiday issue when it is a non-issue. With most disagreements, we debate the issue when it comes up. Of course, we can’t predict when a disagreement will come up, however when an issue is ongoing disagreements are predictable.  

Discussing the issue when things are tense will not help. When you do address the issue, make sure it is an opportune time to talk about something serious. A good opportunity could be when you are on an outing or a walk, or when your spouse is in a good mood. Sometimes people get frustrated when their spouse brings up an issue when the issue is not current. Another thing that people do not like is the infamous line, “We need to talk.” Do not say that, instead, just say let’s go out and relax. 

The last part, which is the most important, is how you bring it up. Mention how you know she doesn’t mean any harm by not going to your parents and you do realize how hard it is. You can even give some examples to show you understand why she feels she does not want to go to your family members. Some people tell me that they find this part very hard. They just feel like saying, “Is it so hard for you to do something for me?!”  Please understand, just because something may be easy for you, does not make it easy for someone else. We will never be able to fully comprehend how hard or easy something is for another. This is the true meaning of not judging people until you are in their shoes. We should never say, “It should not be hard for you.” That is not incorrect and shows a lack of sensitivity.
 

After your introduction, you can mention to your wife how it would mean so much to you if she went to your parents for a meal or for a holiday. Ask her if she would at least think it over. By doing this, she feels heard and understood and will be more inclined to go to your side for the holidays. When people feel heard they feel free and invigorated. Also, by putting the ball in her court you are accomplishing something else. By doing so, she will not feel controlled or forced. No one likes that feeling, even if they are not told directly, “You must do what I want.”
 

If she does come back with some type of compromise, let her know how much that means to you and how grateful you are. We tend to think that children are the ones who thrive on positive reinforcement. The truth is, all human beings thrive on positive reinforcement. When your wife hears how you are appreciative, she will be most probably be happy to go and will likely want to go again.  

I know it’s a lot of steps, however, this way of communicating is proven to work. You may need some guidance how to approach the subject properly or how to come up with a “Plan B” in the event that she says absolutely not.  

To conclude, fighting over the situation should be ruled out as an “option” or as a “Plan B.” Many times, we just do what feels natural due to a lack of other options. Do not fall into that trap. And as I tell all of my clients, do not forget to pray to Hashem for assistance with your marriage, as we do with every other aspect of our lives.