Listening to the podcast of being one’s authentic self, a question arises that is too often ignored and probably of the most important to consider in marriage. What takes priority in marriage when you want to compromise and avoid conflict? What takes precedence over the other—is it the spouse, God, religion, community, kids, job or personal needs like health?
The expectation of serving God can mean to each spouse something different. Each faith has its cultural deeds that can sometimes overwhelm the marriage. The kids can sometimes pull the strings by trying to get their way. The community can sometimes take more of a family than they should. The job can place unrealistic demands: work on a holiday, stay late, not attend to the wife, going to the doctor, etc. Then there are personal needs like health issues, preferences, conveniences etc. The idea is that everything is equally important and there needs to be a point where both sides know what gives or takes to avoid conflict and guilt trips. What is the priority in marriage?
What if the husband’s job is offering a bonus that would increase the yearly salary by 15%. The downside is that the man would be home less to spend time with the wife and kids. But the bump in the salary is really necessary, the tuitions for the kids are skyrocketing, there is not enough food on the table. This 15% is more than enough to make up the deficit. What gives way?
There has to be a principle of recognizing, do I want to be right or do I want to be married? Because both might not be possible!
Your question sits at the crux of our 5F principle— that one must balance the five fundamental areas of life: family, faith, finances, friendships, and fitness. We wrote an ebook (available for free) precisely on that topic. More specifically, you are recognizing that marriage involves two individuals, which means that achieving balance is usually not done as an individual, but rather as a couple.
You present us with a number of examples relating to religious principles and finances among other areas. It isn’t our place to tell you what to do, rather, we would like to offer a path for you and your wife to approach issues such as these.
Let’s start with your financial question. Interestingly enough, many years ago when we started a school, we instituted a monthly class for parents. At one of those, we passed out slips of paper and asked each participant to write down how many days of the month he or she thought it would be worthwhile for the husband to travel if it resulted in a doubling of salary. While it wasn’t a surprise to us, many of those in the room were shocked to discover how far apart were the answers of the women and the men.
The discrepancy wasn’t due to either of the couple not valuing marriage and family or not appreciating money. The number of days written down was unimportant; what mattered was the missing conversation with a sharing of hopes, worries, and realities that each spouse had.
It is hard for us to believe that if the question is between children going hungry and travel, anyone would choose hunger. But, of course, the question is usually not so stark. As in so much else, communication is key. First of all, husband and wife have to have the same facts in front of them. If only one spouse deals with paying bills, the other one might have no idea that there is stress in meeting the obligations. Both need to know what money comes in and what goes out. Decisions have to be made with dollars and cents put down in black and white, not with nebulous sentiments.
Less factual, is what each spouse values. You wrote your question to us from your perspective. We don’t need to know what your wife thinks, but you certainly do. And she needs to understand your thoughts. The enemy of a good marriage is assuming that we know what is important to the other person. With inflation rampant, many of us are going to have to make difficult financial decisions. One option might be increased time on the road, but there are always other options to weigh up against that. Some may sound far-fetched, such as moving to a community with lower cost-of-living or home-schooling rather than private schools, but both spouses should feel comfortable throwing out different ideas. This is a decision to be reached together, not to be imposed by one spouse on the other. Start thinking of the marriage as an important entity which both husband and wife are committed to nurturing and sustaining.
You gave another example that had to do with husbands and wives who develop very different views of religious and ethical duties. Although you both probably entered the marriage based on both being on the same page, everyone can grow and also stumble over the years. Where we need to agree is on standards for the home, especially if there are children. However, each man and woman has to establish and grow his or her own relationship with God. Two people, even if they are married do not necessarily grow at the same pace. The key here is mutual respect and being more concerned with the marriage and the other person than with, “What will people say?” or “We’ve always done it like this.” If we are not talking of a major issue, then we would broadly generalize that even if we disapprove of a decision of our spouse, we separate that from disapproving of the person.
Y.W., our hope when we published our ebook The Holistic You was not that we would provide a formula that could be easily followed. It was that readers would make a regular time to measure the heartbeat of their lives and make sure that they were taking all 5Fs into account. Sometimes that means demoting one and elevating another. However, it also means setting regular times to get together and reassess. We encourage you and your wife to speak more openly and share your dreams and fears more intimately. Only then can the two of you make the best decisions for yourselves as a couple as well as individually.
Wishing you success,
Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin
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