Languages of Love

September 16th, 2020 Posted by Ask the Rabbi 18 comments

My husband and I have a very good relationship with the exception of food.  I want to make dinner for him.  He says I am a good cook and he enjoys my cooking, he just doesn’t happen to be “in the mood” for whatever I happen to have prepared that day. 

I have begged him for menu suggestions, he says “Anything is fine,” so I give three or four suggestions none of which interest him.  I’ll ask him what he wants and stand there for an hour until he notices I’m still there and asks me if I’ve figured out dinner yet.  It has gotten to the point where he says, “Thoughts on dinner?” and I respond, “No.  I have no thoughts,” because I am so tired of being shot down. 

Last night I made a special soup that I haven’t made in a while.  He wanders into the kitchen and says, “That sounds really good, maybe with a sandwich.  Maybe a grilled cheese?”  I was excited that he actually made a suggestion, but then I discovered that the kids had finished off the bread so I brought him his soup and asked if a quesadilla would be an acceptable substitute for grilled cheese (I would have been happy to make the bread if I had discovered it was gone earlier).  He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed without even tasting the soup.  He wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter. 

I cried for an hour.  I don’t want to play this game anymore.  What do I do?

Andrea

Dear Andrea,

How awful you must feel as meal after meal is rejected. You are hurt and frustrated. If we are going to be of help to you, we encourage you to read our answer when you are alone, not pressed for time, and when you are in a calm and reflective mood. You see, we would like to suggest that you might be missing the forest for the trees and encourage you to reframe the situation. This will not be simple and for these reasons we urge you not to read further until our previously named conditions are met.

Welcome back! We are going to take you at your word that you and your husband have a very good relationship. If this wasn’t so, our answer would be coming from a different place.

But just to make sure we cover your question in its entirety, let us note that universally, men seek from their wives, both food and physical companionship.  In the Lord’s language, one root word, comprising the letters zayin-nun, allude to both food and physical intimacy.  Many men find food served by their beloved wife to be a completely more exhilarating experience than food served by the finest restaurant.  On dinner dates, I have learned that when the waiter departs after bringing a dish from which the diners are to help themselves, most men hope their female date will do the pouring or the serving. It just heightens the delightful tension.   Interestingly enough, in traditional Japanese culture,  the Geisha, a sort of idealized ultimate super-woman would be seen as exemplifying the ultimate in both food and feminine companionship although the intimate dimension was seldom emphasized or even spoken of as that would be crude.

Why do we even raise this? Because your question is so food-centric, and since ancient Hebrew wisdom tells of how both appetites tend to go together,  we would be remiss in not mentioning it.  We were a little struck by this sentence you used, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and he went to bed…”   You stayed behind crying. Needless to say, we’d have preferred to have read, “He said, “I can’t eat soup without a sandwich.  Oh well, don’t worry about it,” and WE went to bed…”  Are there many nights when HE goes to bed rather than WE do?  We do hope not. That would suggest we need a wider discussion of what may be going on

But if your marriage is indeed strong, your relationship is loving and respectful, and this is the issue that is causing a problem, then we are going to question some of your language.

You see, Andrea, you wrote that after the soup/quesadilla debacle your husband, “wasn’t mad or anything, just acted like it didn’t matter,” and went to bed. What if he wasn’t ‘acting like it didn’t matter,’ but it actually didn’t matter! For many of us food provides physical, spiritual, emotional and sensual pleasure. We get pleasure from different textures, colors and flavors. (Can you tell where most Lapins fall in this debate?) It is hard for us to believe that there are people in the world for whom food is…well, just food. They can take it or leave it.

My (Susan’s) father was one of these people. He would have been happy to have spaghetti with ketchup (no cheese, no fancy sauce, no side-dish) every other night and a plain brisket on the alternate evening. That too would be covered in ketchup at the table. Had my mother spent hours in the kitchen whipping up a delectable concoction, he would have pushed it around his plate and waited for plain spaghetti the next night. (Hmmm – note to daughter #1 whose teenage son’s eating habits are monotonousmaybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.) My mother was a decent cook but not an inspired one, so she made somewhat varied suppers for herself, my sister and me, but happily regularly reheated spaghetti or brisket for my father.

My husband on the other hand (Susan here again) truly appreciates my cooking. No matter how delicious a Shabbat bakery challah is, he rejoices in my homemade ones. He notices and savors the food I cook. Our daughters and I love trying new recipes and experimenting with flavors and, fortunately, many of our sons-in-law tend to the “foodie” side as well.

Your husband just may be more like my father. In Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages (if you haven’t read it, you should*) he says that people have different ways of seeking love and giving love. Sometimes, we try to give our loved ones what we want rather than what they need. For example, imagine that you love receiving flowers. They brighten up your day with their color, aroma and beauty. So, when your friend’s husband asks you what he can do to bring joy to his wife, you tell him, “Bring her flowers!” But your friend, while appreciative of the gesture, really wants her husband to put down his electronics and go for an evening walk with her. Time he spends with her is what she values. If he gives her flowers, he is unconsciously telling her that  he doesn’t really know her and what she craves. Your advice would be misguided and possibly harmful.

You are demanding that your husband make food his ‘love language.’ You want to cook for him and watch him appreciate the results. But that isn’t his area of satisfaction. Stop and think what he truly lights up about in your ‘very good relationship.’ Would he rather you spend less time in the kitchen and more time discussing the events of the day? Would he prefer that you express appreciation for the ways he helps around the house? What would make him happy? Food may be fuel for his body but no more than that. He truly doesn’t care what you make and will eat or not eat depending on his level of hunger, not the particular meal.

By all means, cook for your own pleasure and enjoy a varied menu with your children. But don’t go to bed (alone) crying because you are imagining that the man you married is rejecting and spurning you when he truly isn’t.

Happy explorations,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

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18 comments

Glenda says:

After my husband and I were married, we had a similar issue. If I made something, he might say, I am not in the mood for that. We had both been single (happily) for many years and had a long engagement so lots of meals out.. He was very self sufficient, one of the things I loved about him. So, I was fine with it with only a little guilt. Turns out our work schedules over the years and my health issues later made meals his thing. And, 20 years later, we are very happy with each other. I find myself thankful every day, that God knew what I would need! ( He is packing my lunch for the day right now )

Cathy Hieb says:

Good Day All! I, too, had that issue with my husband and unknown to us he had a medical issue. Once the doctor discovered the medical issue – anemia – and ordered iron supplements, my husband is almost back to eating just about anything I put in front of him! Although he doesn’t like plain spaghetti (ha-ha) there are other foods that he could eat every day and be quite satisfied! I do try to cook for his pleasure and I cook food that he likes even though I may not.

Deborah Christensen says:

This was my initial thought – that she needs to have her husband go to a doctor to check for a medical issue! Something could be wrong that he is not wanting the nutrition his body needs.

Hope R. says:

Communication is so important. He first requested soup along with a sandwich, he then went to bed without eating, he must have been hungry. I cannot imagine sleeping on an empty stomach. I have observed and asked about different cultures and food, savory food is such an enjoyment. In the Caribbean, food is a big deal. On Sundays, it is a must that they have a nice meal, well prepared with Carrot Juice. Sometimes Beetroot is added to the Carrot Juice. Nutritious and very tasteful! I think Andrea should observe more of what her husband likes, it is possible that she is more focused on the children because they are so young. It also could be that her husband is a bit immature in that area, he asked for something and you don’t get the full course so it is nothing at all. I have met people that will never eat a sandwich without cheese. O life, o life!

Linda Smith says:

I think everyone has missed the fact that she called it a game. Her husband may be one of those people that are gameplayers. My husband was like that in the beginning. I don’t understand it or why some people are like that. I had to make it very clear to him that I was not going to play his games. I am not a psychiatrist, but my experience is these people are also the ones who live double lives.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Linda–
Thanks for your interesting letter. When wives decide to “make it very clear” to their husbands in the tone of voice that making it very clear usually carries, the results can be very unpredictable. Not every man takes his wife making it very clear to him lying down. We are cautious in recommending wives take this approach. Happy to hear it worked for you and your husband.
Cordially
RDL

Sebastian says:

I don’t see what kind of game you are talking about.
Can you please elaborate?

Jean says:

I think what she really means is that the husband appears to be passive-aggressive. The wife is asking for clear direction – the husband provides some vague information, and then slams the door shut when the wife hasn’t explicitly read his mind to know exactly what he meant when he said….. It’s a form of control, and it always puts the husband into the “win” position because he is controlling the dialogue, the moves and the outcomes (wife is always wrong.) It also paints him as the “hero” so that later he can complain, “My wife just doesn’t understand me!” And if this is the pattern in the household, I have to question the premise that this is a “good marriage” but for mealtime.

Susan Lapin says:

Jean, we decided to take the writer at her word that they have a good marriage other than on this issue. If she sees more truth in your comment, then that will be a big step for her to take.

MCarter says:

I am a man married to a great woman. 9 years now. Food is not a big deal for me. In fact for years I ate one meal a day and I lead a very active lifestyle. That being said. I would suggest to her “sit down without any distractions and no timeline. Ask him what he really appreciates or makes him feel appreciated”. He may be honest and open or say something that is mildly candid. I know for the first years of our marriage I had a hard time asking for what I wanted. It was painful almost. If you ask, and you really want to know, and they don’t take the opportunity to tell you there’s not much you can do besides be patient, pray and love. I think one of the most amazing things I’ve learned in marriage is it takes time to understand another person and through the years that person actually changes.

Mark says:

Rabbi and Susan Lapin — Maybe your advice is correct. You certainly have more experience with such problems than I do. However, it quite forcibly strikes me that the husband’s behavior is extraordinarily passive aggressive. It seems designed to hurt his wife, consciously or unconsciously, whether he is interested in food or not. Even if he doesn’t care about meals, why not show any awareness and appreciation for the trouble his wife goes to? Why not at least try to explain his apparent insensitivity to both food and the care she puts into creating meals for him? He seems remarkably indifferent not only to food, but to his wife as well. I feel bad for her. I was taught as a child to eat what was put in front of me—or at least some of it—if only to show thanks for the person who prepared the food. Isn’t that principle true in a marriage, perhaps even more so? Or am I being unrealistic?

Rabbi Daniel Lapin says:

Dear Mark–
Thanks for such a thoughtful letter. Had her husband written to us, much of what you say would have found its way into our answer to him. But he didn’t write. She did.
Cordially
RDL

Lloyd Lowe says:

Esteemed Rabbi and Susan, I read Gary Chapman’s book, “The Five Love Languages” shortly after I married Beautiful and it taught me things that saved us both. (Such as don’t give her any type of cleaning utensil as a gift, ever!) Learning her language was fun and it turns out that I love speaking it! I highly recommend that book even these nearly forty years later. And thank you again for all the other tidbits of wisdom.

Cheri says:

I got a great deal out of this discussion. Cooking has never provided me with a great deal of joy, and And I am only tolerably good at it. This discussion has brought up a whole bunch of issues that I need to discuss with my husband. Maybe, even after 46 years, we can still learn some things about each other.

Susan Lapin says:

Cheri, you and your husband are young as long as you are growing.

VeeEm says:

Something seems to be amiss here. Andrea states that her husband says she’s a good cook and he enjoys her cooking. That’s telling me that at some point in time in their marriage he has eaten the food she cooks, and enjoyed it too. She goes on to say that she’s tired of him shooting down her thoughts about dinner. If he really does enjoy her cooking, his suggestions aren’t really necessary; welcoming and helpful maybe, but not necessary. Simply because he enjoys her cooking; whether he suggests what she cooks or not. She’s also not just cooking for him, but for their children too, so maybe she should ask what he thinks she should cook not only for him, but something their children will also enjoy. I don’t know how long Andrea and her husband have been married, but my husband knows me well enough to know that I like to eat chocolate cake with a glass of ice-cold milk; otherwise, I’ll pass on the cake. I’m just wondering if at anytime during their dating relationship, or their marriage, Andrea had any idea that her husband won’t eat soup without a sandwich. After all, husbands and wives get to know each other pretty well during their marriage. Andrea said she didn’t want to play this ‘food’ game anymore. Just how long has the situation been going on? I understand the wife wrote and not the husband, I get it, but something happened to cause an apparent change, and only Andrea may or may not know what, if anything, happened. He went to bed, she cried for an hour. Sounds like a lack of communication, and communication is vital in a marriage. May their good relationship be strengthened.

John Thomas Themalil says:

Dear Rev Rabbi & Susan Lapin, we wish you
לשנה טובה ומתוקה L’Shana Tova u’methukah
– A good and sweet Rosh HaSHana
John & Family
Bangalore
India
Yes, Rabbi, we’re waiting for your highly recommended Hebrew/English Bible. Our son, Dr. Milind placed an oreder with Amazon

Susan Lapin says:

Thank you so much for your lovely wishes. May this year (5781) bring health, prosperity, peace and joy to the world.

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