During a few appearances in California recently, I found myself counseling three sincere and newly married young rabbis. They had all enjoyed the good fortune of marrying lovely young women deeply devoted to religious ideals along with an eager willingness to adopt the mission of being rabbis’ wives.
It turned out that all three were experiencing the same mild marital problem and it was resolved for all of them with exactly the same directive. It’s one my wife and I dubbed “The 3-A challenge for men”. I directed these three well-meaning newlyweds to create regular opportunities to make themselves authentically feel and then tell their wives how much they Appreciate them, Adore them, and Admire them.
Please don’t for a moment think that my three young men meekly acquiesced to my instruction. They didn’t. They insisted that their wives knew how they felt. They insisted that such spiritual wives as they were blessed to have would see such compliments as mere flattery. Again, I patiently explained that unless they took the time and effort to really feel deep appreciation, adoration, and admiration for their wives, saying it would be nothing but flattery. Furthermore, I insisted, their wives were entitled to husbands who really felt that way about them. Furthermore, a great many wives, unless told, tend to doubt the esteem in which their husbands hold them.
Two of the three have already expressed profound, and in one case almost tearful appreciation to me, assuring me that I couldn’t possibly have any idea of what a tremendous difference this simple instruction has so quickly already made in their marital relationships. I’m sure I’ll soon hear from the third guy as well.
Husbands are usually astounded when I explain how common it is for a wife who is not assured of her husband’s affection to begin suspecting she is disliked or worse. Here’s how I know:
If a man has two wives, one beloved, and another hated…
After reading that verse from Deuteronomy, anyone with even a rudimentary familiarity with the Bible will remember the following story:
…and he [Jacob] loved Rachel more than Leah…
And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated…
(Genesis 29: 30-31)
There aren’t many characters in Genesis who married two wives. There is only one who married two wives, one of whom felt hated while the other felt loved and cherished; his name was Jacob.
Our Deuteronomy verses teach that when a man’s ‘hated’ wife gives birth to his son and later his beloved wife does the same, he may not favor the son of the loved wife over the boy’s older brother. Yet, this is exactly what Jacob did. Jacob’s wife Leah gave birth to Reuben and much later, his beloved wife Rachel gave birth to Joseph. Jacob displayed favoritism towards Joseph which stimulated years of enmity between his sons.
Not surprisingly for those of us who treasure the Bible as God’s blueprint for living, the word SeNuAH (hated) occurs only twice in the Five Books of Moses; once in the story of Jacob and his wives and the other in the legislation against favoring a younger son found in Deuteronomy. Clearly we are being taught to link the story to the legislation. Though God had not yet formally prohibited favoring a younger son over the first-born in Jacob’s time, it was still a very bad idea.
There’s another vital lesson we’re being taught. Note that Scripture never even suggests that Jacob hated Leah. We are only told that Jacob loved Rachel more. Nonetheless, while Rachel basked in the knowledge of his love for her, Leah felt hated. Indeed, God accepted that she was hated in a way that perhaps Jacob himself was oblivious to. I can be closer to one sibling, cousin or friend more than to another one and yet they and I know that I love them too. That is not so in marriage. And this isn’t only true for multiple wives. Women can feel hated when they see their husbands seeming more passionate about work, sports or other people than they are about them.
Most women intuitively understand that their husbands need physical reassurance of being loved. Fewer men realize that their wives need, and deserve, emotional reassurance of being loved, expressed in words and actions. While courting their wives, most men understand the value of positive words and gestures like flowers. I’m delighted that my young rabbis learned at an early stage of their marriages that those tangible signs of adoration, appreciation and admiration are a lifetime commitment.
P.S. Is it time to buy your wife some summer beach reading? May we suggest two fun and thought-provoking books that are on sale? Check out Judy Gruen’s The Skeptic and the Rabbi: Falling in Love with Faith and Susan and my collection from our popular Ask the Rabbi column, Dear Rabbi and Susan: 101 Real-Life Ask the Rabbi Questions.