As a public service, the Five Towns Jewish Times and Yeshiva World News have provided readers with a transcript of Agudath Yisroel’s video-taped message about Shalom Bayis from Moreinu HaRav Shmuel Kamenetsky Shlita and Dr. David Pelcovitz. The message was initiated by the United Task Force on Children and Families which represents 25 frum organizations dedicated to the welfare of Klal Yisroel. The Five Towns Jewish Times and Yeshiva World News are proud to help present this transcript. The tape was transcribed by Rabbi Yair Hoffman.
HaRav Shmuel Kaminetsky Shlita:
The summer days, when the mother and the children are in the country, and the the men come to the community, to the city, they’re so away from home. The lady works so hard all the time for the children.
When the husband comes home for the weekend and he’s very tired because he worked by himself, he was by himself, and then he forgets about his family. The man has to realize that he had left his wife with the children, and it was now completely her responsibility to raise the children all week. When it comes to the weekend, he has to ensure that his wife is very happy. He cannot forget about that. He cannot just think about himself. He may feel he came for the summer vacation, but it’s not so.
The responsibility of a man is that he has to feel that the responsibility of his home- is to keep the home together. A person has to feel that he has to help – as much as he [possibly] can.
Many, many times, the summertime creates such a wild separation in our home, which is horrible. When a man is in the city, he should go to learn a little bit, he should utilize his time well. But at the same time he has to realize, the man has to realize when he comes home for the weekend that he has to feel that he has a family, [he must also feel] his responsibility for the family. It is my bracha that we should of see that the family is together. Shleimus HaMishpacha that is of utmost importance, family unity.
Dr. David Pelcowitz:
For those who have a summer lifestyle marked by, let’s say the husband staying in the city while the wife and children are in the country, I wanted to make a few core points about making sure that it becomes a period of time that strengthens the marriage, rather than, chas v’shalom, causing any weakening of husband and wife, parents and children, having any kind of weakening in their relationship.
FROM THREAT TO CHALLENGE
First point I wanted to make is about going from threat to challenge. Any time that somebody views any part of their lives as a challenge, a positive challenge, it helps create a mindset that could be extremely helpful. When it comes to the summer, the challenge is how to make the time that husbands and wives are apart into an opportunity, not a danger. Into a chance to actually strengthen the relationship. And there are a few short points I wanted to make about that.
STAYING IN TOUCH
Number one is that it’s extremely important to stay in touch during the week, to figure out a way to continue to talk, to continue to show interest in each other, to continue to connect about what’s going on. But also the different and more relaxed nature of a summer schedule allows for goal setting, allows for both husband and wife to take a step back and look at goals. Psychology research shows something very interesting, that every time we take a step back and we look at our goals, our goals in a marriage, our goals as parents, our goals as Jews, when we take the time to do that – it actually makes for higher happiness levels and better relationships. As it says in Mishei (29:18), “b’ain chazon yepara am” – without that vision – we tend to grow apart from what we cherish.
WRITING ABOUT GOALS
Listen to this research study: They take a group of people, they have them spend 20 minutes a day three days in a row just writing about what are your goals over the next 10 years. Where do you want to be in terms of the best possible outcome for your marriage, for your family, for your profession, for your place in the world – as an individual and as a member of the community?
You know what happens when you take that time to just get in touch with your goals? Two things. Your happiness levels go up and it makes it more likely that you’ll realize those goals.
So that’s take home message number one: it’s to use some of the extra time available during the summer to take a step back and to check in with each other and check in with yourselves about where you’re going. My favorite way of thinking about this are the three questions that Yaakov told his family as he’s preparing them for the fateful meeting with Aisav. He says, “Here are the three questions you have to be prepared to address: who are you, where are you going, and what are you going to do with what you have?”
And the summer is a good time to think about it, especially because you’re apart from each other sometimes – for a number of days at a time.
I heard a beautiful thought that the Piazesner said in the name of the Baal Shem Tov. He said, “One of the ways of reading the words v’avadetem mehairah that we say a few times every day in krias shma is get rid of the rush in your life. So that’s the first point, it’s the power of taking a place of stillness in your life to ask yourself those questions, to think about who are you, where are you going, what do you want to do with what you have? It’s not surprising to hear that study after study shows that families that value those kind of periods of cheshbon hanefesh bain adam l’atzmo but also between husband and wife are stronger, deal better with the stresses in life down the road. And I see the summer as a wonderful opportunity to do that both when you’re apart and when you’re together.
“TURNING TOWARD” IN A MARRIAGE
Second main point I wanted to focus on is just the focus of turning towards. John Mordecai Gottman who’s one of the leading marital therapists in the world gave a talk to a group of rabbonim, about 300 rabbonim. And I was lucky to be at the talk and he spent two days teaching the basics of how to help couples with shalom bayis issues. And of all the things he did in those two days with rabbonim who were there tell me every time I see them is they say, “You know what made a big difference in my life? Two words that Dr. Gottman talked about, and the rabbonim talked about it making it different in their marriage, “turning towards.”
WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWED
He showed a video tape of couples who spend a week in his laboratory at University of Washington where he looks at couples and tries to video tape them in the public areas of their apartments and give them feedback on their marriages. And he shows a point that most of us don’t notice. It’s a couple in one of the apartments sitting down for breakfast, husband is reading the paper sipping on his coffee, and the wife is looking out of the window at the beautiful lake on the University of Washington campus. She turns towards him and says, “Aren’t we lucky to be able to spend the week here working on our marriage?” And he says, “Uh huh,” and goes back to sipping his coffee and reading the newspaper article.
POINT OF CHOICE
What Gottman finds is that point is a moment of choice, a nekudas habechirah – the point of choice in a marriage that makes all the difference. It’s easy to fix. When she says to him and turns towards him to have a serious discussion he has a choice, either to go back to the newspaper article or to say to himself, “There’s nothing more important in my life now than to turn towards my wife and talk to her about something that’s important. There’s nothing more important than that aspect of our relationship.”
The newspaper article will wait. And maybe it’s not so important altogether.
He finds when couples make that small shift in their relationship – marriages can improve tremendously. That’s turning towards in a marriage and can make a real difference. It’s easy to fix and it’s easy to use your time both apart and together during the summer to work on that component.
YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON WITH OTHERS
Then the third and final point I want to make is about something that I’ve heard over and over again from people during the summer. During the summer very often you’re spending a lot of time in a more relaxed atmosphere being exposed to other families and other couples. And I often hear from both women and men who end up in my office who complain about how much better the marriage of their friends seem to be. “Why can’t you treat me like this husband treats my friend? Why can’t you be relaxed and more easygoing with me like I see in the marriages of my friends?” There’s a lot of more together time with friends than members of the community in the relaxed and casual atmosphere of a bungalow colony or vacation home.
I just want to tell you one point about this and with that we’ll end. And that’s that you never know what’s really going on in somebody’s home. It’s never helpful to compare yourself to others. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people in my office sitting down and talking about how, “If only I could have a marriage like this man and this woman,” and I have to bite my tongue because I know that later on that day I’m gonna be seeing that couple that they admire so much to see if maybe we could salvage their marriage and prevent a divorce.
You never know what to wish for.
USE THE SUMMER MONTHS AS AN OPPORTUNITY
And the answer here is to maybe use these summer months as a time to use the absence as an opportunity to have hakaras hatov – to think about what positive you get from your wife, what positive you get from your husband.
You know what the research shows? That if you spend just a few minutes every day or at least a number of times a week deliberately reminding yourself of what it is that you love and admire and are grateful for in your spouse – it actually makes a shift in the shalom bayis in the relationship.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So to pull it all together, the summer could become a time of “not danger” but a “time of opportunity” – a time of not threat but of challenge.
And if you keep in mind maybe these three pointers of using at a time to answer the questions of what are your goals, what do you want to work on, what do you want to improve, what do you want to make your priorities, to remember the “avad’tem mehaira.” To remember the power of turning towards and that nekudas habechira. And to remember the importance and central aspect of hakaras hatov – to be grateful for what we have, the summer could become a time of tremendous growth and strengthening of our marriages, our families, and our community.
L’zaicher nishmas Reb Shlomo Eliezer Ben haRav Yaakov
The transcriber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org