Then on pages 3-4, Rav Miller explains why the idea of romance has no place in a Jewish marriage.
Profound, abiding, unconditional love? YES.
Goodness, empathy, and compassion? YES.
He explains that in all his years as a rav (which included tons of marriage counseling), he consistently saw the following dynamic:
The chatan or kallah is thrilled with his or her intended and enthusiastic about the wonderful middot of the potential spouse.
Then sometime after the wedding, reality sets in and one sees all the problematic middot of the other person.
As Rav Miller notes (page 5):
She imagined him to be Prince Charming, but now she calls me on the telephone almost every week about this problem he’s making and that problem.
She’s not so impressed with his middos anymore.
And it's meant to.
Yes, you are marrying someone with the potential for greatness.
But you are also marrying a real person.
And no one is perfect except Hashem.
Everyone has potential for greatness.
And everyone has flaws.
As Rav Miller explains:
You settle down to real living, real marriage, and then you begin seeing things you didn’t expect.
You’re marrying a human being after all, someone who has certain important elements of greatness in him — every person has greatness in him — but you must expect ordinary characteristics, too.
That’s why it’s important to issue a clarion call to all the girls and boys:
Do not live in a world of make believe!
Don't imagine that marriage is the answer to your quest for happiness!
Because you know what’s going to happen? You're going to discover it is not.
You're going to end up crashing on the rocks of life.
NEWSFLASH: Loyalty to a Spouse Supersedes Loyalty to Parents
You still maintain your relationship and you still honor them.
But it means your loyalty changes.
This means that you never confide your spouse's flaws in your parents.
This means that if your wife finds hosting your parents too difficult, you side with your wife—no matter how much your parents insist on coming.
Yes, you turn down your parents in the nicest, most apologetic way possible (without implying blame on your spouse).
But your loyalty is to your spouse, not your parents.
Rav Miller says all this on page 5.
Later, on pages 6-8, Rav Miller details this more.
You must not allow others to denigrate your spouse, both behind their back and in front of them.
This includes parents.
By the way, Rav Miller is one of the only people I've ever heard say this so straight-forwardly from a halachic point of view.
Like my peers, I first started attending shalom bayit classes & reading shalom bayit books when I got married over 20 years ago.
Eager & idealistic, we all did this in sync.
Telling wives to stand up to their own parents in favor of their husband? Yes.
There were even stories of rabbis who told couples to cut off all contact with the wife's difficult mother.
But never the husband's difficult mother or father.
Nope. If it was his parents, then it becomes a shalom-destroying free-for-all.
It's true that the halacha is different in that a husband maintains an obligation to honor his parents after marriage, while a wife is exempt (though she must still treat her parents respectfully, of course) because it is absolutely too much to ask of her with all her wifely & maternal responsibilities.
Yet that difference in no way grants a free pass to the husband and his parents to denigrate the wife, or to make demands on the couple, and so on.
Initially, I was shocked when I saw how often the husband's mother or father played a part in shalom bayit problems, even when it led to divorce.
Even more shocking, I initially felt bad for parents whose son withheld a get—only to discover that THEY were the ones encouraging him to make problems with the get!
(I think MAYBE this could be why the Israeli Rabbinate denied burial to the mother of a get-withholder; maybe they cottoned on to the fact that she was pulling strings behind the scenes? I don't know, but it's interesting that they penalized the mother's burial to deal with the son. Would they have done so if she'd been a wholly innocent party? Not sure.)
Don't these people care about their grandchildren, at least? I wondered to myself. Aren't they concerned about their own grandchildren growing up with parents who don't get along or growing up as children of divorce?
Yes, I also saw couples in which the wife's mother caused problems, but like I said, advisors were willing to criticize that and tell the wife to stop enabling it.
At one point, I felt very confused because it looked like yes, a husband's parents may behave however badly they wish and make any demands on their son & daughter-in-law...even if it leads to the couple's divorce.
Does kibud av v'eim trump shalom bayit, even if it leads to divorce? I wondered. Is honoring parents more important that keeping a marriage together, even if young children are involved?
That sure didn't seem right to me, but I couldn't deny what I was observing & hearing.
Even asking rabbis elicited no answer (because they weren't "real" rabbis, which most of my BT friends & I didn't know existed back then, but Rav Miller & the great Chassidic Rebbes & the Kli Yakar not only acknowledged their existence, but also warned against such "rabbis").
Certainly, most people I know have decent marriages.
But it was hard to watch the ones struggling with a difficult husband whose parents played an active role in the fierce arguments that occurred in front of young children ONLY because of in-law incitement.
Anyway, all this caused me to nearly fall off my chair when I first read the Pele Yoetz.
In the section on in-laws, he wrote that even if their son's wife is evil & difficult, they must be very careful "not to make their yoke heavy upon her."
Furthermore, he insisted that not only must the husband's parents refrain from revealing any of her bad points to others, they must davka praise her to others & make sure that others view her with respect.
Please note that the Pele Yoetz speaks about bad qualities that actually exist in the daughter-in-law. Despite her being literally "ra'ah" and "kashat ruach," parents-in-law are still not allowed to complain & gossip about the awful daughter-in-law to others.
All the more so, if the parents-in-law spread actual lies & bear tales of exaggerated "faults" of a decent daughter-in-law.
Then he insisted that the parents of the husband must "guard their souls" against bad-mouthing the wife to the husband (their son) "lest they awaken resentment in his heart against her, and he comes to hate her."
Well, golly gee. There it was all that time.
Like, this idea has been around for nearly 200 years—yet who knew? [sarc]
Then the Pele Yoetz writes: "And woe to them, to a father and mother who cause this!"
That means they're not allowed to do or say anything to cause their son to resent or hate his wife.
Even if the wife is really awful—all the more so if she's decent or even good—if they cause him to resent her and eventually hate her, then they better start fearing for their souls.
In fact, the Pele Yoetz advises parents of the husband that it's better for them to "suffer 1000 evils" than to cause machloket (controversy) between their son and his wife.
You can read all this in Hebrew here on the second page of the PDF, or in English here on pages 487-488 (the last 2 pages of the PDF).
After the suffering I saw among certain couples & their children (both those who live without shalom bayit and those who divorced) with a significant contribution from at least one of his parents, I ended up feeling very upset with all the advisors who had the power to at least mitigate or even stop the disharmony, yet refused to advise couples according to halachot of marital loyalty (and lashon hara).
As stated above, advisors did do this when the wife's parents were making problems.
So they could have tried to put a stop to the husband's & his parents' shenanigans, but I guess they didn't know the halacha applies to the husband too.
Yet when I think about it more deeply, I feel nervous for these same advisors.
If they had the opportunity to create shalom and prevent divorce simply by obeying halacha by advising the couple to set healthy boundaries against his parents' bad behavior and to act with more loyalty toward the wife—yet they didn't, then...well...I sure wouldn't want that on my Heavenly cheshbon.
Even if the husband & his parents won't listen, the advisor would still get credit for doing the right thing.
Why Bad-Mouthing Family Members Seems So Okay even though It's NOT
This seems very confusing today because, for example, in shalom bayit classes, the rebbetzin often offers negative examples of her husband.
Sometimes, she even offers examples that make you hate him.
By the way, I've seen very chashuv rebbetzins do this.
It's mind-boggling when it happens. No one's perfect. I guess she just wasn't thinking.
For example, according to what's said by these rebbetzins, there seems to be an epidemic of rabbis who simply cannot remember which sink is dairy and which is fleishig and constantly inconveniences his rebbetzin & causes kashrut problems by tossing the wrong utensil into the wrong sink.
I'm not talking about occasional mishaps, which we all do.
I mean, she says he NEVER remembers. "He always forgets," she chuckles.
(Which is kind of interesting because if it's a real mistake, you'd think that sometimes he'd get it right simply by chance. But he throws it in the wrong sink ALL the time? This smells like passive-aggression to me. But either way, she still shouldn't be making him look like a dunce or a passive-aggressor to her audience.)
Even if the sinks are the same sinks for 20 years, he still cannot remember despite his ability to remember large swathes of Talmud & Shulchan Aruch.
For some reason, 2 porcelain sinks are way beyond his mental capabilities. At least he doesn't get really confused and throw forks in the toilet. After all, that could be mistaken for a sink if you're REALLY not paying attention.
Or the rash of rabbis who simply cannot turn off an oven.
Despite how ALL oven technicians are men, rabbinical husbands are somehow incapable of figuring out an oven to turn it off, incapable of asking a neighbor to help him, and also incapable of simply removing the oven's plug from the electrical socket.
Yet he manages to run an entire yeshivah. Hmm...
The rebbetzin laughingly blames herself for not telling him how to turn off the oven & burning the cake she worked hard to make.
Fine, I get that. But being a wife & mother involves so much to remember, it would be nice if she needn't pay such a high price every time she forgets.
And guess what? I also don't need to believe that it happened like that.
Seriously. Even though she doesn't mean it to be, it's lashon hara and I'm not allowed to believe that her husband lets her cakes burn due to extreme mental incompetence.
Or that he can't remember which sink is which, even after 20 years.
Of course, these lecturers always laugh off their husband's lack of consideration & seichel as being typical men and therefore, not his fault.
Their good intention is to facilitate a chummy, informal, non-judgmental ambience for their female audience.
But it always made me uncomfortable, which is why I don't listen to most shalom bayit lectures (because it's unfortunately very common).
I went so far as to ask a lashon hara rabbinical expert about this, and he said that you can't do this—and he said that justifying it by being a gender-norm is no excuse. It's still not allowed.
Also, can you imagine the opposite?
Can you imagine if a rabbi gave a shalom bayit class using his wife as the negative example?
Like what if he said, "My wife gets so persnickety at that time of the month, but you know, that's just how women are." Hardy-har-har! (Not.)
Or, "My wife temporarily shorted out the electrical circuits in our home when she tried to fix something. But it was really my fault because I never explained anything to her about drills & wiring, and I really should have because, after all, she's a woman."
See? It sounds so rude when a man does it. But women shouldn't do it either.
Even if it's true, why does the entire world need to know?
Or how it's so fashionable to complain about one's mother-in-law or one's child or one's spouse.
It makes it seem permissible.
But it's not.
The Best Way to Facilitate Happiness in Marriage
And the right reason to marry is for: avodat Hashem—serving Hashem.
If you marry for reasons of kedushah and self-improvement, then you'll be a lot happier in your marriage.
Here's Rav Miller on marrying with the right mindset and then nurturing affection (page 6):
And so v’davak doesn’t mean you have to ‘fall in love’ with your wife or with your husband; if you’re capable of having a certain affection, that’s good enough.
And then all your life, starting from the day after the wedding, both of you begin practicing that affection and it’s an affection and caring that continues to grow always.
It grows into a companionship of nobility and kedusha and dedication to each other – and it all grows from the seeds of loyalty.
Of course, you’ll have to water the seeds with other things too, but it’s from the seeds of loyalty that a successful marriage grows.
A good marriage can be made even better, a mediocre marriage can also improve a lot with this attitude, and sometimes, even a bad marriage can also be made better this way.
But even in a marriage to a person so dysfunctional, the marriage never improves no matter what the other spouse tries? Looking at the marriage as personal avodah is one of the most helpful ways to maintain sanity (though nothing's guaranteed when dealing with truly difficult people).
Imbibing Hashkafah from Truly Great People as Opposed to Regular (albeit well-meaning) People
As the Pele Yoetz writes (here, at the bottom of page 780 in the book or the second page of the PDF—and yes, my translation differs slightly because I tend to translate more literally than professional translators—or in Hebrew; emphasis mine):
The obligation to be sensitive is cast upon you more than her as Baba Metzia 59a says: "A husband must always be cautious in regards to hurting his wife because since her tears are near, so is her pain.”
It's important to note that Judaism also makes strong demands on the wife regarding shalom bayit.
However, if you listen to or read popular material on shalom bayit for the past few decades (with the exception of people like Rav Miller, Rav Shalom Arush, and Rav Shimon Gruen, and others), you would think that Judaism places the entire responsibility on the wife—or at least it imposes the main obligation on the wife—and it is simply not true...as we see in plain black-and-white text.
This is why it is so important to access the original material written by tzaddikim and not rely on popular books & speakers for ALL your information.
Yes, I listen to some of the popular speakers too; there's a reason why they're popular!
But if you receive ALL your Judaism from a regular person—including non-Gedolim community rabbis & rebbetzins—then you risk imbibing very well-intentioned yet very non-Jewish ideas disguised as Torah tradition.
This is not done on purpose, but tends to be an unconscious mistake due to all the tumah in the air and the overwhelming exposure to non-Jewish attitudes & modes presented with great appeal in the non-Jewish world.
And yes, that includes this blog! Don't rely on my interpretations! This is why I link to the original sources so you can imbibe them yourself.
Like everyone else, I mean well, but what if I've accidentally misunderstood something? It's better for you to read it in the original & not rely solely on regular people.
And here's Rav Miller (page 9):
...the Torah way of marriage requires constant politeness.
Anything you need from your wife, you always say it with words of politeness. “Sarah, will you please hand me this-and-this.”
Of course, the best thing is to get up and hand it to yourself.
I don’t like it when the husbands sit at the table and shout to the kitchen, “Bring this, bring that.”
Get up and bring it yourself! What are you, a cripple? You have two good feet!
Even if you say it politely: “Sarah, a little more sugar, please, a little more of this,” who made you a monarch to sit at the table and give orders?!
Get up you lazy fellow and do it yourself!
Rav Miller emphasizes the great importance of both spouses speaking to each other nicely, including a stream of compliments and expressions of gratitude.
He also stresses how important it is to keep up the loyalty and good behavior in front of the children.
And another powerful point Rav Miller makes is the necessity to keep up the routine duties in marriage. (This is good against depression too, BTW.)
Neither spouse should take revenge on the other via all sorts of "punishments," like withholding money, or refusing to make dinner or do laundry, or any other type of petty revenge.
Rav Miller very much opposed revenge & "punishing" one's spouse.
What Marriage is Meant to be
Rav Miller notes that a yes-woman is no eizer (helpmate—which is what Hashem designated a woman for a man).
Someone who agrees with everything you do or say and makes life the easiest-shmeeziest experience in the world does nothing for your inner growth.
Even very compatible spouses with fantastic marriages still need to make adjustments and work through certain issues at some point.
So if we view marriage, not as the Key to Happiness, but as the Key to Eternal Life, we'll do much better.