For the majority of the period, I never heard anyone explain how she managed this, nor did I know anyone who heard an explanation for this (until at one point, Rav Shalom Arush stated she did so via intense prayer).
I also wondered what kind of a rasha was he.
Sometimes, a rasha means he was an intentional sinner rather than an accidental sinner. Sometimes rasha means the person is a psychopath.
Sometimes people are reshaim in one way, but good in others—like certain mafia types who commit terrible crimes but treat their parents, wives, and children very well.
So that mattered too with regard to her ability to change him.
Yet no explanations came forth.
Also, the vast majority of frum Jewish women, while very good, are not tzadekeses, so it never made sense how a good but regular wife could manage to transform her husband so dramatically.
It also seemed bizarre that despite all the obvious halachic obligations on men, some therapists and lower-tier rabbis and rebbetzins refused to hold grown men responsible for their own behavior.
And it refused to acknowledge the great influence (whether positive or negative) men wield over their homes.
Toras Avigdor published a very inspiring example of the possible influence of the husband/father in the home using Elkanah (the father of Shmuel HaNavi) as an example:
And it was extremely manipulative to tell wives (including very young wives in their teens or early twenties) that they had the power to change their husband...yet never told them how to do it. "Just use your womanly wisdom!" they'd be told.
It was all so obscure and therefore, useless.
Obviously, the Gemara was taken totally out of is intended context. It's clear from other mefarshim and sefarim in Chazal that this Gemara was never intended to be used this way.
And in the case of rebbetzins, it's unlikely they ever saw it on the inside with the mefarshim and all that. So it was quoted ignorantly and superficially.
It pained me to see some of the wives I knew suffering from it and it affected me negatively to believe that authentic Torah Judaism was so irrational & unfair...
...until my own study of mussar sefarim, Chumash mefarshim (like the Kli Yakar) proved there was nothing wrong with the Torah sources, but something wrong only with the small-minded people giving over these sources.
In other words, it was the self-proclaimed representatives of Torah hashkafah who were irrational and unfair—not the Torah sources.
A warped conduit will produce a warped product.
Having said that, the truly great Torah Sages were not in engaging in this manipulative blame-tactic.
You don't see this at all by Rav Avigdor Miller, for example.
On the contrary, he is tougher on husbands than wives (which follows the traditional Torah attitude, interestingly).
It's too bad these non-Gedolim misrepresented Torah hashkafah so poorly.
Ultimately, this misrepresentation caused a lot of problems and we've only seen an increase in marital discord and divorce as long as this method remained popular—not to mention women's increased use of sedatives & antidepressants, plus wives backsliding religiously or even going off the derech (whether publicly or privately).
And while it's true that commonality doesn't prove causality, we never saw any marriage saved or even improved with this non-Torah hashkafah.
Contrary to their claims, this distortion was not used traditionally. It was new rather than "traditional."
And I think even the lower-tier distorters stopped using it because it so obviously did not work.
Just to prove to you that it really was not some kind of traditional viewpoint (as claimed by the distorters), let's look at a 19th-century view of the same issue.
"...It is rarely the woman who has the power to change her husband's ways."
"Surely you know, dear sir, that Lindenstein is hardly a suitable match for your deeply religious sister. Shamelessly and overtly he eats non-kosher food, desecrates the Shabbat, and violates every commandment in the Torah. It is difficult for me to believe that your pious father really approves of the young man."
[Wealthy young man:]
"True, father is pious, but he is tolerant of other people's beliefs. Besides, he is confident that my sister will be able to exert a good influence on Lindenstein."
"Oh, you are greatly mistaken. It is rarely the woman who has the power to change her husband's ways. More often, it is the husband who dominates his wife, and can persuade her to follow in his footsteps..."
— Out of the Depths, pages 2-3
If you know about Rabbi Lehman, then you know he wrote fictionalized biographies and portraits of the real issues of the day with the goal of fighting the encroaching Haskalah & Reform movement by enhancing the knowledge & appreciation of Torah.
He even described real people, cities, and situations, but gave them disguised names or simply used initials ("the city of B.").
Throughout his novels, he uses pious characters to explain various aspects of Judaism considered controversial or despised in his time, and to exhort Jews to do embrace the courage, nobility, and conviction to go according to Torah in full.
He also used his characters to warn fellow Jews what can happen if they disregard Jewish Law.
His pious characters provide examples of how to stand strong against Jew-hatred, attacks from heretics & Reformers, and the insidious influence of the Reform and Haskalah movements.
His novels also showed WHY one should stand strong.
Rabbi Marcus displayed the benefits of a Torah Jew (even as the despised minority) while portraying the harm of compromising on or abandoning mitzvah observance.
So the above excerpt is an expression of Rabbi Lehman's opinion—based on his own observations.
He wanted to warn parents and shadchanim of the danger of marrying off a religious girl to a non-religious man, even when that man seems appreciative of a religious wife.
He used his biographical fiction as an exhortation NOT to rely on the influence of a pious wife.
Furthermore, Rabbi Lehman was a brilliant Torah scholar.
He certainly knew of the Talmudic story mentioned at the beginning of this post.
So why did he state the diametric OPPOSITE of what so many of these shalom bayis advisors claimed?
Well, for one thing, he actually UNDERSTOOD THE GEMARA AND ITS APPLICATION.
In addition to own brilliant Talmudic scholarship, his common sense and on-the-ground observations also told him that this Talmudic scenario did not apply to marriage in the way some advisors would distort it in the far future.
Again, here's Rabbi Lehman telling it like it is (boldface and underline my own):
"...It is rarely the woman who has the power to change her husband's ways. More often, it is the husband who dominates his wife, and can persuade her to follow in his footsteps..."
We see women influenced by their husband to dress less tsniusly and a whole host of other issues.
We also see families in which the intelligent and caring chinuch of the wife cannot overcome (or at least, cannot overcome completely) the influence of a husband who is volatile, inconsistent, unethical, untrustworthy, or critical.
Yet wives can indeed influence their husband positively.
They've done so.
Yet even the best and most wisely applied influence cannot influence a man against his will.
Everyone has bechirah.
We're not puppets.
She Only Ever Managed to Influence Him according to His Will, But Not Against His Will (Alternative Title: How to Make the Best of an Insensitive Grump)
He kept Shabbos, wore a kippah, but had a TV and his Shabbos table wasn't so different than a weekday table in terms of ambience.
She came from a super-frum background. In discussions with chashuv rabbanical family members who met her husband-to-be, they mentioned how he held a spark which she could fan.
And she did.
Because her husband was a left-brained intellectual type, it was easy to influence him into regular Gemara learning, and then full-time kollel, and then hasmadah during all his waking hours.
He worked only to earn his parnasa with the rest of his time dedicated to Torah learning.
After tasting true Torah learning, it became a path HE wanted to travel.
Immersion in the learning influenced him in other areas of his halachic observance too, enabling a lot of positive bein adam l'Makom changes to occur in their home.
He basically turned into a charedi avrech who only worked when he needed to, making kollel the center of his life and parnasa his side job. (And he nonetheless earned an excellent parnasa doing that.)
However, just as he was naturally intellectual & left-brained, he was also naturally an insensitive and emotionally distant person.
Investing in the emotional chinuch of his children or being sensitive toward the needs of his wife or children were NOT attractive to his innate nature.
So despite all the learning and mussar in which he invested, they remained more philosophical than practical.
In other words, he never did anything to change his actual inner self...only his external behaviors.
Until the day he died, he never showed any interest in going down the path of hitbonenut and deep cheshbon hanefesh.
So despite my friend's emotionally intelligent & gentle influence, plus her own sterling personal example, she never managed to influence his character in any way—only his learning and bein adam l'Makom halachic observance.
And that was only because of HIS ratzon.
Certain aspects of Torah suited his innate nature and intellect beautifully.
Yet certain aspects did not.
And as far as I saw, he never even worked on those aspects that did not come to him naturally.
And thus, she never managed to influence him against HIS will.
In the above example, I never saw any indication he loved her.
He didn't seem to appreciate her in any way either.
So I assume he did not love her.
A person who does not love his wife, or even appreciate her, certainly will not value her opinion of him.
So all she ever managed to do was influence him in the way he desired to go anyway.
And that was that.
But in the next example, it seems that the husband not only has more potential regarding middot, but also loved his wife and therefore valued her opinion of him.
A Wise Woman Influenced Her Husband to Actualize His Innate Tendencies for Chessed & Tzedakah
The man never seemed special in any way and no one thought much of him. The way she described her initial impression of him, he seemed to be a kind of shlub.
This apparent shlub married a nice, intelligent woman and they seemed happy together.
One day, she noticed a receipt for a 5-shekel donation. Her husband mentioned he received it after handing over 5 shekels to a person at the door.
Most people do not give such a large donation to random strangers knocking at their door, especially back then. (Half a shekel or possibly a shekel would've been the norm.)
Add to that the fact that her husband did not immediately toss the receipt in the garbage...
The wife realized her husband had a natural attraction toward giving.
He apparently felt compassion toward others.
She hung the receipt on the wall where he ate his meals as a constant reminder of his generosity.
After that, he gave increasing larger amounts of tzedakah.
At one point, his wife put the larger receipts (or form-letter thank yous?) in frames before hanging them on the wall.
Over time, people & organizations in need started seeking out her husband.
Then her husband become more active in the community, actively doing all sorts of chessed with both his body and his money.
The rebbetzin telling this story expressed her pleased disbelief at the social and actively chessed-oriented person this man became.
He also went from being seen as inactive to zariz (alacritous).
It reminded me of Shlomo Hamelech's Proverb regarding how the husband of an aishet chayil (woman of valor) will be "known in the gates" and "dwell with the respected elders of the land."
In a sense, that's what happened with the husband of this particular aishet chayil.
And it was all in the merit of the influence of his wise wife.
(But if he hadn't shown this initial inclination toward tzedakah or if he was davka an innately stingy & cruel person, she would never have been able to influence him until HE would decide to break those bad middot.)
You Can Only Ever Influence a Person according to His Will, Not Yours
Both women noted their husbands' innately positive tendencies, then went to work accordingly.
This is something all wives should aim for.
However, you cannot "break" someone's middot for them.
THEY need to do the work themselves.
In other words: You cannot force people to make radical inner improvements without their active desire to do so.
In the story with the husband who only ever improved his bein adam l'Makom behavior, he never left his comfort zone.
Yes, he transferred his intellectual capabilities from the secular to the holy.
And that is a huge accomplishment. He'll receive reward for that.
But his innate negative traits? His insensitivity, crankiness, passive-aggressive behavior, and extreme lack of gratitude?
He never changed any of that.
And without going into identifying details, both my friend and the children ended up suffering long-term irreparable consequences from his failings.
Yes, they all have happy lives now. But certain vital components are missing.
True, they all adjusted (each in his or her own way) to those missing components.
But the husband could have provided those components.
Only he never wanted to. And then he died. And there's no fixing it now.
(Maybe that sounds overly dramatic, but just please take my word for it. I can't go into more detail than that.)
Ultimately, he wasn't interested in breaking his middot, just adjusting his middot within his comfort zone.
You Can't Do the Work for Them. Each Person has a Mission Only THEY Can Fulfill.
We all have the ability to influence and be influenced positively.
We all have an obligation to "break" our middot as much as we can.
In fact, breaking our middot is our primary purpose in This World!
Even when breaking our middot feels painful and overwhelming, we can find joy and fulfillment in the knowledge of what a wonderful thing we are doing for ourselves and for the world.
(Breaking middot sweetens Heavenly judgement, in addition to fulfilling our purpose of being and earning us a fabulous World to Come. Think about it...)
But we cannot break another person's middot.
Even as their spouse and even with tremendous good intentions & wisdom...we cannot go against a person's own bechirah.
We cannot break their middot for them.
We can only ever try to influence them to go in whatever positive direction they wish to go (if they wish to go in a positive direction at all...some do not).
But each person possesses his or her own bechirah.
And ultimately, it's up to them.
Mafia Wives Who Influenced Their Husbands to Leave the Mob: Who Succeeded, Who Didn't, and Why