In her eyes, her husband was demanding and self-centered.
Early on, she felt her husband had only ever seen marriage as the way to get a kosher you-know-what and a built-in servant (in complete opposition to actual halacha and Torah hashkafah, BTW).
And no...this adviser, that rebbetzin, this shalom bayit expert, that therapist, his rav—no one was ever able to help (which is unfortunately very typical—why? Because such a severe nisayon is fine-tuned from Hashem and demands more of a spiritual response than a derech-hateva response).
And throughout it all, whether it was friends or advisers or books & articles, Esty felt like her shalom bayit problems showed her to be co-dependent.
Or perhaps blameworthy?
Or pathetic & stupid? After all, why did she marry such person in the first place? (Apparently, even her subconscious hates her.)
And why didn’t she just get divorced? (This from her friends.)
On the other hand, if she was a "better" wife, maybe her husband wouldn’t be so critical and angry all the time. (She tried, but never managed to find that elusive "better" that would magically transform her husband.)
Esty felt there were so many ways to see herself in this situation--and they were all bad.
An Unknowingly Pivotal Decision
Her husband's tongue could ride on his temper-fueled steam for a very long time.
Yet when she could no longer take it (like after 2 weeks of remaining silent and feeling dead in the face of his verbal battery) and responded (sometimes angrily, sometimes with tears & begging, and sometimes with an attempt at a calm discussion of issues), it also didn’t curb his behavior at all. (Even though standing up to bullies is apparently the key to dealing with them.)
Conflicting self-condemnations shot back & forth in Esty’s head all the time.
But when a completely assimilated friend ended up visiting her area, Esty felt that Esty was her friend’s only chance to experience Shabbos. Esty also wanted to spend time with this assimilated Jew who’d been a close friend in high school.
So Esty invited her friend for Shabbat and hoped her husband would be too embarrassed to act the way he usually did.
A Leopard is Never Embarrassed by His Spots; Why Change His Spots Just because His Wife Wants to Make a Kiddush Hashem?
(He never was, Esty eventually realized. She always hoped anew and always shattered anew until she limited the time she spent with her husband around other people—family outings, hosting guests, etc., became a thing of the past.)
Being a gregarious guy, Esty’s husband acted friendly & jovial toward Esty & her friend—until Esty (or their toddler) did something that happened to bother her husband (the toddler’s eye infection with a pussy eye was one of an infinite number of things that bothered her husband)--at which he point he exploded at Esty (because, of course, everything was always her fault).
Esty noticed and appreciated how his bursts of temper tended to be much shorter around other people, but she still found his outbursts profoundly humiliating & distressing.
Ultimately, Esty felt she couldn’t make excuses to her friend for most of her husband’s bursts of temper without coming off like a pathetic doormat or a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome, but she did explain that her husband got really stressed out by seeing all that puss in their toddler’s eye and it frightened him, which is why he exploded.
Esty also mentioned that her husband apologized—although he didn’t really apologize, but said that had he known the eye infection wasn’t as serious as it looked, he wouldn’t have gotten so upset.
But Esty wanted her husband (and herself) to look a bit better in her friend’s eyes, so Esty stretched the truth a bit.
Upon hearing he’d apologized (even though he actually hadn’t), Esty’s friend gave a firm nod and said, “GOOD.”
A Whole New & Invigorating Angle
Esty's friend looked Esty straight in the eye for a long moment.
Esty’s friend was a committed feminist and vegan who worked her biceps into little feminine muscles and refused to shave her legs (yes, I met her too).
Esty’s friend was a very successful professional on her way to a doctorate.
Esty’s friend also lost her non-Jewish father at the age of 2 to her non-Jewish father’s receptionist and suffered her mother’s remarriage to a man who molested her when she was 6.
Esty’s friend’s new step-mother (yes, the oh-so alluring receptionist) ended being an extremely temperamental nutcase, but her father didn’t feel like going through the whole divorce procedure again, especially when he had a new child born from this second wife.
(Instead, he waited until that child went to college, and then he divorced his psycho former receptionist.)
He later confided how much he wished he’d never divorced Esty's friend's mother.
In hindsight, he felt his first wife was actually much better than the nutty, temperamental receptionist he’d run off with and that it had all been a big mistake—for which Esty’s friend paid the highest price.
Still looking Esty right in the eye, Esty’s friend said, “I think it’s good that you guys are committed to the struggle, especially when you have a kid together.”
“Really?” said Esty, shocked. “You don’t think he’s bad…or that I’m a doormat or co-dependent or…something?”
Her friend mulled it over for a moment, then said, “I don’t like it when he talks to you like that, of course. But I admire the fact that you guys are willing to stick it out. Most people aren’t. Anyway, most of the couples I know getting divorced don’t even know why they’re getting divorced. I don’t think they even fight. They just sort of drift into divorce. And even though they have kids and everyone knows how hard divorce is on the kids, they’re not willing to struggle through it. Yeah, sometimes divorce is necessary and better for the kids too. But a lot of times, it would be better if the parents would just stick it out. It’s like the kids aren’t even worth the struggle to keep the marriage together.”
“Even if the parents are fighting?” said Esty. “Even if they’re not getting along so well?”
Her friend paused, then said, “I know it sounds bad to say it, but yeah. Not always. It depends. Maybe if they don’t have kids, it’s okay. But if they have kids already, then yeah—even if they’re fighting and there’s problems and stuff. It depends how bad it is, of course. But in general, I think it's better to try and stick it out for the kids. But I don’t feel like I can ever say this to anyone.”
Then Esty’s friend mentioned that many people claim to be getting divorced “for the children,” even though Esty’s friend saw this clearly wasn’t true.
“Wow,” said Esty. “I really thought you would lose respect for me when you saw how my husband treats me.”
“I don’t like how he treats you all the time. It really bothered me to hear him get angry with you about things that aren’t even your fault. And it seems like he gets angry about things that aren’t very important. But mostly he was fine with you and your daughter—at least from what I saw. But I still respect you the same—even more, because you’re willing to hold on to your commitment.”
She gave Esty another penetrating look. “I mean, marriage is supposed to be for life, right?”
Esty was floored.
Esty really thought her assertive, “progressive,” independent, successful friend would feel so much more negatively about what Esty was sure must have seemed like a demeaning & misogynist marriage.
Spiritual Vision vs. Narrow Vision
Note: It doesn’t justify in any way the behavior of Esty’s husband nor does it minimize the very real anguish Esty suffered from constant criticism and the unpreventable angry outbursts.
And frankly, I think we’ve all seen situations in which divorce is clearly the best option for both the parents and the children.
However, what her assimilated friend’s perspective gave Esty was a little bit of relief from the feeling that people were looking at Esty and assuming she was a co-dependent or pathetic or disrespectable or, even worse, as bad as her husband made her out to be & at fault for his poor behavior.
And it gave Esty some relief from the conflicting self-condemnations constantly racing around in her head.
And maybe it was also possible for Esty to see herself how her friend saw her:
Committed, willing to struggle, and--most important of all (to Esty’s friend)--willing to put her child’s needs before her own.
Having said all that, were there things Esty could do to help herself more?
Sure. Spiritual efforts, like:
- being careful not to talk about her situation unless her speech followed the laws of lashon hara l'to'elet (including to sympathetic friends like me ;-)
- pouring her heart out to Hashem as she would her Best Friend
- doing a cheshbon hanefesh (because Chazal stated that ANY kind of suffering should inspire us to examine our deeds)
- seeing it as a way to spiritual growth.
But again, there are no guarantees.
A person can make efforts to sweeten din. But ultimately, Hashem decides whether it's in the person's best interests for the nisayon to be softened or even eliminated completely...or not.
Yet as long as you see yourself in the eyes of the negative labels, you probably won't handle your nisayons in the best way possible.
Therefore, you're less likely to fulfill your pre-ordained journey and rectify that which Hashem sent you to This World for in the first place.
You're NOT as Hopeless as Portrayed!
It's important to see the good in ourselves and to see something positive in the way we're struggling, even if we are also fumbling around and sometimes submitting to bad middot.
Unfortunately, both modern and early (Freud, etc.) Western psychology have produced lots of negative labels for strugglers and all sorts of flaws.
Frum people who are not emuna-oriented can even distort or misapply passages in Tanach & Gemara & Chazal to further slap negative labels on strugglers.
But you can see yourself with great hope and faith, despite your flaws and struggles.
After all, that's how HASHEM sees you.
This is important to know because people (like myself) trip up on this quite commonly & innocently.
Much to her credit, Esty herself ceased revealing the information (her confidants were ultimately never able help her anyway) and it seems like her situation is better. Maybe not wonderful, but at least somewhat better.