A Good Spouse?

I know this feels like a dead horse, but dead horses can’t feel, so let’s give it a flogging and see if there’s really no signs of life.

The impetus was the comment on last post to the tune that girls these days don’t make good wives. Let’s leave it to the married men to debate the merits of thisย  cheap generalization statement. My question is: what makes a good wife? Or a good husband?

This is not the same old list of “what are the most important traits you’re looking for in your spouse.” Because that list includes all the superficial stuff you also need to make you happy. Neither am I asking about the recipe for a good marriage – we all know that it’s about love and respect and accommodating the peccadilloes of the other party.ย  What I’m talking about are the character traits, habits, behaviors, and/or skills a person needs to know to be a good spouse.

This is a general question, and it covers the old standards – Should women have to cook well? (Must she do the cooking?) Should men be good earners?ย  – and the newer – must a woman always admire her husband or buttress his self-esteem*? Do men need to develop their sensitive sides?

* Maybe this isn’t exactly modern, but it came up fairly recently in the Shidduch household when reading the Hamodia supplement on dating. One of the guys wrote that what he’s looking for in a wife is someone who makes him feel good about himself and something something his self-esteem. The argument that ensued was: shouldn’t a healthy person be able to handle his/her own self-esteem, without it requiring undue attention from their spouse? Not that you can tease your spouse non-stop or roll your eyes and take over chores you can do better, which is obviously not respectful. I mean always soothing hurts and balming wounds and gazing at his countenance with wide, admiring eyes.

So, in short: what does it take to make a good spouse?

I’d particularly welcome feedback from the married, so please ID your status and years of marriage (if applicable) when commenting.

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38 thoughts on “A Good Spouse?

  1. First of all, I know plenty of wonderful amazing Jewish wives- they do exist.

    Bad4 is correct, self-esteem in marriage is extremely important for a happy, healthy marriage. You can give so much more when you have self-worth, know your strengths and weaknesses, and don’t get insulted by every little thing your spouse does/says. You also have better abilities to communicate, work out conflicts, and give in when necessary.

    However, there’s a little secret. And that is that no matter how much self-esteem your hubby has, when you respect him, compliment him, dote on him, think he’s The Man, he feels like a million dollars. That’s just a truth. A guy thrives when he has a loving wife who thinks he is the best thing that happened to her. It still amazes me after 8 years- my husband has the best self-image of anyone I know, not in an arrogant, egotistical way, just true self-confidence. And yet, when I express how special and wonderful he is, he really shines.

    In short, there really is something to the “gazing with admiring eyes” thing. Of course the guy has his side- he’s gotta learn how to make his wife feel loved and cherished, and give over in feelings and words that the Number One more important thing in his life is making her happy.

    Another essential ingredient is humor. Going through hard times becomes so much smoother when you can lighten up and make the other person laugh. And be sure not to take yourselves too seriously.

  2. Married almost 5 years now. I think that one of the best traits a potential husband can have is mercy and understanding. Many, many things will change, conflicts will arise, etc. over the years of marriage, but a guy who can roll with it and not assign blame for said changes/problems is priceless. The only way you can tell if he has these traits is to wait and see how he deals with the unexpected during dating. Is he easily frustrated by having to change plans or not having his expectations met? Then he does not possess this trait.
    On the self-esteem side, I think that if you respect your husband, he will respect himself. the seed of this respect has to come from within himself, but in the end you nurture or destroy it. Just my 10 agurot worth.

  3. Married 29 years next week.
    We are in a very different era than the one in which our daughters were raised. We raised them to maximize the benefits of economic prosperity within a frum hashkafa, but most will find themselves in financial Fort Apache trying to keep troubles at bay alongside their husband– and are woefully prepared for the type of role in crisis in which their grandmothers and geeatgrandmothers excelled. In short, we told them our nachas would be their having an easier life, and created party girls.

  4. Communication is key. Relationship problems usually happen as a result of a breakdown in communication, imo.

  5. Married 22 years, 6 kids.

    Flexibility.

    Compassion.

    Acceptance.

    Also, it’s very important for spouses to be on the same page on financial matters. Although this is not a personality trait, it’s so important that I can’t avoid mentioning it.

  6. Married 2 years to the most incredible guy on earth (I know, everyone says that. But if you truly believe it, it’s true for you)! I don’t think there are any traits that ensure a good spouse. There are some traits that will make it EASIER to be a good spouse, but barring abusive tendencies, nothing ensures that one will be good or bad at it. No matter how nice, easy-going, sensitive etc someone is, there is still work involved in building and sustaining a great marriage; no matter how caring a person is, s/he will still have to learn how to be a good spouse. Now granted, a caring person will probably have an easier time learning such skills and will probably pick them up in a much shorter time span than someone more selfish. However, caring people can still end up being bad spouses and selfish people can end up being wonderful spouses (unless they are completely and utterly narcissistic). Just keep in mind that marriage is a life-long process and even people who start the game a few spaces ahead still have much to learn and come with no guarantee.

  7. Married for almost 23 years. I think it you are both focused on giving and making the other happy, that makes up for any lack of skill in other areas.
    That same Hamodia supplement also quoted a girl who wanted a guy who could put on duvet covers. So I don’t know…

  8. I’ve been married, happily, for almost 19 years now, and I still don’t feel qualified to give advice on what makes a good spouse.

  9. I have another grammar (not spelling) bone to pick with you in this post, Bad4. Let’s see if someone else finds it first, though. ๐Ÿ™‚ [If you want me to stop doing this, please do let me know. I only like to be annoying when I know the other person doesn’t actually mind. Or if the other person is a sibling.]

    Also, I’d love it for my (future) wife to take over chores at which she’s better than me – who cares about self-esteem when I can do less work!?

    As far as the actual question, though: I don’t think it’s possible to separate any general requirements out from the “superficial” things that are subjective to the other person. Being a good spouse means being a good spouse for the other person – there’s nothing objective about that. I’d say something like “ability to empathize,” but that’s really covered under “recipe for a good marriage.” The cooking/cleaning/self-esteem things completely depend on the other person. The only thing I can think of is “she’ll/he’ll be a good mother/father,” and even that does not really fall into the category that you want.

  10. OK, from now on I’m going to read all comments before I add mine. I can’t claim the ability to argue with people who actually have experience with marriage.

  11. 11th anniversary is next week!

    I am amazed at how much my marriage runs on my husband’s powers of vatranus. He is willing to allow complete and utter double standards (if he doesn’t clear his plate, he’s evil, but if I don’t, he’s all like “let me get that for you dear”) to make me feel cherished, precious and loved. He can get upset at me, he’s not like a wus (wus = great word for shadchanim), but he is willing to let me be the Woman, who has different rules than the Man.

    When we were engaged, his Rosh Yeshiva sat down with both of us, and said to my chosson, “, from now on, it’s your fault.” And my husband inculcated a lot of that. We laugh about it, it’s not a pushover thing – but it’s vatranus, it’s being able to say you’re wrong, it’s being able to just give – and that’s a key point in our marriage.

  12. Hi I am single so I can do no more than speculate, which I won’t.

    Would someone be able to explain “but he is willing to let me be the Woman, who has different rules than the Man”? I have heard this before but I never understood it. I have no problem with vatranus in either direction, but why does gender play a role in the “rules”?

  13. Before anything else, I want to second Tesyaa’s spot-on comment about being in financial agreement. It’s not romantic, it’s not comfortable, but it’s essential. The biggest gift you can give a newly-engaged couple is an hour’s session with a competent financial planner who knows the expenses associated with the frum lifestyle. For all those thinking of getting married, please PLEASE learn financial literacy. The financial rules that served your parents and grandparents might not work for you, and if your household finances are in bad shape, it colors everything.

    10 years’ of marriage come December, but I’m not going to claim universal knowledge. When we got married, my wife asked my grandfather, z”l, what he thought was the secret to a long marriage. His response? “Always argue!”

    Yosef (#14): While pop-psych tends to make major overexaggerations, there are often extreme differences in emotional perception and communication between the genders: see, for example, Mark Gungor’s routine on men’s brains vs. women’s brains (warning for those who might be sensitive to this: he often makes reference to his Christian clergy background during his routines).

    Flexibility and an acknowledgement that things are almost certainly going to work out differently than you planned is also crucial.

  14. One piece of advice that is useful (and I’ll third the “be on the same financial page” statement)…

    A quote from the philosopher Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while your busy making other plans.”

    If you think you can control everything in your life, you’re going to be unhappy whether or not you are married, and regardless of whom you are married to.

  15. I am happily married for almost 3 years. I think a good spouse would be someone who shows appreciation for every little thing their spouse does even if it’s something small like for ex: getting a spoon from the kitchen. Every night my husband and I thank each other for every little thing we did for each other that day and it really enhances our marriage. My husband always thanks me for even the routine chores like laundry, cleaning, washing dishes, taking care of the baby, and of course making supper. It makes me feel appreciated and then I feel privileged to be his doting wife that cares for all his needs. So showing appreciation definitely boosts self-esteem because you’re complimentary and thankful all the time. This is vital in a marriage.

  16. Married almost 38 years. For me the key to a good spouse is flexibility and the understanding that a marriage can and will change from day to day, from year to year, from situation to situation. It’s the understanding that the only element that will remain constant is the husband and wife as a unit no matter how the circumstances may change. Oh yes, and a good spouse lives in the real world, not in some magical, rarified atmosphere with expectations out of fairytale books.

  17. Married 16 years, but I don’t pretend to know the secret formula. If I had to guess, it may be

    – helping a spouse accomplish his / her goals
    – teamwork
    – the occasional compliment
    – recognition that no one is perfect
    – anticipating a spouse’s needs
    – recognition that people evolve

  18. Okay, I’m still in my shana rishona. But no, she doesn’t have to do the cooking, nor does he have to be a “good earner” (whatever that means). The formula is kind of like “whatever works for you”. Probably most important is trying to remember to put the other person first (sounds cliche, but whatever), and not to give too many knocks without any compliments.

    The issue isn’t really that you have to buttress someone’s self esteem, but that they’re able to accomplish something. Ie, if you’re sick all day and s/he plays nurse, and then you get mad because the house is a mess, you’re not acknowledging the effort that went into playing nurse..so that effort was “wasted”, and the person “can’t make you happy”. If they cleaned, you’d complain about being sick, and if they play nurse, then you complain about the mess, so why bother trying if they can’t make you happy? It’s probably better to say thank you for the efforts and then ask him/her to clean up also..

    Whatever, I think I made my point, which in one word is appreciation. (Appreciation buttresses self-esteem, but it also gives an impetus to put in effort.)

    Okay, that was my five dollars.

  19. 1) I think we post holocaust and second generation parents have infanticized our children, resulting in them not becoming adult at marriage but permanent children and subordinates, with the grandchildren as baubles of status among us. This is arguably the most perverse aspect of the present PC hashkafa. As a result, marital interaction is much more sibling like than ours ever was. We truly don’t lose a daughter but gain another dependent son — and we are all the worse for it.

    2) Our daughters exist in an impossible puzzle of demands and expectations and responsibilities to children, older parents making demands our parents never made of us, sisters, girlfriends, chesed and parnasa. The only way the puzzle works is if the husband comprehends he need be the square peg squeezed into the round hole. This is a huge tragedy that did not occur previously. I think our wives and mothers understood that the only keystone piece ofvtge puzzle was their husband, and every other relationship needed to be sacrificed at least a bit for him. Now they are attempting a reverse engineering with attendant divorce rates never seen before in frum communities. But this is taboo to mention.

  20. pardon my interjection, but take a step back for a second.

    WHY ARE INDIVIDUAL(S) OF MARRIAGEABLE AGE BEING INTRODUCED TO THIS SAGE, PRECIOUS, ALL-IMPORTANT, NECESSARY-FOR-THE-CONTINUATION-OF-OUR-SPECIES INFORMATION IN THE COMMENTS SECTION OF A BLOG??!!

    (…heart pounding…breathe…)

    sorry. continue.

  21. Israel FRAC: My, aren’t you sunny. And inconsistent: is it that the girls aren’t getting prepared, or that the demands are outstripping their training?

    GP: You really think that this thread is introducing any new information to singles like me? Do you think any of us with even a modicum of common sense and/or powers of observation don’t realize that stuff like flexibility, consideration, and communication are important? If this is information that someone needs to be told, that someone should rethink trying to get married.

  22. Male- point well taken, to the informed. but to employ the colloquial i normally so despise, i calls it like i sees it. apparently not everyone is so informed of the topics that arise in “sichot chatanim” or kallah classes (when it’s a bit late).

  23. Married for a whopping 6 months, but so far, it seems that being willing to learn from someone else is a big one. You come from different homes, and sometimes you are the one who does things in the most logical/efficient/practical/emotionally sensitive way, and sometimes your spouse has an innovative idea that you wouldn’t think of on your own. Also, men should be prepared to learn about the importance of emotions and women will steel themselves to learn to use logic and efficiency where emotion might otherwise prevail.

    The other things people said about admiration, cherishing, flexibility are also vital!

  24. The Rambam may have stated this best in Mishnah Torah, Sefer Nashim, Hilchos Ishus, Halacha 15, Simanim 19 (advice for husbands) and 20 (advice for wives):

    ————-
    Advice for Husbands:
    ื™ื˜ ื•ื›ืŸ ืฆื™ื•ื• ื—ื›ืžื™ื ืฉื™ื”ื™ื” ืื“ื ืžื›ื‘ื“ ืืช ืืฉืชื• ื™ื•ืชืจ ืžื’ื•ืคื•, ื•ืื•ื”ื‘ื” ื›ื’ื•ืคื•; ื•ืื ื™ืฉ ืœื• ืžืžื•ืŸ, ืžืจื‘ื” ื‘ื˜ื•ื‘ืชื” ื›ืคื™ ื”ืžืžื•ืŸ. ื•ืœื ื™ื˜ื™ืœ ืขืœื™ื” ืื™ืžื” ื™ืชืจื”; ื•ื™ื”ื™ื” ื“ื™ื‘ื•ืจื• ืขื™ืžื” ื‘ื ื—ืช, ื•ืœื ื™ื”ื™ื” ืขืฆื‘ ื•ืœื ืจื•ื’ื–.

    19. And similarly the Sages commanded that a man should honor (or respect) his wife more than (he honors/respects) himself; and should love her as (much as he loves) himself; and if he has money, he should increase (the amount he spends) for her correspondingly; and he should not instill undue fear in her; and he should speak to here softly and gently, and he should not be depressed nor angry.

    Advice for Wives:
    ื› ื•ื›ืŸ ืฆื™ื•ื• ื—ื›ืžื™ื ืขืœ ื”ืื™ืฉื” ืฉืชื”ื™ื” ืžื›ื‘ื“ืช ืืช ื‘ืขืœื” ื‘ื™ื•ืชืจ ืžื“ื™ื™, ื•ื™ื”ื™ื” ืœื• ืขืœื™ื” ืžื•ืจื, ื•ืชืขืฉื” ื›ืœ ืžืขืฉื™ื” ืขืœ ืคื™ื•, ื•ื™ื”ื™ื” ื‘ืขื™ื ื™ื” ื›ืžื• ืฉืจ ืื• ืžืœืš: ืžื”ืœื›ืช ื‘ืชืื•ื•ืช ืœื™ื‘ื•, ื•ืžืจื—ืงืช ื›ืœ ืฉื™ืฉื ื. ื•ื–ื” ื”ื•ื ื“ืจืš ื›ืœ ื‘ื ื•ืช ื™ืฉืจืืœ ื•ื‘ื ื™ ื™ืฉืจืืœ ื”ืงื“ื•ืฉื™ื, ื”ื˜ื”ื•ืจื™ื ื‘ื–ื™ื•ื•ื’ืŸ; ื•ื‘ื“ืจื›ื™ื ืืœื•, ื™ื”ื™ื” ื™ื™ืฉื•ื‘ืŸ ื ืื” ื•ืžืฉื•ื‘ื—.

    And similarly, the Sages commanded that the woman should honor (or respect) her husband more than necessary; and should be in awe of him and provide whatever he requests. A woman should think of her husband as a king; to do whatever he desires and to keep things that he hates away from him.

    [The Rambam concludes (and he may have written this referring to the ENTIRE Siman 15 — not just the final 2 Simanim):]
    This is the way of the Bnos Yisroel and the Bnei Yisroel who are holy, who are pure in their married lives. If they follow these ways they will have a happy marriage.
    ————-

  25. Men need to feel respected by their wives.
    Women need to feel loved and appreciated by their husbands.

    Here is link to a a wonderful video clip by Mrs. Lori Palatnik illustration the former:
    http://www.aish.com/sp/lal/48918952.html
    Title: “What Your Husband Really Needs”
    Some quotes:
    “Men need to be respected. They want to be loved but they NEED to be respected.”
    “Treat [your husband] like a man that you respect, and he will become a man that you respect.”
    “Not only should you get off the phone when your husband comes home, he should hear you say, ‘Oh my gosh, my husband’s home I’ve got to go .'”

    Here is link to a wonderful video clip by Mrs. Lori Palatnik illustrating the latter:
    http://www.aish.com/sp/lal/48971676.html
    Title: “The Three A’s of Marriage”
    “Attention: When your wife speaks to you, you LOOK AT HER.”
    “Affection: Non-physical affection.”
    “Appreciation: Everything your wife does for you is above and beyond the call of duty.”

  26. Mostly agree with the above, and let me fourth the financial literacy point!

    I think that in determining what the statement about girls these days means, I would assume that for someone who comes with a mostly ‘traditional’ approach to marriage, they would have difficulty finding a girl who would view certain aspects of daily life as her responsibility first: Whether cooking, keeping house, taking care of the kids, etc. Even within this generation which is much more even-handed about who does what, the default leans toward the wife doing most of those tasks unless they specifically do differently. For someone who expects those defaults to be the case, even if they don’t believe that that is a woman’s “role”, they still might feel that there’s a dearth of women who would “make good wives”.

    Interestingly, I not only do a nice chunk of the cooking, but I spent two separate years watching my kids because that made more sense, and yet I still think that I subconsciously view those things as more of Serach’s responsibility than my own (while also viewing other responsibilities as mine rather than hers). So take that for whatever it’s worth.

  27. Hello! Mindy Speaking. Married seven months.
    What makes a good spouse for Mindy: lots and lots of loving attention! Intelligence. Idealism. And goals.
    But I suppose that wasn’t what you were looking for.
    I guess mutual respect, care for and of, basic responsibility, compatible/mutual goals and lifestyles, pleasant manner, liveability (non grouchiness, easygoingness).

  28. Married 20+ years:

    There are lots of things, but I think the 3 that a crucial, no matter what a particular person’s needs are:

    1. Ability to deal with what comes your way. Life simply is not predictable, and if you can’t deal with that you are going to be in trouble, and so will your marriage.

    2. Ability to compromise and not always do things completely your way. Even two spouses who are the same page on major things (including finances) are going to disagree sometimes. The person who never backs off an inch or who never forgets each an every time s/he is “forced” to back off a bit is doing the relationship a huge amount of damage.

    3. What I call “applied mentshilchkeit”. I see too many people who treat everyone but their spouses with the basics of courtesy. There are actually two issues here. One is that you have to be a mentch to make a relationship really work, regardless of any other needs. Secondly, any person who sees that s/he is being treated significantly worse that the rest of the world is NOT going to react well, even if it doesn’t mean big fights.

  29. Ezzie- are you the guy who answers “yeah” to the question “so you’re babysitting” instead of “no, you idiot, i’m her father!”?

  30. While we do have a patriarchal religion for the most part, most frum women perceive their practical culture to be matriarchal. The separate educations suit the differences: Yeshiva educations stress pure textual religion and the ability to be strong in learning, while Bais Yaakovs stress building the cultural concept of a frum home and pursuing a certain lifestyle.

    The disjoint becomes an issue when a girl realizes the lifestyle she claimed to want is nearly unattainable without parental financial backing and guys realize that all the pursuit of excellent learning in the world does not a desirable lifestyle make. So one tends to take precedence over the other in the absence of external financial resources: either the girl consents to become superwoman, and loses the lifestyle she wanted, or the guy goes to work, losing the pursuit of learning ability to a large extent.

    That being said, a successful marriage these days requires the ability to compromise, respect another, and take responsibility. It involves recognition of differences beyond the over-simplified Martian and Venusian, and the ability to see one’s partner’s areas alienness as something awesome and worthy of exploration and continuation, while savoring the similarities.

    -Ye Olde Subversively Liberal School Friend

  31. motzei ani mar mimaves es ha’isha – words found in tenach. don’t let that happen to you. ela mye, “matza isha matza tov” stabilise that begining mitzuis throughout the marriage and hatzlacha will come your way in all your endeavors. shalom is essential in the bayis.

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