By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

By Yair Hoffman

Noted psychiatrist Dr. Robert Waldinger once asked a large conference at a TED Talk the following question:

“What if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age to see what really keeps people happy and healthy?”

Dr. Waldinger is the current head of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For 84 years, researchers at Harvard University have tracked the lives of 724 men. Eventually, they added the wives to the study as well.

So what did they learn? To paraphrase Dr. Waldinger, what lessons came from the many tens of thousands of pages of information that were generated on these lives? Dr. Waldinger states it succinctly. “The clearest message that we get from this study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

In short, shalom bayis is key.

Dr. Waldinger enumerates the three big lessons about such improved relationships.

• Those who have good relationships are physically healthier, and they live longer.

• It’s the quality of the relationship that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in a good, warm relationship is protective.

• Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they also protect our brains. Being in a securely attached relationship with another person is protective, and the people who are in relationships in which they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need have the additional benefit that their memory stays sharper longer.

OK, enough with the Harvard study; practically, how do we implement these ideas?

Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt’l, once gave someone practical advice on the matter. To merit shalom bayis a husband should always be a mensch, should think about his wife, and should call her to see how she is doing. He should buy her a nice gift every so often. He should show her that he cares about her.

Rav Aharon Zakai is a noted rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisrael and author of numerous sefarim, one of which is an entire sefer on shalom bayis. In chapter 86 of his work he offers short pieces of advice that can be implemented practically. (Please note this was not part of the TED Talk.) 

1. Create a warm and happy atmosphere in the home and make every effort to eliminate a sad and depressive atmosphere. If something negative occurs, heaven forbid, accept everything with love, with smiles, and with laughter.

2. Every Shabbos evening and day, ensure that there is a Shabbos atmosphere. Never stop the Shabbos zemiros, even when tired or in a rush. [At least sing one Shabbos zemer.] Divrei Torah at the table is a must, and one should also try to get everyone involved in saying the divrei Torah, including the wife and children.

3. Help out around the house, especially during stressful times such as before Shabbos and before yom tov, and especially before Pesach. Doing so will prevent pressure and stress in the home.

4. Each spouse should honor and praise each other, especially in front of the children so that they will value each parent, and not, heaven forbid, treat them disrespectfully. This will also train them to honor their spouses as well. It is also beneficial to say to one’s children every so often, “You have merited to have a fine and precious mother.” The wife should do this regarding her husband, too.

5. One should be very careful never to say that at family X’s house the food is especially tasty, or in house Y they are very organized. The wife should also refrain from praising other men in front of her husband, as this causes jealousy and discord.

6. Both spouses should refrain as much as possible from criticizing one another. Nor should the husband enter into the wife’s domain too much. He should not complain about his wife’s role as mistress of the house.

7. The husband should prevent his wife from needless anxiety. Therefore, when he knows that he will be delayed in coming home, he should inform her beforehand so that she won’t be stressed. Similarly, when his physical health or his financial situation improves he should inform her immediately to prevent her anxiety or stress.

8. Every so often, a husband should surprise his wife to make her happy. For example, he should buy her some gifts occasionally, even if it is a small gift. He should emphasize that it is for her and that he is thinking of her. He should also, every so often, tell her good news, such as that he learned well that day, or that he did well on a test, or that he won some item.

9. Do not forget important dates, such as her birthday or anniversary. Pay close attention to it and purchase a gift.

10. Do not be excessively concerned about household expenses [or ask her for an accounting of every nickel and dime.] Rather, give her money generously. If possible, it is most desirable to provide her with emergency funds for the needs of the house so that she can purchase as she sees fit.

11. A husband should praise his wife’s handiwork, such as cooking, the household cleanliness and organization, etc., so that she will see that there is purpose to her actions and that her accomplishments are valued.

12. If the husband is currently unable to fulfill a specific need, such as when she requested money and he does not have it, he should by no means become angry with her. Rather, he should apologize that he is unable to do so now, but at his first opportunity, he will give it to her with an open hand as she desires.

13. He should honor her parents and relatives. When they do argue, he should never, under any circumstances, mention anything negative about her family. Nor should the wife ever mention anything negative about her husband’s parents, especially during an argument. Couples should try to resolve disputes on their own.

14. From time to time, a husband should praise his wife in front of her parents that they have such a daughter and that he is lucky to have married such a woman. The wife should likewise praise her husband before his parents. This will increase and strengthen peace between families and between the spouses as well.

15. The couple should take regular short walks together after the children have been put to sleep so that they can talk to each other calmly about the affairs of the house and about matters that need attention, such as education and other matters of development. During these times, the husband should share thoughts of Torah, halachah, and middos that are applicable to her because then she is focused and can listen. Such walks are calming and therapeutic. They give her strength and vigor throughout the day to work and not get tired, because she is anticipating these moments throughout her day.

16. It is proper for parents to arrange meetings with their children for a few minutes each week. This solidifies the family and enables them to talk calmly and peacefully about the things that need fixing at home and at school.

17. The husband should interest himself in all his wife has to say, even if at times he is tired when he comes home. He should always be encouraging in his words toward her.

18. When the wife purchases new clothing or jewelry, she must realize that the whole purpose is only for the sake of her husband. She should make sure that she dresses nicely even at home and not only when she goes out. Indeed, in her house she should be more careful about that because her husband is there.

The author can be reached at Yairhoffman2@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at 5TJT.com.

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