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Home » Bereishit Parshah, Marriage

Bereshit: Is Your Wife Against You or Behind You?

Submitted by on October 25, 2016 – 9:43 pmNo Comment | 2,623 views

The Mentoring Wife

The other day, I visited with a couple I had never met. I noticed that while the wife sat quietly through the conversation letting her husband do most of the talking, she was not at all shy about correcting his behavior. Every time he said or did something she disapproved of, she let him know. This wasn’t the nudge under the table variety, this was an all-out public correction, albeit in quiet dignified tones.

The husband was graceful under fire. He took it all in stride and didn’t seem to mind. He simply adjusted his behavior and moved on. I realized he had decades of training, but I was still impressed.

I thought about it on the way home and realized that this isn’t an unusual dynamic. It happens frequently with couples everywhere. It’s not that the wife feels superior. On the contrary, she was rather demure. She allowed him the lead in the conversation. But something in her demeanor said that it was her role to mentor him. And he accepted it without reserve.

This man was obviously wise in the ways of marriage. I see many husbands, who chafe under this bit, but that doesn’t seem to stop their wives. If our wives intend to correct us from time to time, we are wise to accept it rather than fight it. Still, the twofold question remains. Why do so many women assume the role of mentor and why do so few husbands appreciate this quaint womanly trait?

Against You or Behind You?

The answer to the second question is found in the Biblical narrative of creation. After G-d created Adam, He exclaimed, (Genesis 2: 18) “It is not good for man to live alone, I shall make an assistant against him.” G-d then proceeded to create Eve, Adam’s assistant against him.

What in the world is an assistant that stands against you? Rashi, the famed Biblical commentator explained that if a man is meritorious, his wife will be a help, otherwise, she will line up against him in battle. But this explanation requires an explanation! G-d wasn’t offering Adam a war, He was offering a helper – so what is this business of a wife doing battle against her husband?

In a landmark commentary, Rabbi Naftali, Tzvi Yehudah Berlin offered a unique insight. Men are aggressive by nature. They tend to live hard and fight hard. Women are more subtle and wise by nature. The reason G-d put one with the other is so that both can grow stronger from their companionship.

Suppose a man grows angry at the neighbor and rants about him to his wife. If she agrees with him and eggs him on she appears to be a help to him, but in the long run, she is against him because her support only fuels the fight. The proper approach is to offer a counterbalance to his wrath. She can offer a different point of view or a conciliatory suggestion. On the surface she will be against him and he might not appreciate her taking the neighbor’s side, but in the end she will be of immense help.

The question is only this. Which point of view will the man take? If he takes the long view, he will see her as an invaluable help. She rounds him out and gives him balance. If he takes the short view, he will see her as a perpetual opponent. Rashi wasn’t talking about two different women, one a helper the other a battler. Rashi was talking about the same woman, but different men. One, who sees her contribution as a help, the other, who sees it as a nuisance, a battle.

We don’t need to be surrounded by yes people. We need to be surrounded by those who challenge us and make us grow. Wise leaders surround themselves with even wiser experts. Wise athletes compete against even better athletes. The best coach is one that the team can’t stand because he keeps pushing them. He challenges them on the field and off. He makes them better. He demands more.

Phil Simms was the 1987 superbowl winning quarterback for the New York Giants. His coach Bill Parcells often chided him to do better. One day he told his coach to back off. He was at the height of his career and at the peak of his success. What more did the coach want? Simms never forgot Parcell’s response. “Son, I’m sorry that my expectations of you are higher than your expectations of yourself.”

Simms stewed over that line for weeks, but today he considers Parcels a personal mentor and the greatest coach that ever lived. Parcels didn’t pat Simms on the back. He pushed Simms from behind.

Is your wife against you or behind you? That depends on your perspective. Her role is to bring wisdom and perspective to the relationship. Do you see that as a threat or an asset?

Resenting Men

It sounds simple on paper, but in real life it’s far from easy. Why indeed, do so many men resent their wives’ suggestions? Why can’t they see that it’s for their own benefit?

Firstly, it has everything to do with perspective. It took Phil Simms several weeks to stop stewing. He resented everything about Parcel’s coaching style and he chaffed under it though he bought into it. It is difficult to take opposition with equanimity. It takes a huge amount of wisdom and humility.

Still, for many husbands even a few years isn’t enough time. They never learn to appreciate the suggestions and corrections. Unlike the husband I met the other day, so many men resent their wives’ corrections and actually demand (to their own determinant) that their wives cease their intrusions.

Now I might agree with them when the corrections are offered in public or when the corrections are offered caustically, but the fact is that many men don’t appreciate even loving suggestions offered at home. They resent their wives for wanting to remake them. If you ask her why she does it you will discover that remolding her husband is rarely her intention. The suggestions come naturally to her because this is her G-d given nature. So why do so many men resent it?

Two Bottles

My brother in law, Rabbi Yitzchok Wollowik,[1] shared a fascinating insight. Suppose you blow at two water bottles standing side by side, one topples over and the other stands strong. Why did one bottle withstand your blow while the other did not? Because one bottle was full and the other was empty. Full bottles aren’t toppled by mild blows. Empty bottles fly off the table.

The empty bottle, says my brother in law has two choices. Rant and rave against all blowers and try to stop their blowing. A wasted effort if ever there was one. The other choice is to go fill up. Do that and you will never be bothered by a blow again. You will never again fly off the handle.

Why do so many husbands fly off the handle at their wives mild blows and what can they do to become more like the husband I met the other day?

Hmmm, I better not spell that one out. Perhaps it’s best that you and I work it out for ourselves…

[1] A renowned life coach that has helped many. Visit him at

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