Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
Handling Fights and Anger in the Jewish Marriage
















The mitzva to "love your fellow Jew as yourself (Leviticus 19:18)" applies to your spouse (Kidushin 41a). It may seem obvious, but there are plenty of people who are kind and loving to strangers but forget to be kind and loving with their family, where the obligation is greatest. To love one's fellow Jew, a person must be very careful never to grow angry at others; for when a person is angry at others he not only feels no love for them, but he may even hate them and wish them harm (Sefer Erech Apayim). The Torah forbids hate, grudgebearing and vengeance (Leviticus 19:17-18); and hurting feelings (Leviticus 25:17) and fighting (Numbers 17:5). Rambam (Hilchos Dayos 6:3) writes that the mitzva to love one's fellow Jew includes praising and honoring the person as much as you wish that others do so for you. How much moreso should this apply to your treatment of the person one is married to!

The Torah (Exodus 1:1) says, "And these are the names of the descendants of Israel who came with Jacob to Egypt, each man and his household...". The Torah specifies "each man and his household," telling us that the family is the key unit in the Torah's hashkofa (worldview). The midrash teaches that Yaakov understood the immorality and spiritually impure atmosphere of exile, so he had all who came with him to Egypt marry before leaving - even the young grandchildren who were still babies. Marriage is a protective shield against immorality. A strong Jewish home is the only refuge from the outside influences of golus and Yaakov wanted all of his descendants protected. The Chasam Sofer says that each "house" was a house of Torah study. They transplanted to golus the life devoted to study that they had back home. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch writes that the Torah repeats reference to Jacob ("who came with Jacob to Egypt") in this verse just before saying "each man and his household" to emphasize that each household was dedicated to Yaakov's holy Torah heritage. The Sefas Emmess says that the fact that they came as Jewish households is what set them up for salvation from Egypt. We learn from "Man and household" that the Jewish home is central to Torah tradition and protects us from outside forces when we are vigilant to keep it spiritually strong.

Being married means ongoing responsibility to a spouse and children. Therefore, being marriageable means that you are able to unselfishly and steadily deliver what you are responsible for, even when life is stressful or painful. A good test in this is: when you are suffering or pressured, can you still be spontaneously concerned about another person? Even if you can't be your fully loving and giving self, you can say, with softness, control and consideration, "Right now I'm [upset, in pain, anxious, nervous, etc.] and I can't give you the [attention, courtesy, time, respect, answer, etc.] that you deserve. It is no fault of yours and I do not want to take my troubles out on you. I don't want to hurt or shortchange you. Give me some time to work myself out and I'll talk to you pleasantly and responsively later." When you're married, having problems is no excuse to withhold what you are responsible excuse to ever stop being an "us."

As a practical matter, I can tell you from my private counseling work experience, that a couple being flexible - without grudge or resentment; in a warm and good-natured way; with care and concern for each other; being meaningfully and steadily kind, respectful and responsive to one another - is of utmost importance for achieving great levels of success in their work to build a peaceful and happy marriage. One of the most essential skills at relating is to give "human acknowledgement;" that is; to meaningfully, substantively and authentically recognize the person you are relating to AS THE PERSON HE OR SHE IS, WITH FEELINGS AND NEEDS AND REQUIREMENTS FROM YOU ("lip service" does not count). Even when the right words are there; if you REJECT, CANCEL, ERASE OR IGNORE THE OTHER AS A PERSON; this will contribute to pain, alienation, frustration and/or hostility. I've seen this happen countless times.

The Arizal once said to Rabbi Moshe Kordevaro that he had a ruach hakodesh (Divine inspiration) that a if the two of them went (from their town of Tzfas, Israel) to Jerusalem right away, they would bring Moshiach. Rabbi Kordevaro said that he would just tell his wife that he is leaving for Jerusalem. When he came back, ready to leave, the Arizal said that, in the time he took to say goodbye to his wife, the opportunity passed and it was too late. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the "Father of the Mussar Movement," said that we see from this that you cannot bring Moshiach if it means doing so on the "cheshbon" of one's wife. It was more important that Rabbi Kordevaro give respect and consideration to his wife than bring Moshiach with the Arizal!

G-d very much wants spouses to love, respect and be peaceful and pleasing with each other. If anger, arguing, nagging, paining, fighting, abusing, or any other violation of Hashem's will and behavior standards, is a powerful temptation for you, and you struggle down to your very soul, and sacrifice and extend yourself, for the sake of doing G-d's will, you are dear and precious to G-d. Eradicating fights and building love will enable you to proceed along the road to progressively achieving, more and more successfully, the will of G-d, and of making yourself more dear, beloved and precious to Him.

People make the mistake of saying "I will love and then I will give." Love comes only to those who say "I will give and then I will love." Happiness in marriage only comes when both spouses give on behalf of the good of the other (Michtav Mi'Eliyahu). When spouses love each other - the way He wants them to, G-d loves them.



Often, effective handling of anger and strife is a matter of creative and resourceful widening of your range of options. People sometimes, unfortunately, think in terms of responding to life in terms of habituated, expectable, recurrent ways. This narrows the range of responses that one has at one's disposal. This, of course, seriously limits the potential for success in situations in which the narrow range of familiar or conventional behaviors and concepts do not help.

THE SINGLE BEST DEFENSE AGAINST ANGER AND FIGHTING IS TO DEVELOP A SOLID RELATIONSHIP IN ADVANCE. If you consciously and actively work to create communication, a deep and close bond, trust, benefit of doubt, understanding; and if there should ever be, Heaven forbid, a blow-up; THEN YOU KNOW THIS IS NOT REALLY YOUR SPOUSE. If you are mutually always:

* giving compliments and presents, * expressing appreciation, * being thoughtful and sensitive, * communicating, * honoring, * conveying love and preciousness, * being supportive and nurturing, * respectful, * polite, * humble, * responsible, * punctual, * keeping all promises, * giving in and compromising to promote peace, * reliable, * actively demonstrating responsibility and trustworthiness, * caring and * concerned about each other's happiness...then it becomes natural to: * see misbehavior as out of character, * give the benefit of doubt, * understand that there is a pressure, a pain or a context that explains the blow-up.

You've conditioned each other to see getting along sweetly, bondedly and compatibly as the norm. Your view of each other has been developed and established as loyal, reliable, loving, devoted, reasonable, good-natured, responsible, respectful, approachable, responsive, concerned and caring.

Your overtures to achieve understanding and for pursuit of resolution are perceived as credible, sincere and in-character. After all, you're "just restoring the norm." So, response by your spouse to your overture will be with greater receptivity and tenderness.

Although it should go without saying, I'll say that the benefit of building a strong relationship is that it will truly be nicer. You will have a "high-quality marriage." It will basically mean that, during the majority of the time when you aren't fighting, you are having a happy, good and loving marriage.

There is another massive benefit to building a strong relationship in advance of any fight.

You're not afraid of a fight. You know securely that, if G-d forbid, there ever is an occasional difference, the bond is secure. Things won't blow up into a fight. Things won't get out of hand. The relationship, at essence, is unshakable. Further, because the foundation and the attachment are so solid, you both seek to talk it out, work it out, give of yourselves for the other, to do what it takes to have peace and mutual happiness. When both partners do this together, this brings out new levels of love and compassion for one another. By extending yourselves to resolve each difference, you prioritize - and achieve - peace each time. Each such "unfight" literally makes the marriage stronger, closer; more intensely loving, bonded and devoted. "Fight" ceases to be something to be scared of (who's scared of something that doesn't exist?!). Differences are settled more softly; with less sense of threat; with less hostility, disruption, antagonism and tension; with more will to please, to give and to prioritize peace. Your partner's feelings and side of the story progressively grows more important and weighty. Eventually, the mood becomes "we are fight-proof." The quest to resolve becomes instinctual and automatic, never mind voluntary. When this level of development happens, having differences consistently results each time in a better and more understanding marriage (after each difference gets resolved). Each instance becomes an exercise in how to become a more unified couple. And, remember, for the majority of the time, you have a wonderful relationship. The beginning of all of this is: working to always have a strong and mutually pleasing marriage. This just brings the marriage to a greater level of perfection and uses the occasions when differences materialize to constructively "turn lemons into lemonade" (it's just a matter of learning where to obtain the "sugar")! Or, as the Orchos Tzadikim puts it, "The wise person can turn bad things into good things." Be wise about your marriage!

The Talmud (Avoda Zora 5b) teaches that when Jews occupy themselves with Torah and with gemilus chasodim (acts of lovingkindness), the yaitzer hora is given over to them and they are not given over to the yaitzer hora. We see, therefore, that we should engage ongoingly in the combination of learning Torah and actively doing kindness. Besides bringing merit, the combination causes one to defeat his evil inclination.

In a related vein, Rabbi Chaim MiVelozhin writes (Ruach Chaim) that the best safeguard against sin is to keep busy with mitzvos. This basically puts up a shield that keeps sin from intruding. Similarly in our marriage context, if you are always busy building a good relationship and being nice to each other, giving presents and praise, being supportive to each other, there won't be time for fights, anger and trouble.

Find ways to add common and constructive projects to do together, or to assist each other in. This will establish common values and purposes, shared goals and build an overall sense of bondedness. This brings a couple closer together. If you find it difficult to inaugurate major campaigns and changes, start with smaller things. Do lots of smaller things that you can handle. Build up. Get momentum. Once you get used to occupying yourself with smaller things (that get you used to being nicer to each other and getting along better), take on progressively bigger strategies and projects (to be nice and to be peaceful), on higher levels.

Never fall into the trap of getting self-righteously angry, wherein you abuse someone for an allegedly noble purpose. The Talmud (Suka 30a) tells us that there is no mitzva if it comes through a sin. The act remains total sin.

If, for example, your spouse does something which (s)he expects would bother or anger you, and (s)he shows any sign of upset or fear (e.g. that you will reject, attack or criticize him/her in any way), assure him/her (calmly and sweetly) that you know (s)he didn't do whatever (s)he did on purpose, you appreciate that (s)he exerts effort on your behalf (with work, with the children, in the kitchen, tending the house, etc.; so that (s)he is secure that you value him/her and appreciate his/her efforts and attributes), you acknowledge that it wasn't done with intent nor because (s)he was in the mood to be aggravating. Let him/her know that the mistake is not important and that (s)he is, and that you are happy with him/her. (S)he probably feels terrible or frightened, especially if the marriage is new or insecure. Make him/her feel good and, remember to move on to something positive right away.

Remember that a married couple is not "only" husband and wife. They are also "rayim ahuvim," loving friends. Here is an idea, based on this, for breaking up an argument or tension.

Each of you agree to go "out of your roles" as husband and wife. You "switch hats" i.e. change roles and, more importantly, the psychological framework of a fighting couple. You change to the psychological orientation of two best friends.

One must be brave enough to say (as if speaking to a trusted best friend, who isn't your spouse), "can I talk to you. I need some help. I'm having this argument with my husband/wife. I don't know how to break/resolve the tension/fight/difference. Can I talk with you about it?"

The other says, "Sure. What's on your mind? What's it all about?"

"Well, it started over this and that. He/she said such and such. This lead to development X...".

It is crucial that this be done calmly and softly, without value judgement or anger. Really imagine yourselves in the roles of two unmarried but closest friends. The one who initiates is in the role of a spouse who he or she really is but the other person is this spouse's best friend. This helps keep the discussion unemotional, objective and constructive. The one role-playing the friend cannot side with him or herself. He/she must separate from the emotions of the situation and reply as a caring friend, who is ready, willing and able to help, would. You might try switching roles, to hit both sides of the story. The key is to change your mind-set to one in which both approach the situation with concern for the other spouse, his or her side of the story and a useful and peaceful outcome. You should find yourselves treating and advising each other as you would a best friend who you really care about. This can result is a very satisfactory resolution of the conflict or ill-feelings. With any such technique, you must always modify to suit the personalities and the needs of the individual situation.

Constantly keep in mind that many, many sources describe in various ways that interpersonal obligations are among the most stringent in the Torah. Heaven's response to a person for how he behaves to any fellow Jew is "measure for measure" and Heavenly retribution is serious. For example, Yalkut Shimoni to Tehillim 32 says that Hashem does not overlook sins bain adam lechavairo (against another person), Maharal (Nesivos Olam, based on Proverbs 21:21) writes that Heaven considers one a thief if he holds back any possible good from another Jew, Avos deRebi Noson says "Love your neighbor" must be fulfilled with the understanding that the other person is the creation of Hashem, the Chasam Sofer says that the mitzva to be holy can only be accomplished when you can interact with people in a holy manner and Rabainu Yonah says that interpersonal matters are the most stringently judged in all the Torah. This all must be constantly applied in practical life. And, please note that the closer, the more dependent or the more vulnerable a person is, the higher the priority established by the Torah and the more demanding the requirements demanded by the Torah.

On a very practical, simple level: life is so much more pleasant, smooth and comfortable when you are calm and tranquil.

We have no right to be unpleasant to any other person. Pirkei Avos (chapter one) requires us to maintain a saiver ponim yafos (pleasant countenance; to remain smiling, warm and cheerful to all other people); and (in chapter three) to receive people with simcha (joy). The Torah's ways are pleasant and all of its paths are peace (Proverbs 3:17). Abiding by the Torah is worth the effort, even when it entails struggle. "According to the effort is the reward" (Pirkei Avos chapter five). "Lengthy life is in [the Torah's] right hand and in its left hand are wealth and honor" (Proverbs 3:16). But, "the reward for the righteous is in the future world (Pirkei Avos chapter two)."



When a relationship requires work, help each other to grow constructively and caringly. Each elevates him or herself through kind, thoughtful, supportive, respectful and helpful words and deeds. This is most important when you don't want to work or when the obstacle seems ominous. This is when the gain, the constructive and valuable aspect, is greatest.

When there is a fault or problem, admit it. Be honest, open and direct, in a soft and respectful manner. You must demonstrate concern and love for the other person - the other's well-being, feelings, side of the story, perception and situation. Recognize each other's needs and feelings. Communicate clearly. Empathize. Understand the other's side of the story. No one may come away unhappy. No one may let the other come away unhappy. By definition, marriage is making another person happy. Instead of saying, "Is everything OK," say, "What [still] isn't OK?" Convey that you want to bend, give and please. Know how to care about another at least as much as you do for yourself. And make the other able to know it, too. "Words which are in the heart [i.e. unexpressed] are not words (Kidushin 49b)."

You may have a case. That doesn't excuse steamrolling or erupting. "Fighting is not an option in my marriage!" * A marriage fight has no winners. * A marriage winner has no fights. * A winner marriage has no fights. Peace is always number one. Now, it's just a question of HOW we go about it. Once you've both assimilated this paragraph into your hearts, you're 90% done. The rest is just technical. You don't get excited if you need to take Route 86 to get to Albuquerque. It's just technical. You need to get to a destination.

Recognize the problem for what it is. Direct your efforts to solution; not to accusation, taking a firm or demanding position, nor invoking "principle." Peace is the prevailing "principle" at all times.

As long as the tone is consistently gentle and respectful, you should express your side and your feelings. However, do not take "should express" to mean that you are automatically right or entitled to anything. Give the other person benefit of doubt that IN SPITE OF THE STERLING MERITS OF YOUR CASE, your partner's case may have equal or better merit. If you can't be objective, get a qualified third party to help settle the situation.

If you're too upset to remain gentle, objective and respectful; or if you must blow off angry steam: * go for a walk, * go have some ice cream to take down the tension level (who can be mad when you can have ice cream, anyway?), * rush to a therapist for an emergency session, * go to the Catskills and jog in a forest till you're so tired that you're ready to faint, * tear the thickest phone book you can find, or * scream into a pillow when no one else is home...before addressing the issue with your mate. You must cool all anger or upset down before bringing the issue up for discussion with your mate, the way you would need to tear down a thick wall before you could have a face to face conversation with anyone on the other side.

Always remember humility, without which you can't "let another person into your heart," be patient, keep restrained, feel at one with another, identify with another. You can only dispassionately and effectively address the qualitative and quantitative merits of both sides in a fair and calm atmosphere. Remember, a key goal of marriage is to bring each other to olam habo (eternity). How can you get each other there by doing things that "go in the other direction?" Bring each other to potential and completion - rather than to tear down. When there are objective faults and blockages, lovingly build each other (and be receptive to objective, caring and constructive tochacha [correction]).

Time is of the essence. Your relationship is of the essence! Deal promptly and directly with the issue. With a gentle manner and a soft voice, mention a violation right away. Don't accuse. Rather, ask, "Why did you do such and such? Do you realize that hurt me?" Seek to achieve resolve and achieve mutual understanding immediately and in a calm atmosphere.

As a policy, try to never go to sleep for the night with a problem unresolved. If you can't deal with it immediately, don't end the day without resolution. If you ever must end the day without resolution (if same-day resolution ever eludes you), at least don't go into Shabos without resolution. Let me emphasize that shabos MUST be calm and peaceful - with all fights, tension or differences fully resolved BEFORE lighting the candles.

Let me also point out that just before Shabos [or Yom Tov - holiday], it is a particularly tense time, with all its preparations and hurry. Sefer Avodas HaKodesh (The Book of Holy Work, by the famed eighteenth century mystic, Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azuloi) points out that this busy time before Shabos, or Yom Tov, is filled with special temptation to fight. You must be extra conscientious NOT ONLY TO RESOLVE EARLIER ARGUMENTS - YOU MUST ALSO GUARD AGAINST HAVING NEW ONES!

Make a point on every Friday and every erev Yom Tov to make special extra effort to be respectful and peaceful with each other. If the wife is permissible, it is a mitzva to be together on shabos (Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chayim 280:1 and Mishna Brura #1). On erev shabos, a couple must avoid quarrels and the husband must show extra affection and love (Mishna Brura #3).

Remember that the candles and their light STAND FOR PEACE IN THE HOME. Never enter into Shabos or any holiday with a marital problem unresolved. Consider it a non-negotiable rule to enter EVERY Shabos or holiday with full-fledged peace in your home.

Don't let even a small problem fester. Festering problems mount up and the accumulation can come out explosively at the ugliest times.

Assertion of your feelings must always be balanced with respect and with consideration of your partner's feelings. Your articulation is not legitimate if it: * is not designed to resolve the problem or, worse, * will escalate it.

Your need to express your feelings is never license to abuse anyone ever [secular psychology may advocate lashing out with furious feeling at another person as "healthy," however the Torah forbids this and calls it evil]. Your articulation of your feelings must always be in a NON-ATTACKING, NON-ANGRY, NON-JUDGMENTAL, RESTRAINED, CONSTRUCTIVE AND RESPECTFUL MANNER which PRESUMES: * benefit of the doubt, * that your partner has a full measure of human dignity and * that there is a legitimate second side to the story which you do not yet fully know.

If one could understand and appreciate what the precious gift of life is (the opportunity to collect eternal bliss for devoting his heart and behavior to G-d), and how much one has to be grateful for, he would be filled with delight and satisfaction every moment.

Being married means ongoing responsibility to a spouse and children. Therefore, being marriageable means that you are able to unselfishly and steadily deliver what you are responsible for, even when life is stressful or painful. A good test in this is: when you are suffering or pressured, can you still be spontaneously concerned about another person? Even if you can't be your fully loving and giving self, you can say, with softness, control and consideration, "Right now I'm [upset, in pain, anxious, nervous, etc.] and I can't give you the [attention, courtesy, time, respect, answer, etc.] that you deserve. It is no fault of yours and I do not want to take my troubles out on you. I don't want to hurt or shortchange you. Give me some time to work myself out and I'll talk to you pleasantly later." When you're married, having problems is no excuse to withhold what you are responsible excuse to ever stop being an "us."

Rabbi Aryeh Levine used to deliver sermons in a Jerusalem synagogue. The wife of a member of the synagogue came to him with the complaint that her husband wasn't treating her properly. She asked him to devote an entire sermon to the way a husband should behave toward his wife. She begged him to be careful not to hint to her husband that she prompted the sermon.

In his very next sermon, Rabbi Levine spoke about a husband's obligation to honor and respect his wife. Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rosh Hayeshiva of Aitz Chayim, was in the synagogue and listened to every word with keen interest. Rabbi Meltzer was one of his generation's leading Torah scholars and a sincerely humble and pious man. After the lecture, he approached Rabbi Levine and thanked him.

"Reb Aryeh," Rabbi Meltzer said, "I know you were directing your remarks to me. You are right, I really must treat my wife with more respect" (Marbitzai Torah Umussar, Vol. 3).

Forgiving and forgetting about your spouse's mistakes and faults is another essential and inescapable key to a loving, harmonious and lasting marriage.

Each of you: consider it a responsibility to your marriage to constantly ask yourself, "How can I be an anger-proof, fight-proof spouse?" AND to keep coming up with creative, good-natured, implementable and effective answers. WANT to make the marriage good, respectful, peaceful and pleasant; to do everything possible to make your partner happy.

Study your partner as you would a profession. What pleases him/her? How can you stay away from things that are displeasing or destructive? How can you better understand him/her - including his/her feelings, needs, taste and sensitivities. Become an expert, a "professional," a "Ph.D." at getting along peacefully, doing the right things, and doing them the nicest way and with the nicest attitude.



A good way to cause fights with a spouse is to find ways to presume: that everything IN YOUR MIND about your spouse's behavior's, flaws, situation or motives is perfect and objection-proof; that you know and understand everything while your spouse knows and understands nothing; that you are always right and your spouse is an incompetent juvenile buffoon who is always wrong; and that your spouse has a lot of nerve not realizing that life necessarily exists altogether on your terms. My experience as a marriage counselor shows that much of marital trouble is, in one way or another, a manifestation of this.

If members of couples would, among other things, learn to empathetically "get into the mind" of the other, they would be able to avoid or resolve many of their differences, difficulties and fights. This is alarming because the marital trouble situation keeps getting worse and worse.

Married people today have rigid ideas in their mind about their spouse, who is a different and separate reality. Therefore, the ideas in the mind of spouse A about spouse B can be quite erroneous and irrelevant. Imposing these thoughts on the other spouse means shoving A's thoughts into B's head, where they may not fit; and this, as a relating style, IS ABUSIVE AND DOES NOT WORK. Due to the seriousness of the problem of married people having destructively wrong and presumptuous ideas in their minds about their spouse, I am offering this two part series on benefit of doubt in marriage. I hope people will learn to objectively examine thoughts, circumstances and realities. When spouses GET OUTSIDE OF THEIR OWN HEADS, they can BETTER GET INTO EACH OTHER'S HEARTS!

Co-existing with another human being in a relationship which is close or consequential inescapably brings about situations from time to time in which one questions or is upset by some behavior of the other. People are often quick to "know" or interpret the story, judge the other harshly and self-servingly. Some form of unfortunate and destructive blow up or distancing can follow. A lovely "chassidic maaseh" brings this point clearly home. I heard this story in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, the Barditchiver and others. Since I am not sure who the rebbe in question was, I will use general reference to "the rebbe." IF ANY READER KNOWS WHO THE REBBI IS, PLEASE CONTACT ME SOON WITH THE IDENTITY!

On the eve of Yom Kippur, the townspeople gathered shortly before nightfall in the shul to start the "Kol Nidray" service. Where was the rebbe? It was getting later and later. The rebbe was no where to be found and no chassidish congregation could dare start their Yom Kippur service without their rebbe. Finally, emissaries were sent to search around the shtetl. A while later, two of the scouts ran back in near panic shouting, "Oy vei! The rebbe is eating on Yom Kippur!" The congregation was bustling with shock and horror. The holy rebbe missing Kol Nidre and, on top of that, eating on Yom Kippur! A team of dignitaries was despatched to investigate this startling development.

When they arrived at the rebbe's house, they found out that the rebbe's daughter had given birth to a baby immediately before the scheduled starting time of the Kol Nidre service. She was very weak and, according to the law, a woman who gives birth (or anyone seriously ill) must eat on Yom Kippur. The rebbe told his daughter that she must eat and she refused, claiming that it was not permitted for any Jew to eat on Yom Kippur. The rebbe assured her that her knowledge of the law was wrong, but the daughter did not eat. The rebbe had to spend considerable time persuading his daughter that her health and the Torah required her to eat. The law considers one who just gave birth to be in danger and one whose life is in danger is to eat on Yom Kippur. The daughter remained stubborn. The rebbe had to stay with her, pleading that she eat. Finally, after much time and persevering, the daughter said that she will only eat if the rebbe himself serves her, so she can thereby know that it really is permitted.

The rebbe brought his daughter food. It was precisely at the moment when he was carrying the tray of food from the kitchen to the bedroom for his daughter that the scouts from the congregation looked in the window and saw the rebbe carrying the tray. THEY HAD JUMPED TO THE CONCLUSION that he was eating and reported their "findings" to the congregation. As it turned out, the holy rebbe was performing a mitzva of life-saving proportions. He was not eating.

The Torah commands us to judge others favorably and with all possible benefit of doubt. You would want others to never jump to conclusions, to find out all the facts, understand your situation or context, know both sides of the story before judging you, not take a negative report about you at face value, find out if there is bias in a person speaking against you, feel certain that there must be more (not yet known) to the story, presume you are kosher and innocent until firmly and halachically proven otherwise, presume a good reason for all that you actually did and, require proof before thinking bad of you.

The same way that you want these benefits for yourself, you are likewise obligated by the Torah to judge others favorably and with such consideration; to recognize the limitations and incompleteness of the facts and background in your impression of the situation or in the report to you against a person, to suspect the motives in yourself or a person reporting to you against a person, to obtain and verify all facts and background, hear both sides of the story and overcome bias in yourself and any person reporting to you against another Jew.

In a marriage scenario, benefit of doubt can be life itself to the relationship. This is not limited to occasions when you see something happen which tempts you to scream, accuse, condemn, criticize, feel betrayed or suspicious or otherwise react. Realize, in general, that your partner undergoes stress, hurt and disappointments in life. If your husband screams, was he abused that day by a boss or customer? Let a wife ask herself, "What has he gone through today, or this last month, that may pressure, frighten or pain him?" Maybe he feels terrible on his own that he screamed at you. When a husband comes home, let him stop himself each time at the door before he goes in and think about what may be on the other side of it. Will your wife one day be upset about something? Will children be getting her excited or drained? Will she be going topsy-turvy in 17 tension-drenched directions? Before going in the front door, or before phoning your spouse, be prepared for whatever may be going on. Whenever your partner does anything which is irritating or suspect, tell yourself, "I do not know all the background. I do not have all the facts. I must first find out what more there is to the whole story before I entitle myself to decide what my feelings, view or response ought to be."

Both of you: keep composure and be prepared to handle whatever comes at you; with patience, calm, gentleness, respect, wisdom, decency and love. Talk things out peacefully. BE A "DEFENSE LAWYER" for the OTHER PERSON AND HIS/HER SIDE OF THE STORY! Maybe, in context, your partner did something understandable or even commendable. Why did (s)he do it? What was the context? What was the ENTIRE situation? What facts might you not be aware of? What more was there to it? What other interpretations, besides mine, exist? LOOK INSIDE YOURSELF AND ASK WHY YOU MUST SUSPECT, JUDGE, PRESUME, CRITICIZE OR ANTAGONIZE? What might you or a "typical" person have done in the same set of circumstances? WHAT IS MISSING IN YOUR CAPACITY TO JUDGE OBJECTIVELY AND FAIRLY, with an adequately open and flexible mind? In what way might your perception be self-serving, including psychologically? Where, in your past, did you learn to perceive negatively? What do you emotionally disclose about yourself by your spontaneous untrusting, condescending or condemning response? What good qualities in your partner should you come to appreciate more? How can you learn to judge in a positive, favorable way (or, at least neutral)? Are you projecting something that you don't like or feel secure about within yourself? How can you increase your ability to see life in a more positive way - with more things that you view favorably in yourself and spouse? In what ways might your spouse deserve more trust or confidence? How could you help rather than attack your spouse?

"Once Hillel invited a guest for a meal. A pauper came to his door and said [to Hillel's wife], 'Today I am to marry and I have no livelihood.' She gave the entire meal [to the pauper]. Then, she kneaded another dough, cooked another meal and brought it to [Hillel and his guest]. [Hillel gently] said to her, 'My sweetheart, why did you not bring [the meal] to us immediately?' She described to him all that happened. He said to her, 'My sweetheart, I never judged you to be guilty. I only judged favorably, because all of your deeds were only for the sake of Heaven [Derech Eretz Raba 6].'"



Every day the Jew prays (at the end of Shmoneh Esray), "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceit. May my spirit be silent to those who curse me, and may my spirit be as dust to everything. Open my heart to Your Torah and may my spirit chase after Your commandments. Thwart the plans of all who think evil against me, and undo their thoughts. Do this for the sake of Your Name, do this for the sake of Your Right Hand, do this for the sake of Your Holiness, do this for the sake of Your Torah. In order to set free those who You love, may Your Right Hand save me and answer me." Like dust is stepped on and remains quiet, may I. Like a right hand is strong, and able to help, may You help me, for the sake of Your will.

Even if the other hurt you, took personal problems out on you, lashed out at you, did something improper, do not lose your cool. Stay controlled and soft. As Proverbs (15:1) says, "A soft reply will turn away fury." If you get angry also, it can escalate as a fight or degenerate into a battle of ego-centered wills. The situation can get much worse. If you govern by reason, you can work to get to the root of the issue, discuss what the other's violation was, and what the effect on you was (e.g. it hurt, slighted, shortchanged, violated, undermined trust, etc.).

Dialogue constructively in an atmosphere conducive to repair, restoration, healing and getting across that anger or abuse is something that the relationship cannot accept or condone at any time.

Be firm about the issue, soft about the person. Make it clear that you are not judging or rejecting or attacking or criticizing the person, and that you are not angry. You are not dropping your "stuff" on the person. But, you are insisting: * upon standards of relationship, * that the violation of relationship standards is not an option, * a violation has occurred, and * it must be addressed seriously, in a timely and substantive fashion.

If your spouse is not genuinely abusive, unreachable or unreasonable, you start out with concern with "what's paining my spouse?" rather than, "now where did I leave that machine gun?"

If you are ever dealing with a spouse who behaves with anger, try to determine if you are dealing with the brand of anger that: 1. indicates an uncultivated or destructive boor, or 2. arises as a cover of stinging and unmanageable emotional pain, in a person whose "heart is reachable." The way that you approach the two "brands" is different. Ask your rabbi for specific case by case instruction but I can give you some basic, general "rules of thumb."

1. You have to be firm with brand 1 and your first priority is protection, not correction. This is a person who is unreachable, unresponsive, inadaptive and does not allow you to input or to influence his/her behavior (at least not to a significant extent, on a practical level). This is a person with whom you do not have significant prospects for relationship improvement. For this reason, we have to include in brand 1 the person who is in pain, but who is so damaged that the person is unreachable. The scars are too impenetrable, at least without major, deep, long-term therapy. Such a person is very often too defensive to undertake therapy willingly, seriously or continuously. The person only faces the pain of change when the pain of status quo hurts more, although it is regrettable that the person has to be met with firmness, discipline or abandonment (depending on how destructive the person is, and how much perversion or jeopardy they bring). In one of my counseling cases I met a woman who is so damaged internally and unreachable, that her husband (who does not want to divorce out of concern for their children's well-being), is not relating. He's miserable, broken, coasting, surviving.

Individuals who are in a relationship with a destructive partner ask me how to control another person, I tell them that an unresponsive person is out of your control. You basically can't control the other person. It's up to the troublesome spouse or fiance(e) to decide to build or to degenerate the relationship. It might mean a trial separation or getting professional help. Ask your orthodox rabbi for practical individual guidance. Don't proceed without competent guidance. These situations can be difficult, unpredictable and complex.

2. If the angry person is brand 2 and IS REACHABLE, it is vital to establish human contact with your spouse's heart. The anger is what psychology calls "the presenting problem" (the surface manifestation). The real issue is inside. To effectively deal with the person, you need to connect with the real, inner part of the person that is driving the externally manifesting behavior. Separate "the person from the issue" so that you never attack the person. Be loving and understanding with the person as you address the issue. Did your mate have a rough childhood, a rough day at work, a disappointment or frustration? Recognize what is really on your spouse's mind. Acknowledge pain. The pain, not your spouse, is misbehaving. While your spouse has no license to make you into a punching bag, perhaps pointing out that (s)he is taking a problem out on you will make your spouse aware that the behavior has to stop. As Moshe Eben Ezer in Shiras Yisroel page 156 and the Alshich in Parshas Vi'Eschanan say, "Words that come out of the heart, enter into the heart." And, as the wise King Solomon says in Proverbs (15:1), "A soft answer turns back fury."


A) to the angry person: get to work on yourself quickly and seriously.

To the angry person's spouse/victim:

B) if your spouse is brand 1 or unreachable, watch out, get professional and rabbinical help, don't accept abuse nor go it alone if you're being abused in any way; and

C) if your spouse is brand 2; to the extent commensurate with your partner's responsiveness, reachability and constructive adaptability; deal heart-to-heart with softness, understanding, calm, patience, supportiveness and's the pain that's angry, not your WITH the ISSUE, not AGAINST the PERSON.

If your spouse is angry (and is the "reachable" type, who is capable of responding and adapting if you point out an infraction), give a present that (s)he would be touched by. If (s)he expresses surprise at the gift, say with simplicity and sincerity, "Just because we have a difference of opinion about issue XYZ, it doesn't mean I don't love and appreciate you." If both spouses practice techniques of this sort, it can be very healing and bonding.

How do you measure when the situation or environment has settled enough so that you'll be able to deal with the issue? You say something [start on a small scale or with something of a "low risk" nature] to the other person and then the person responds with a mature response which responsibly addresses what you've said. If it is a substantive and "on-target" reply to what you've said in a way that shows that the person is reasonable and is "with you," enough time has elapsed, emotions have simmered down, and you can address the issue. You should be able to sense "where it's at." You build the dialogue to next step of development. Repeat as appropriate, until the issue is resolved and a normal condition is restored.

Sometimes your partner may just be under some pressure, meaning you no wrong. In cases where it is a passing, non-malicious causality, use judgement. Sometimes backing off or forgetting about it is best, when viewed in the long run. If you must mention that you were abused in some way, wait until the pressure and emotions have passed.

Remember, to be married is to be shalaim (complete). A complete person contributes to a complete relationship. It is a contradiction to be in a relationship geared, at essence, to completeness, and to ever behave so as to damage or tear down.

Therefore, we see that it is fundamental to marriage to eliminate all shortcomings which cause hurt, unhappiness, disturbance to peace, damage or injury of any kind (tangible or intangible) in any way (to your spouse's feelings, needs, time, property, honor, work, reputation, well-being, psychological state, stability, etc.). If you can't thoroughly eliminate all such faults, at least develop the inner-strength, character, empathy, awareness and self-control to keep damage from coming out. Wait till your bad mood passes before you go home. Tear a phone book, not a heart.

You never have the least right to damage, to shortchange or to be negligent towards another human being. This is absolute. This is not "mere moralizing." This is the optimal way for a long-run, healthy relationship to work. It's entirely practical. Unless you don't believe in long-run healthy relationships that work.

Normally, there are rules for relating; for such goals as calming, getting through, getting along, reasoning, healing, communicating and building. That's "normally."

I have a saying, "Normal rules do not apply to abnormal people." It takes having a normal partner - or at least a reachable one - to work with normal rules. If two people are "workable," we apply the words of the Vilna Gaon (with his famous Hebrew paraphrasing of an Aramaic statement in the Zohar), "Ain licha dovor ha'omaid lifnay haratzon (Nothing stands in the way of sincere will)."

Sure, it's work. But it brings so-o-o-o-o-o-o-o much value. When was the last time you paid the price of a tricycle and got a Cadillac? Hey, in marriage too: "ya get what ya pay for." And human value is the most valuable value. For all the tea in China you couldn't buy a heart that loves you.

Consider it an imperative and a responsibility to shield other people, especially your "nearest and dearest," your "better half," and your innocent and emotionally dependant children; from all harmful, injurious and damaging effects; while working on, eliminating and growing out of damaging shortcomings and behaviors. This will bring you closer and closer to being complete as an individual and as a couple.



The Talmud (Eruvin 65b) teaches that one of the ways to recognize who a person truly is (beneath the phoney veneer, the act that one presents to impress the world) is by one's anger. The inner person comes out. A central characteristic of anger is that it is true. It is as real as it is repugnant. You are not hiding. Genuine freely dispensed character (or absence thereof) is revealed. The more one DOESN'T freely dispense anger, the more strength of character one has. I tell audiences, "how you fight IS who you really are." And, all this presumes "only" emotional explosion, never hitting. In Jewish law, raising a hand in anger (even without hitting!) is evil (Sanhedrin 58b). Needless to say, hitting is NEVER an option...whether the victim would be your spouse or anyone else (except self-defense).

Hitting, especially if with any regularity, can be grounds for immediate divorce (Evven Ha'Ezzer 154:3, Ramoh). If the man hit, he would be obligated to give an immediate "get" (divorce) and to pay the kesuba (marriage contract payment). If the woman hit, he would give her an immediate "get" and she will have forfeited her kesuba money. Although you would think that hitting is primarily a male trait, I do know of some cases in which women have abusively hit men (I even had one case in which a teenage child was hitting the wife - it came to me as a marital counseling question because the husband was afraid to interfere and was, therefore, in effect, taking the side of his child against his wife; which was killing the marriage). I also had a counseling case in which the wife weighed 100 pounds more than her skinny husband. She was very neurotic. She used to beat her husband repeatedly, like a malicious bully. The halacha (Jewish law) recognizes that EITHER SPOUSE COULD potentially hit and the halacha wants NEITHER TO EVER HIT. B'air Haitaiv #8 to Orech Chayim 53:5 brings a case which shows that even if one hits, not intending to do harm, but the hit causes harm, the person has a considerable measure of guilt.

The laws are complex so do not presume to answer any question yourself. Bais Din must establish several things before any halachically valid determination can be made. Ask a reliable G-d fearing rabbi (who has expertise in the Torah's marriage and divorce laws) any case-by-case question. Better still, keep your hands in your pockets whenever you argue!

Any form of physical violence - or even anything close to it (such as biting, scratching, temper tantrum, slapping, angry screaming or throwing an object) - must be viewed as evil, unacceptable and an enemy of marriage. In my experience, such events always either meant that the marriage was

* soon to be over or

* very dysfunctional and caused more misery to the couple than words could effectively convey.

In either event, it caused enormous life-damaging psychological harm to the children. Anger, violence and loss of control or reason are simply not an option. There is nothing left for the angry person except his anger (Kidushin 40b - 41a).

In a similar vein, never threaten - no matter what. "I'm going to move out." "I'm sleeping in the livingroom." "I'm not going to the mikva." "Don't look for me when you come home from the mikva." "I should divorce you." "Cook that lousy recipe again and I'll start eating in restaurants." "I don't want to hear any more, you can tell it to my lawyer." "If you wear that eyesore again, forget about being seen in public with me again."

Threats only destroy. Whatever the situation may ever be, a threat makes it worse. If your relationship is at all fragile, a threat will erode whatever is left. Any sense of trust, communication, hope, credibility or connection will be eaten away. Psychologically, it is an act of desperation, frustration or control. None of these are relating. All of these contradict and block resolving.

I heard in the name of one of our generation's gedolim that life for a married couple should follow a routine, a set order. Whenever there are fights, the couple should keep to their normal routine. This will minimize the destabilizing effect of the fight on the couple's life and marriage. Even when there are fights, keeping the routine keeps life more normal (till the storm blows over). Further, that which is perceived as "normal" establishes the frame of reference for how things should be. A set order of life inclines the couple more to working the problem out, so that life can be restored to fully (and not merely somewhat) normal.



When relationships run into problems, there are acceptable ways to address them and there are unacceptable ways to address them. One of the key axioms for resolving disputes and differences is: NEVER RESORT TO ANGER. The more one is quick to anger, the more he must work to not be provoked; and to be restrained, gentle and quiet. "G-d keeps the world in existence in the merit of the person who shuts his mouth at the time of strife" (Chulin 89a). I often tell couples: 1. having differences is normal so people should NEVER BE AFRAID OF HAVING DIFFERENCES, they should be AFRAID OF IMMATURE HANDLING OF DIFFERENCES! 2. to have a rov and their policy should be "WE DON'T HAVE FIGHTS, WE HAVE SHAALOS!" 3. Accept that real life does not always go your way, 4. DON'T BE STIFLED BE CREATIVE! and 5. Mature and fair handling differences makes people closer and more trusting, in the long run!

Each of you: consider it a responsibility to your marriage to constantly ask yourself, "How can I be an anger-proof, fight-proof spouse?" AND to keep coming up with creative, resolution-oriented, good-natured, implementable and effective long-run answers. Overcoming anger means overcoming ego and arrogance. If doing things your way does not work, especially repeatedly, say to yourself, "WOULD I RATHER BE MYSELF OR WOULD I RATHER BE EFFECTIVE?...I OBVIOUSLY CAN'T BE BOTH!" You both must WANT to make the marriage good, respectful, peaceful and pleasant; to have the will to do everything with a nice attitude; to retain self-control; and to make each other calm and happy. As the Vilna Gaon wrote to his son, "There is nothing that stands in the way of true will." You can succeed if you both truly have - and apply - the will!

Anger is one of the most distressing, troublesome and destructive things in a marriage relationship. Fortunately, there are many strategies and techniques that I have discovered in my research and marriage counseling experience. Since certain things will or won't work with different individuals, evaluate each for your personality and your partner's before using any. What matters is that you successfully spare your marriage from anger or fighting and, instead, maintain peace and calm.

Igerress HaRamban says to conduct yourself at ALL times in a calm, gentle, anger-free, intellect-governed and humble manner, with fear of sin. In order to do this, one must constantly work and prepare so that if something angering comes about, it won't take you by surprise and cause you blow up because your guard is down. Practice and be prepared. The test is consistency, whether you are comfortable or provoked.

Raishis Chochma says to set aside an amount of money. If you get angry, you will have to give it away. It has to be enough so that it will force you to control yourself. I say, half joking and half serious, to give the money to the person you get angry at, and tell the person in advance that you're going to. This way they will smile from ear to ear when you lose your temper, instead of getting hurt or upset! (If they aggravate you on purpose to get the money, that won't count.) Or, you can give it to charity. Raishis Chochma also says to look a person in the eyes when you are on the verge of getting angry. This makes it much harder to follow through with anger.

There are some cases where an effective approach is: use humor. Vital whenever using humor are * keen judgement, * the ability to effectively achieve a light and funny result, * knowledge of your partner as a person and * understanding of the dynamics in each individual situation. NEVER use humor if it will insult, provoke or aggravate your partner. Only use a humor approach when you can be reasonably sure that it will break tension - never add to it. The last thing you want is escalation of a fight.

I once visited a friend on Chol HaMoed of Passover. His wife, usually a cheerful and humor-filled person, was grumpy over the prohibition of most vegetables. "What's a Pesach meal? A slab of chicken with potato kugel, potato pancake, fried potatoes, mashed potatoes and a side order of potato salad! It's too much potatoes!"

I said to her, "I'll tell you what. We'll change the name of the season from zman chairusainu [the time of our liberation] to zman potatosainu [the time of our potatoes]." She chuckled. I told her husband quietly that if she gets grouchy about potatoes, remind her of "zman potatosainu." Every time he mentioned it, she laughed harder and louder. By the end of Yom Tov, she was, herself, saying "zman potatosainu" with a hearty laugh.

If your spouse says an angry word, you might smile widely and say, "You said an 'A word.' Anger's a 'no-no.'" If you were supposed to do something by seven o'clock and its five to seven, pull the plug on the wall clock and say with a smile, "It's not 7:00 yet!" If tension is beginning, smile widely and say with a laugh, "I know! Let's have a fight about it!" Drop your smile, shake your head cutely left and right and continue gently, "No. Rabbi Forsythe says fighting ain't an option." Bring back the smile and conclude enthusiastically, "Well, that's the end of that idea!"

Your spouse really wants to yell at you for something which, objectively, is not too serious. Again, you must be wholly cute and funny to make this work. If you have the personality that can pull this off, your now-angry partner will fall down with laughter. Adapt all scenarios to your precise situation.

Basically, you second-guess the worst case scenario of what was to come; maybe adding one more level of excitedness, for the sake of drama. You will give a bawling out that shows that you understand what your spouse is feeling or objecting to. You are doing what your spouse was about to do, partly to show that you got the message that you upset your spouse (so there is no gain that could come from any tirade), partly to show that anger is silly, partly to create the psychology of being your spouse's defender (and "on your spouse's side" - people aren't as quick to attack someone on their side), and partly to deflate the tense and emotional atmosphere. Here's how this one works.

Assume that you and your spouse are facing each other. You walk forward and when you are immediately at your spouse's side, turn around and face back to where you were (there's no one there now). Lift your hand and start waving your finger accusingly at where you were standing. You say loudly and with mock-anger, "How dare you [insult, hurt, embarrass, etc.] my [Zelda, Feivel, Shmerel, Genendel, whatever your spouse's name is]!? You have your nerve!? How could you do a rotten thing like that!? Who do you think you are, being so [mean, dumb, thoughtless]!? If you ever do that again I'll throw you outta here!"

Rav Chaim Krauss is a posaik and dayan (Jewish law decider and Torah judge) in Brooklyn. Over a long period of time, I have received instruction from him on numerous Jewish law and "life issue" questions. Sharing years of practical experience, he once said to me that the lack of care for the other person, doing and giving too little for the other person, being in a relationship for one's own needs or wants or satisfaction, being self-centered, besides damaging the relationship, one doesn't see how enjoyable it is to do for the other person.

When your "reachable partner" exhibits anger, give a bracha (blessing) instead of a fight. Don't give a "selfish bracha" (e.g. "G-d should help you to get normal!"). The clear self-serving purpose will cancel any value and probably be provocative. Give an unselfish bracha (e.g. you should: live long, be healthy, have ease and fulfillment at your job, have more children with me, hear only besuros tovos [good news], etc.). The blessing must be one which will cut right through all anger, resistance, divisiveness and confrontation; get your partner's mental pattern immediately switched from bad to something good; and defuse the situation.

There are three levels of attraction and relating: heart, personality and externals. The most important level of relating is the level of issues, midos and qualities of the HEART. If people base their relationship or interest on matters of the personality, the relationship has an imperfect foundation because a lively, talented or brilliant person isn't necessarily a nice, mature or responsible person. The worst level is externals, because these are altogether outside of the person.

Another related approach that can break tension is to say something positive when your partner expects a criticism, insult or attack. After an unkind word from your partner, you'll surprise your partner with, "I appreciate the fact that you're trying to control your temper. I see that your response is better than it used to be. Thank you for working on it." When a young woman (who speaks with me about her marriage, and knows about my three priority-levels) gently used such a response recently, after an outburst from her husband, he felt so guilty, he became a contrite little lamb, and they made right up.

On a subsequent occasion, this same woman found herself repeatedly verbally attacking her husband. When talking about this developing trend, she told me that her husband and she were originally attracted to each other on the basis of "personality," e.g. admiring each other's talents. When I changed their orientation to "heart," i.e. "heart-to-heart bonding," she took this very seriously. She aggressively went to work on midos, softness, empathy, communication, self-control and emotional supportiveness.

She sincerely and diligently went to work on connecting with her heart and working on relating to his heart. He is much less sensitive than she, and he was moving at a much slower pace. She became critical and impatient, attacking him often. I told her to "touch his heart with her heart" rather than attacking his heart. All the while that she was not "seeing the forest for the trees," she was violating, not developing, a heart-to-heart relationship. This woman worked steadily and patiently. She kept at it like a hero and turned their relationship around! Their marriage has been peaceful, warm, gentle and more communicative ever since.

On a related track, answer something that could potentially become explosive with a complete surprise. If the non-sequitur is handled smoothly and tactfully, and if you judge that your partner can get the message in a good-natured way, it can save you from a fight. If your surprise is humor, you go into a comedic tone of voice. Your face gets moderately demonstrative. If your surprise is a gift, show sincerity and sweetness. If you change the frame of reference (e.g. show that what your spouse wants is a disadvantage or show that another advantage which you profess outweighs the advantage that your spouse wants), deal with what is positive about your alternative. Do not say anything negative, critical, insulting or condescending about your spouse's alternative (i.e. idea, thought, wish, feelings, etc.) - this will be perceived as an attack or value-judgement). All the moreso do not say anything against your spouse as a person.

Here is an idea that could help for when a fight is inescapable. It is a technique suited to a couple who really want to fix their relationship, and really have the will and motivation to work on the relationship, but sometimes can't help having an altercation. You both must agree to this IN ADVANCE so that this is understood when the fight is coming on. It may sound funny to some people, but as human relations strategy it's fully serious. What may come out is that you will see your fight to be silly, trite or funny and, thereby, this can be powerful to dispel what would otherwise be a tense, emotional or explosive situation.

What you do is: make a pact with each other that in any fight you both will only WHISPER. Your voices may make no sound at all. You each may only form words with the air that comes out through your mouth. Anyone who uses the voice automatically loses the "fight." If you find yourself excited and you both are energetically "whispering your fight at each other," your perspective about what is going on will be vastly different. When what would otherwise be a scream comes out as a gesticulative and animated whisper, it will be hard to retain an antagonistic or emotional atmosphere for long. It will be hard to take seriously that you are in a fight with each other for long. You may both even break out laughing. It will be clear that the fight is silly and that your marriage means more than the cause of the fight. This can help break the tension and nudge the two of you back to a reasonable, "normal-ish" mode.

Here is a more straightforward approach for when your partner is on the verge of a blow up. I call this the "Stop Sign Approach." You simply, in a soft but firm voice, say the likes of:

* The Torah doesn't allow fighting. I'm prepared to continue talking when you are prepared to talk peacefully.

* I don't allow fighting in my marriage. We will continue this conversation when it is "fight proof."

* I don't give anger to you and I won't receive it from you. We'll pick this up when we are both "anger free."

Whenever things are headed for anger or fighting, you always find a way to come to a "stop sign."

Here's one that is effective when you are angered by a cause or person outside of yourself and which is outside of your control. Decide that YOU are in your control and that you are going to keep yourself from anger. One way that helps counseling clients of mine concretize the idea is to see him or herself as a corporation. In the analogy, the person makes a "corporate policy" or "work order." If anger is the problem, you say (perhaps to yourself in your mind, if not out loud), "Anger is hereby banned in this corporation of 'Me, Incorporated.' Anger, we're not hiring, so go away. Anger, you're fired; go home; you being here violates corporate policy, get out of here." Tell yourself you have an opening - you're hiring gentleness, friendliness, deference for the person you're upset at, warmth, empathy, self-control, peacefulness, reason and/or calm. If you feel temptation or pressure to remain angry or excited, you can tell yourself that if a soda factory has a policy and a car manufacturer has a different or incompatible policy, the soda factory is not affected by the car company. The soda company just makes soda and goes about its business. Similarly, if your "company ["Me, Inc."] has a policy (no fights, no agitation, no mistreating others, no "losing your cool," no dropping of Torah standards, etc.), you do what your "corporation" has to do and you are not affected by others with any different or incompatible policy. Your accountant reports that there are severe penalties for violating the policy! You can't control another but you CAN AND WILL CONTROL "YOU, INC."

Sometimes, when one's partner is an unbendable person who is not genuinely threatening, you can use a number of creative prospective strategies to take a non-destructive angry event "in stride." For example imagine the angry person:

* raging and growling while sitting in a play pen (legs stretched out) holding a beach ball or a Teddy Bear

* a two year old wearing nothing but a diaper - hide your smile

* eight feet tall and four hundred pounds - don't risk a fight

* locked in a cage, handcuffed (and you're outside, safe)

* with gooey, messy cream pie all over his/her face, looking too silly to take seriously

* or whatever works effectively for you.

As long as you are not genuinely threatened, such a strategy will make it hard to take the anger seriously. Some of these ideas can be downright funny. And, they keep you from getting angry yourself. This keeps tension down, rather than escalating.

Always remember that every approach is a matter of case-by-case judgement. When choosing any technique, be mindful of timing, Torah law, your partner's personality; any other prevailing pressures, context or circumstances; and whether you would be best off handling the particular situation alone or with the competent and experienced guidance of a rav or counselor.

Another approach is to convey that a change will benefit your partner. Again, this must not come across as self-serving or the approach will not be credible (it could backfire). Can you cite a way in which your mate will be more fulfilled, happy, content or effective in life if (s)he would make the necessary change? Is there a way in which growth will be of value to your spouse - in terms that your spouse will relate to? For example, will your mate be motivated by

* more fulfillment,

* more self-respect,

* better relationships (whether in marriage or in general), or

* a bigger portion of "olam haba (the world to come)?"

You must be sincerely "other oriented," soft and loving for this to work and to comply with Torah law.

Foster more sense of alliance. The Talmud (Shabos 62a) calls women "a nation unto themselves." Men and women must regard each other the way ambassadors, interpreters and diplomats regard and deal with those from a foreign nation. Each has a different language, culture, history and mind-set. Dealing with a spouse is like dealing with someone from a strange country. In spite of the differences, peculiarities and inexplicability of the other, each must be able to get along peacefully and productively. The man and woman each have different natures, personalities and abilities. By bringing them together harmoniously and complementing each other for the benefit of creating a complete whole, the two "foreign powers" come together as "allies" to achieve a common purpose which neither could achieve without the other. The man and the woman each bring resources, temperament, thinking patterns, personality traits and abilities into the marriage that the other cannot provide. When unified and at peace with each other, they come together and they make a strong "alliance" of two different "nations" to achieve good that each could not achieve alone. Their differences are a source of completion, not dissention.

G-d calls only a married couple a "human being," as the Torah writes (Genesis 5:2), "Male and female He created them, and He blessed them, and He called THEIR NAME 'MAN'...". Alone each is incomplete, only half a human being, and ill-equipped to build a complete life. If you don't believe me, just remember: man or woman alone CAN'T produce half a baby! Only together, the "allies" constitute a complete human being, equipped for adult life.

Find as many things as possible to provide alliance. Find common goals and activities which promote partnering. For example, one well-known rabbi and educator tells seminary girls that when they get married, they should make an agreement with their husbands that each will say blessings out loud so that the other will say "amen." This is more important than it seems. The Talmud (Brachos 47a) says that one who says a "long amen" has a long life; which means that each time one says a proper "amen," he extends his lifetime. The Talmud also says (Shabos 119b) that the person who says "amen" with total concentration has the gates of Gan Aiden opened for him. When spouses cause each other to say "amen," especially if frequently and properly, they each are extending the other's life and giving him/her easier entry into Gan Aiden. Be careful because "amen" must be said correctly (for example, the "a" and the "n" must be clearly and fully pronounced) and the permissible time for saying "amen" is very short. One may NOT say "amen" too soon or too late. You may only say "amen" after the thing which you are responding to (a blessing, Kiddush, Kaddish, etc.) is COMPLETELY FINISHED, until the time it takes to say "shalom alaichem rebbi" at normal talking speed. All Jews who use "amen" properly are giving each other longer life and more direct and easier entry into Gan Aiden. When a couple sees this as a way of giving such valuable gifts to each other, dozens of times each day (and training the children to say "amen" and to cause their parents to say "amen"), they will feel more love, pleasure, appreciation and bondedness with one another. Besides giving the precious gifts of longer life and a key to Gan Aiden, the couple will become closer allies. Find as many ways as possible to build "alliance." Find as many projects as possible, with which to do fulfilling and constructive things together.

Some men cannot handle housework. They may not have the time, energy, patience or mind for it. However, if a man can bring himself to do so, offering to help with the housework or children may help the relationship. This is especially meaningful to a wife at difficult times, such as before shabos or Yom Tov or when she is sick or has just had a baby. Since not every man can handle it, ladies, approach this with "seichel" (i.e. intelligently, sensibly, understanding your spouse as an individual) and without too demanding or critical an attitude. Men, try not to say that you can't do housekeeping. YOU'RE NOT KEEPING A HOUSE, YOU'RE KEEPING A WIFE! Women, conversely, is there any way you can help your husband with his work? Some women (likewise) can't. Sometimes a wife's way of helping her husband is to shield him from stress, distraction, imposition so that he can do his work. Similarly, patiently shield him from distractions, help him to have a clear head and refrain from making demands on him so that he will be able to learn Torah. Help your spouse as much as is possible. And, a husband should shield his wife from his anxieties, especially where she is in no practical position to help (so he will just make her nervous or worried). Try to extend yourselves for each other in these ways, because accomplishments can contribute to closeness, alliance and harmony in your relationship.

For example, I am friendly with a successfully married chassidic couple. The husband and wife are not particularly inclined to assuming the other's role at all. But, she comes into his business one day each week to do typing and correspondence. He makes a point to drive the children in the car each time they need to be taken somewhere or picked up. They both do things which involve "stretching" beyond their ideal range of activities in order to practice "alliance." They both do this in a spirit of contribution to the happy, healthy and peaceful operation of their home, marriage and family.

Let me tell you something else instructive about this chassidic couple. They both are very friendly and pleasant people who both came from good homes. They both have good hearts. He did something very wise, which will only work when both partners are decent, nice and reasonably mature individuals. When he got engaged, he told his wife, "I'll make you a deal. Let's never fight. You are always going to be right."

At the beginning of the marriage, he truly treated her like a queen who could do no wrong. After a while she started feeling bad and she complained to him, "I don't want to be always right! Will you please be right half of the time!" She decided on her own that a relationship means making the other happy, knowing how to give in and choosing someone who feels that way about you too. For about twenty one years, now, this couple has not ever fought. One always tells the other to have his or her way, and everything is done with calm and a smile. By the way, each of their children, without exception, has grown up (blee ayin hora) to be sweet, cheerful, friendly, polite, well-adjusted and pleasant. I know this family since their children were little. I can testify myself to their consistent, successful and lovely conduct. It's all true.

In human relations in general and in mussar in general, whenever you are mad at someone, do something good for the person right away. Force yourself. Give a blessing, do a favor or kindness, make a peace overture. Do something right away and make strong, good natured moves to work to break the yaitzer hora, emotion or bad mida. The gemora says that doing acts of love will break hate and it is a mitzva to do so (Bava Metzia 32b). Don't stop yourself by saying, "The other person isn't doing as much. The other person isn't being big about it." You've got your job to do and he has his. Your job is to be Torah-loyal, peaceful, pleasant and a kidush Hashem.

This is an area which requires considerable judgement, mutual good faith, a good attitude, sensitivity and reasonable adaptation to the individual personalities and situations involved. The "acid tests" are:

* optimal practical and healthy functioning of the family and

* promotion of greatest, fullest peace in the marriage.

A wise contemporary Jerusalem Torah scholar told a marrying young man to stop himself each time before he goes into his home. Stop at the door and think about what may be on the other side of it. Will your wife one day be upset about something? Will children be getting her excited or drained? Will she be going topsy-turvy in 17 tension-drenched directions? Be prepared for whatever may be going on, on the other side of the front door (you can also do this before phoning your spouse). Keep composure and be prepared to handle whatever comes at you; with patience, calm, gentleness, wisdom and love.

This sounds to me like an idea that BOTH husbands and wives should start practicing right away in all possible applications. Remember at all times that the sudden and unanticipated can be overwhelming and, potentially, destructive.

I also advocate a preparatory program that is a cross-breed between 1. a mussar (self-elevating) introspective Torah-technique, 2. an exercise regimen used by athletes or martial artists and 3. the psychological therapeutic technique called "self-talk." In brief (and in private, regularly and often) you role-play with yourself anticipating situations which can occur for which you wish to be prepared, or which can build your relationship.

For example, say (while you are alone by yourself), "I understand that you're upset. What I would like you to do is tell me what you're feelings are. I want to know how I can be responsive to you and how to care for my spouse. I want to please you. Your feelings and needs are important to me and I love you. I won't know how to please my spouse without your help. Since you know better than I what your feelings and needs are, please help me to care for my spouse by telling me what's bothering you." If over two or three months you've said the likes of this fifty or eighty times, you won't be blown away when your spouse next gets upset over something. You'll have assimilated this response. The next time your spouse comes at you with a jolting surprise, you won't miss a beat. Use scenarios that apply to your situation and your spouse.

Or, to build closeness, you may say (by yourself, in private), "You know I really appreciate how much of a gift I have in being married to you. When I was by myself, I was lonely, I had four walls. Now I have a home. Now I'm a full person. I really feel it. You're such a good [homemaker, provider, friend, cook, emotional-support system, parent to our children]; you're devoted, sensitive, attractive, thoughtful [any and all applicable praises]. I'm very lucky and I appreciate you fully." After you've practiced and absorbed it, say it in a sincere, heartfelt way to your spouse. Devise as many "statements" as you can, for relationship building, "crisis management," and for trouble prevention and repair. Repeat them over and over until you can say them spontaneously and with authentic, sincere feeling. When the situation calls for it, you'll have the methodology down pat, the way an athlete or martial artist has his winning techniques immediately available in "the heat of battle," without needing time for thinking. Remember, however, that this training is not for battle. This is training for rendering battle OBSOLETE. This is mussar (Torah self-elevation).

Of course, dissipating your emotional reaction to anger does not let your partner have any excuse to remain angry, unreachable or obnoxious. Everyone has a full-time, lifelong imperative to grow. Even strategic people are entitled to a bearable spouse! People with uncontrollable emotions just may need professional help to improve the situation meaningfully.

When any overwhelming but unacceptable passion or drive comes on you (whether anger or otherwise) an effective trick is to tell yourself that you will allow yourself to explode, indulge, etc. LATER BUT NOT NOW. This short circuits the power of the emotion and circumvents inclination to be resistant or defensive. Psychologically you give yourself relief by "agreeing" within your mind to the sin but you actually will keep yourself distracted until the emotion passes, the mood changes and you have left infraction safely behind. You thereby are saved from the actual sin, when you have difficulty controlling it at the actual time. Use this only when you know it will keep you from the sin - NEVER to rationalize, to excuse or to do the sin. This is exclusively a means by which to NOT SIN.



[Note: the introduction here is a relatively short, more "marriage-focused" version. The longer version can be found on this site in the section "Handling Anger And Quarrels," in the sub-section "From Published Articles On Anger And Quarrels." The reader may want to save the section on 36 rules for handy reference, whether from here or from the version with the longer introduction.]

It is necessary, especially in marriage, to becoming an "anger-free and fight-free spouse." So as not to leave you stuck, we now continue with three dozen practical methods for achieving this noble, obligatory - and difficult - goal. Some of the emphasis here will be for resolving marital anger and quarrels, but, you can apply much of these principles and methods in general too.

The mitzva to "love your fellow Jew as yourself" applies to your spouse (Kidushin 41a). It may seem obvious, but there are plenty of people who are kind and loving to strangers but forget to be kind and loving with their spouse and family, where the obligation is greatest.

In close relationships, the pressures of life and the prospects for provocation that naturally come out of close and constant relating, make anger an ongoing threat to peace. Therefore, I am providing this introduction and the following 36 rules which, if applied, will help your "batting average" and keep your relationships - especially with your spouse and children - gentle, harmonious, workable and G-dly. Even if you are not perfect, never stop working on being continually anger-free and peaceful with people, and on being a better person. With effort and dedication, you'll get better and better over time. As in all Torah "projects," have a rov for questions and encouragement.

We are writing three dozen rules for making oneself "an anger-proof and fight-proof person," especially in your marriage. The mitzva to "love your fellow Jew as yourself" applies to the person you marry (Kidushin 41a). When angry, one does not love another and can hate that person and wish him/her harm (Erech Apayim). Anger is evil (Pirkei Avos 5), is equated with idolatry (midrash) and we are constantly obligated to eliminate anger and to train ourselves, instead, to be ongoingly gentle (Taanis 4a) and humble (Avoda Zora 20b). We have a full-time obligation to have yiras Shomayim (fear of G-d, so we always choose to do the right thing), to behave with derech eretz (civil, thoughtful and polite conduct) and to not use exalted-sounding "frum principles" to violate the respectful, good and considerate treatment that spouses constantly owe one another.

When you have questions or trying situations, get da'as Torah. People make serious mistakes when they are not equipped to learn or apply Torah themselves. For example, one man said he may speak during the silent Shmoneh Esray because the Shulchan Aruch only prohibits speaking for the out-loud Shmoneh Esray. The Shulchan Aruch prohibits saying the silent Shmoneh Esray out loud. Therefore, it is understood without the Shulchan Aruch saying so that talking, all the moreso, is prohibited during the silent Shmoneh Esray. As another example, the gemora (Sota 3b) says that when a woman is angry it destroys her home and when the husband is angry it is nothing at all. A man thought that this gives him permission to be angry with his wife or children. The gemora is talking about a blurting out due to frustration or pressure, from an otherwise normal person. A woman can get more emotional and excited than a man. But the gemora is talking about basically psychologically normal people with reasonable midos (character). If someone is neurotic, selfish, immature or evil; either partner can destroy their home, each is responsible for all damage or hurt caused and each is obligated to do all that is possible to fix their midos and psychological health. As Rabbi Elimelech of Lizinsk says, "A person is born only to change his nature." We are created imperfect for the purpose of making ourselves more and more perfect throughout life. The Gra says that working on midos each moment is the first purpose of human life. The Torah requires us to emulate G-d's kind and holy actions (Sota 14a) and traits (Rambam Dayos 1:5-6). Among these are "slow to anger" (Exodus 34:6). In fact, any patience for another Jew is considered by Heaven to be one of the greatest acts of kindness possible (Brachos 5b - 6a with Tosfos). It is very tempting to be impatient, selfish, to give in to strong feelings. When one is not patient and this is at the expense of another Jew, his prayers are torn by Heaven and the Divine Presence leaves the Jewish people. WHEN A JEW ACTS WITH PATIENCE IN A WAY THAT BENEFITS ANOTHER JEW, THE MEASURE OF REWARD IS ONE OF THE GREATEST MEASURES OF REWARD THAT IS EVER GIVEN BY HEAVEN FOR ANYTHING!

Now we end the introduction and we start the 36 rules/techniques.

1. Assume yourself to be wrong - do you have PROOF the other person is? Have you exhausted every avenue of benefit of doubt? Think through the other's side of the story before you say your first word.

2. The orientation in your relationship is to give to each other, not to take, demand, expect or tear down.

3. Train yourself to think through your behaviors, reactions and statements - in advance - so you will never do or say a thing which will have a destructive or hurtful consequence, and which you will regret later.

4. How may the other be hurting; calling for your help, understanding or emotional support?

5. Listen attentively, steadily and respectfully.

6. Factor in gender differences - how is "other-genderness" responsible for the other's conduct (requiring understanding, not fighting)?

7. Have the will to please the other. You should care enough that if the other is sad, disappointed or displeased; it makes you feel just as bad.

8. Recognize and verbally acknowledge the other's side. Realize that if you "win," the relationship loses. The "team" must win.

9. Be responsible to love, respect and act only for the good of the other - the relationship is bigger than any object of argument.

10. Remember that G-d pays us "measure for measure" for how we treat others, for good and bad.

11. Do the four steps of tshuva if you ever wrong the other (feel sincere remorse, admit, commit to never do the wrong again and appease the other to the point of voluntarily forgiving you).

12. Once an issue is resolved, move on; forgive and forget. The Orchos Tzadikim writes that the wise person can transform bad things into good things.

13. What is really the source of my reaction? Discern if a past problem or wound or buried resentment or the accumulation of past frustrations is coming up now.

14. If the other does not want to talk now, or is not capable of rational interchange now, offer to be "available" later.

15. Speak (and reply) to the point and substantively; but softly, politely, considerately and kindly. The gemora says that it is more important to be sweet with people to never hurt their feelings than to be honest and thereby hurting anyone's feelings.

16. Resolve quarrels or upset as soon as possible, preferably before the end of that same day.

17. Remember that real human growth and change is a slow process under the best of conditions. King Solomon [Proverbs 24:17] says that a tzadik falls seven times and gets up. This means that even the most righteous person stumbles on the road to human self-perfection. However, a key difference between and good person and a bad person is that the good one keeps getting up and moving forward, while the bad person stays there when he falls (repeatedly doing the same thing and remaining the way he is). When the good person slips, he perseveres. If your relationship partner slips; be patient, forgiving, supportive and understanding. Constructively help the person to become a better person.

18. Always be humble. No one has any right to make himself arrogant at another's expense. Next to G-d's greatness, any human being is less than tiny. And, you are obligated "to walk meekly with your G-d (Micha 6:8)."

19. To avoid miscommunication, at every step necessary, get verification of intended meaning. Never risk a fight over misunderstanding.

20. Consistently have your tone, face, gestures and body language conform with your words, so that the understandability of your intended meaning is not corrupted by your other-than-verbal "signals."

21. Ask, "Is this resolution satisfactory? If not, what else is needed for it to be?"

22. Keep your differences private, except for people who objectively have the ability to be fair and to help. Never expose your quarrel to others and never let meddlers get involved or, worse, take sides.

23. Be careful that your children are always totally shielded from your differences.

24. Appreciate what you have in your relationship partner - don't risk damaging or losing the positives. Keep perspective. How does this interchange or upset fit into the "big picture" and your entire life? It is probably petty, in long run terms.

25. A valid principle and an invalid expression of it make you automatically wrong. A valid case is no license for invalid behavior. You cannot separate a valid position from valid handling of it.

26. If you need a psychologist or other mental health professional, he/she must be G-d fearing, knowing the difference between traif and kosher therapies and who is either learned enough to handle religious questions in the therapy or at least enough to take questions to a qualified rov.

27. The Talmud (Taanis 20b) says to "Be as soft and bendable as a reed." Be gentle and adaptable with people.

28. When a question is beyond your ability to handle peacefully or effectively, have the policy: "We don't have fights, we have shaalos!" and call a qualified rov to get Torah instruction for what to do.

29. At the end of resolving any issue, end on a positive note, to re-establish a nice atmosphere. Do something nice right away, build good momentum - and keep it!

30. There is extra danger of fighting on hectic erev shabos and erev yom tov days. Be vigilant to resolve arguments before these days - and to not have new arguments on them!

31. Don't let anything destructive (neurosis, ego, power-play, control quest, weakening in the thing that gave resolution, frustration or any self-interest) bring degeneration or sabotage to your accomplishment. A personal problem or shortcoming is never license to abuse the other or threaten the relationship. If you must vent intense or hard-to-manage feelings, do so in ways that are never at anyone else's expense. Go running or exercising till you have no more energy, scream into a pillow when no one else is home, tear a phone book, hit a punching bag at a gym. Deal with anti-social, offensive, hostile, hurtful, destructive or violent emotions in private and so that no other living soul (except perhaps your counselor or therapist) need know about this.

32. Never forget: half the relationship is the other's property! Marriage is a full-time "exercise" in discipline, self-control and unselfishness.

33. Never threaten. Make no threats of any kind. Threats are only destructive.

34. Have empathy - how is the other feeling about the situation and you? What does this mean you must do, in very practical terms, on behalf of your partner and the relationship? What will it take to show you care - and be convincing?

35. Never disrupt the regular order of life over the adversarial issue. Always keep to your normal order of life, even when there are unavoidable or irritating quarrels. By keeping the tone, activities and "atmosphere" of life as normal and consistent as possible at all times, fights will not shake up your overall lives and relationship significantly. Keeping life steady helps to minimize the destructive or destabilizing effect of arguments and sends the message that the relationship is bigger than any disagreement. This, of course, makes resolution and healing come much more easily, quickly and lastingly.

36. Refuse to fight. Breaking peace is just never an option.