Talking to your Rav about Shalom Bayis
by Devora Krasnianski, founder of Adai Ad Institute
Summary of a conversation between Rabbi Shais Taub and Devora Krasnianski about how to help your Rav help you with Shalom Bayis. Listen to the full recording here.
The Crown Heights Jewish Community Council is working to bring awareness and education about Shalom Bayis and Domestic Violence in the community. This call is one of the series.
You can be coming to the Rav for a psak or for advice and encouragement for a problem in the marriage. Just be clear – to him and yourself: Are you coming for a halachic ruling or for a conversation with someone who is learned?
Q: If someone is coming to the Rav to pasken (make an Halachic ruling) about a situation, what should she be aware of? A Rav can’t tell you the halacha about a situation without knowing the details of the situation. Use all resources available to you – the mental health professional and the Rav. When going to the Rav, you should already have guidance from a mental health professional. When you tell the Rav what your mental health professional has recommended, the Rav can then tell you if according to Halacha you can follow that advice.
Q: Many people turn to a Rav for advice and guidance (as in Asei lcha Rav) about Shalom Bayis issues. What insight can you share in that regard?
Most people who ask Shalom Bayis questions have waited until it was larger problem. There are a lot of questions that should have been brought to a Rav – but aren’t. Most questions that do finally come to a Rav are about a misunderstanding or clash of personalities. These questions can benefit from an objective, learned, G-d fearing third party. Other questions are based on dysfunction.
Most people will call the Rav when there is an acute crisis, in desperation. When desperate, we don’t think clearly or articulate clearly. It is not best to call a Rav in that state of desperation. If in an emergency situation, call 911, not your Rav. As possible, call the Rav when you are calm and thinking straight; it will be so much more productive. In that moment of desperation, make a firm resolution to call your Rav in a few days. And then actually call, even if you are feeling less desperate a few days later.
Q: Some people come to a Rav to ask him to make the other person change. Can you talk to that?
Don’t ask someone else’s question: “What should the other person be doing?” A good question is “What should I do?”
Even in the healthiest relationships, you can’t control and change other people’s behaviors. Thinking that your happiness (or sanity) is dependent on someone else’s behavior is another level of self victimization. We don’t have free will over other people’s actions. We do have free will over our own thoughts, speech and action. We have power when we use our free will.
When we give over our free will to someone else, we have no power. When we assume the role for being responsible for another adult’s behaviors – that is a form of self-victimization. When we put any energy toward trying to change another, we are losing our own power.
The way to get back your power and energy is: Focus on yourself. This absolutely does not mean to take the blame and responsibility for the other person’s behaviors. Focus on yourself means: “If I am not for myself, who is for me?” This means: only I can fix myself. Only I can make myself feel OK; I cannot rely on anyone else. Only G-d can tell me that I’m valid and worthwhile. No one else! We should not make our success in life conditional on someone else’s behavior or words.
“If not now, when?” NOW. You can have a normal life now – not relying on other people’s change.
Create your boundaries. Empower yourself to say “Here are my values and standards and I hope you don’t cross them and if you do, I will do XYZ to remove myself” A boundary is not a threat. You are not giving any power away. A boundary is NEVER about what someone is going to do, it is only about what I am going to do to protect my own values.
Q: What are effective mindsets about Shalom Bayis in general?
The hardest thing to do is to keep the focus on ourselves. But it is also the most productive and empowering. Trying to get someone else to do something is depleting, exhausting and ‘insane-making’ for yourself. When you ask “What should I do?”, you are asking a strong question and you are likely to get a strong answer.
Q: What would ‘working in tandem with a therapist and Rav’ look like?
You can only succeed in life (and in therapy) if you are true to your value system. The Rav can help you clarify and solidify your Torah value system, as related to the situation. A therapist will not necessarily help you define your values. You have to come to therapy with clear values. Working with a therapist and a Rav in tandem might be coming to your Rav to check if the therapist’s advice is aligned with Torah and hashkafa.
It might be useful to ask your rav for a referral for a mental health professional who is aligned with Torah and hashkafa.
Q: Any other advice from rabbis to help make such conversations even more productive?
It is most helpful to have a consistent relationship with your Rav. Once you have a rapport with your Rav, it will be less uncomfortable for you to come to him with questions. The better the Rav knows the nuances of your life, the more nuanced he can answer your questions. First thing a married couple should do is choose your family Rav and build the relationship. If you do not yet have that relationship with a Rav, start now. It’s not too late.
Be clear and forthcoming. Do not downplay the severity of the situation. Don’t expect the Rav to read into your ‘hints’ or euphemisms.
Write down your points before coming to the Rav.
An attitude of ‘focusing on myself’, ‘I’m taking care of myself’, ‘I’m working within Hashem’s plan’ – will help you be more confident and clear when speaking with your Rav.
It’s OK to cry. The Rav has seen that before. You’re not going to shock the Rav.
Q: Should both spouses come together to discuss Shalom Bayis? In the ‘typical’ situations, where the Rav can be helpful as an objective third party – yes, come together.
There are situations, where one feels uncomfortable or unsafe going with the spouse. Don’t let that hold you back from speaking with your Rav. Explain to the Rav that you are not comfortable coming with your spouse and why. Talk that out.
Q: Can you, should you, bring an advocate with you when speaking to your Rav? Definitely as emotional support. But, not as the ‘thinker’/ ‘talker’. You must be the one in the conversations and implementing.
Q: Is an office visit with the Rav better than a phone conversation? No hard and fast rule. Some people do better on the phone, others in an in-person meeting.
Q: If something the Rav suggests doesn’t feel appropriate, is it OK to mention that? Mention that right away. Ask if what was said is advice or a psak. If you are having a hard time with your Rav’s advice, you can go back to him for more clarity. You can ask him to explain the rationale behind the advice.
Q: After speaking to one Rav, can I go to another? If you feel you are not getting the guidance and support from your Rav, change Rav. But don’t go to different Rav on question to question basis.