Can Your Marriage Survive the Chagim?

Shira started making lists of menus and ingredients to buy for Rosh Hashanah about a month before the holiday. She didn’t have time to start cooking, but she had plenty of opportunities to stress about the upcoming chag. In the meantime, her husband, Yaakov, was pretty calm about the whole thing. When Shira finally did get into the kitchen to start baking, Yaakov sank into an armchair in the living room and complained that the challah wouldn’t be fresh on the chag. As you can imagine, this comment led to a big argument and the challahs didn’t get baked that night.

Ari and Elisheva were married in the summer. Ari has been excited about spending his first Rosh Hashanah as a married man in his parents’ shul. He looks forward to davening next to his father and brothers, just as he has done for the past twenty years. But Elisheva doesn’t want to spend three days cooped up in their small apartment. She wants to go to her parents where the bedroom has its own bathroom and there’s a yard to hang out in when the house gets too noisy. She tells Ari that if he loved her, he would go where she is more comfortable. He counters that if she loved him, she would understand that he needs to be with his parents for chag.

The upcoming chagim can be a recipe for marital strife. Family loyalties, unrealistic expectations and the overwhelming amount of work that the chagim generate can cause communication breakdowns. When we are frazzled, our emotions run high and we can’t think clearly or calmly. We end up saying things we regret later, but are of course unable to take back.

So, how can your marriage survive the chagim? The first step is to have a conversation about expectations. Where do you see yourself spending the chagim? Will you host or be a guest? How much food do you expect to have on the table at each meal? Who will prepare the food or pack the bags? Discuss which expectations can be met and which cannot and agree on compromises wherever possible.

Once you’ve been married for more than a year, you’ll have previous years’ chagim to look back on and learn from. Did you try to do too much last year? Maybe you could have skipped all those kugels that no one ate. Was going to the in-laws the right decision or would you have been better off at home? Pre-marriage expectations are no longer relevant; choose what works best for you as a couple and as a family.

The second step is to be aware and possibly re-evaluate during the build-up to the holiday. Your wife may have declared that she doesn’t need help with the cooking, but if she’s overworked and stressed, it’s a good idea to step in and take some of the burden off. You may have decided together that you would stay home this year, but if feelings of loneliness start to creep in, it might be time to change your plans. Instead of yelling at each other out of frustration, sit down over a cup of coffee at a calm time and discuss whether your original plan needs adjusting.

Rosh Hashanah offers us a chance to start fresh and make this year more meaningful than last year. Let’s make this a year of marital harmony, mutual love, partnership and joint problem-solving.

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