Perils of “Long Distance” Advisers in Shalom Bayis Problems

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By Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin MA
Director: Jewish Professionals Institute, rudomin@jpi.org
Dedicated to my children.
There is a well-known saying in special counseling groups praising those who are able to “talk the talk and walk the walk” that connects well with the saying of our Chazal: “Emor Me’at Ve’asei Harbei” ” meaning that “actions speak louder than words”!
We all like to give our opinions about all sorts of subjects that we are clearly not experts in. Trouble is, that most people think they are world class experts about other people’s problems. If anyone would tell them to do things in their own private lives they would get most offended, yet by the same token there are those people who feel they can not just offer but advocate to advise others what they should or should not do in their private lives, while the far-off distant advisers have no responsibility or care about the real life outcomes that may result from the “arm chair expert’s” advice that someone else does in a far-away or far-moved situation from where the “eitzeh gebber” (advice giver) is located.
Unfortunately in our turbulent times we all too often hear of a couple having Shalom Bayis problems or even facing divorce, R”L. I have spoken to such couples and people facing such Tzores, including both men and women in the Frum world, and they always complain about the advisers in the background telling their spouses what to do or not to do in the troubled marriage or relationship. The person who has the Shalom Bayis problems is obviously in pain and facing a serious life’s challenge. Such people are vulnerable and needy and will turn to anyone for help and advice. But at that point what happens next is that they are given the wrong advice by the wrong people and that makes the original problem even worse.
The right thing to do is to find, and Daven hard for the right person to talk to. It is not easy when relationships are breaking down to get to the right problem-solver. If you are in such a situation or you know of someone in such a situation, do not jump to give advice. Rather think in terms of other challenges in life and who you would call in to help. If you or your spouse are having a heart attack, G-d forbid, would you run to your best friend or mother or grandfather to get advice? No matter how smart and caring they may be they cannot deal with a heart attack that can only be treated by a cardiologist (heart specialist). Same thing if you get a flat tire, you need to get to a reliable mechanic to fix it, etc.
It is no different when Shalom Bayis problems break out, you cannot rely on a distant adviser who is not familiar with such problems. You need to know that you must find an expert. This is not easy, especially in the personal and family turmoil that may be going on. In addition, whoever it is that will be the one chosen to be the expert adviser, that person needs to be willing and able to speak with BOTH sides in order to arrive at a peaceful solution.
Often-times well-meaning learned Jews, even rabbis and rebbetzins, may offer advice from afar. But if they are not willing to pick up the phone and talk with, and preferably even meet with, the “other side” they are becoming part of the problem and not helping the solution!
Many times Shalom Bayis problems involve deep conflicting emotions. It is sometimes like a war-zone for the battling couple. No matter how “choshuv” and reputable the long-distance adviser may be, by talking and advising one side only, they are choosing sides in a complicated battle going on between the feuding couple with their Shalom Bayis problems. Each side views the other side as the “enemy” and anyone who is advising the other spouse is therefore also the enemy! A smart person will not give advice to only side knowing that they are automatically classed as enemies!
The only right way to avoid getting trapped in the middle is by looking at it the way a Bais Din or Dayan would look at two litigants. It is Assur (forbidden) to hear only one side’s claims only. Both parties to the dispute must be present and have equal time to present their side of the story. If a long distance adviser or any adviser cannot get their minds around the need for such fairness then they are guilty of making the problem worse!
Always exercise caution when dealing with human beings, even if you do not understand them or agree with them, because every Jew is create with the Tselem Elokim.
To be continued…
{Matzav.com}

3 COMMENTS

  1. Very nice advice, but all too often, only one side wants to go for counselling. This is worse in situations where one party is clearly in the wrong, having poor middos, mental or emotional health issues etc. Even when both are clearly healthy, the male side is more reluctant to work on things. So sad.

  2. We are NOT talking about “going for counseling” (yet) here at all! This is way before that even happens! To go for professional counseling is a very brave and sophisticated step that usually comes long after there are problems in a family.

    The above article is about something else! It refers to the most common situation when problems first start, and no one is even thinking of going for counseling or therapy. It may be that a couple has started to disagree over something small and then the resentment starts to build up and people around them may notice a change in their interactions with each other and people they know. Or it may be even more serious than that, that the couple has started to argue with each other over different things and it’s being noticed. And it is at this stage that there is is tendency for one of both sides to start looking for or getting “free advice” from close friends, neighbors or relatives, and it is at this point too that things can get dangerous when basically anyone thinks they are “experts” and start chiming in with “advice” that most times will just NOT be any good to the situation!

    At this point, when the couple is NOT interested yet in going for professional counseling, this is unfortunately when the “back-seat drivers” get involved and “take hold of the controls” exploiting the vulnerabilities and even confusion of the initial stages of the break-down in Shalom Bayis among the feuding couple, that the “Monday morning quarterbacks” need to know to back off and not stick their noses into what are really serious problems they will only make worse by interfering with lives that need better handling.

    That is why is is critical that either a feuding couple experiencing Shalom Bayis issues or those who know them, seek out a person who can seriously help them resolve these initial outbreaks of the problems.

    Therefore it may be a local Rov or Rebbetzin or both who should and mus get involved. As we know too many Rabbanim and Rebbetzins are afraid to “mix in” but this is not acceptable. Just look into the Torah, starting with Moshe Rabbeinu, he lost his great position in Mitzraim when he saw a non-Jew hitting a Jew he got involved to stop the trouble and it cost him his status.

    Our great leaders cared about people and it is the job of our current great leaders to care, certainly a local Rov or Rebbetzin who know their neighbors and whose neighbors know them, that invariably when they hear of problems of Shalom Bayis they need to follow the lead of Moshe Rabbeinu and GET INVOLVED earlier rather than pretend that nothing is going on around them! Because people are hurting and they cannot be ignored.

    If you heard of neighbors who fell down their stairs and were shouting for help, you would not ignore them, you would run to see what is happening and you would call Hatzola right away to attend to them. Shalom Bayis problems when they become known are no different, you need the intervention from a respected and responsible figure who cares for others, and not unhelpful involvement from nosy neighbors, curious friends, and disgruntled relatives, none of whom can really help with their “advice” when Shalom Bayis starts to break down.

  3. Addendum and continuation of above topic…:

    The Pivotal Roles of “Best Friends” in Shalom Bayis

    We cannot live without friends. Pirkei Avos teaches us “Asei Lecha Rav, Uknei Lecha Chaver” that even if one does not have a friend it is possible to “buy” a friend to be your reliable Chavrusa and hopefully a reliable companion in life. Children and adults, men and women, young and old, all have friends. Some are friends from childhood, and others make friends all the time anywhere any time. I once heard a good line from the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yitzchok Hutner ZT”L when a Bochur came to him and told him something very secret that he claimed he had told no one before, and Rav Hutner looked at him in surprise and asked him: “You did not tell even your best friend?!” Rav Hutner would also encourage people to have friends with whom they could simply Shmooz and let off steam. So everyone agrees that having friends and especially “best friends” is a necessity and not a luxury in life!

    But like with everything else in life, no relationship is ever perfect, and while friends and best friends can and are essential in giving us the companionship and “Chavershaft” (friendship) we all need as part of being connected to a Tzibbur, there are limitations to this as well when we get married and then automatically our husband or wife becomes our BEST FRIEND! Just as in marriage we marry only one person likewise in life that one person we marry becomes our best friend for the rest of one’s life.

    I remember when I was single and as some of my very closest friends got married I would feel a sense of loss and even resentment that now my best friends had chosen another best friend and we could not share the same level of communication and closeness of ideas and life as we had before. But the same happened to me when I got married, I could not talk the same way with my friends because now my wife was my best friend and I shared all the private conversations with her more than with anyone else. This is the natural way and builds the bonds between a husband and wife that they come to know each other’s ways of thinking and expressing themselves and that is why the Torah talks of Adam “knowing” Chava on all levels. That is the way it is supposed to be. They give it different names: Such as “bonding” or “relationship” or whatever the words are for closeness between two people.

    As time goes by, or sometime sooner, perhaps much later, life intrudes, people move on, and there are crisis and situations that may come between a husband and wife. What can be assumed is that no matter what happens within a marriage, the couple still has best friends. These friends may not know it, or perhaps they do, but they have become the arbiters of the marriage or relationship between the couple as the couple moves on in life. Many times Shalom Bayis will hinge on the reactions of best friends to what they are told by the one spouse. There is then the danger that the best friends will project their own feelings and ideas onto the complaining spouse.

    It could be that some best friends never liked the husband or the wife in the first place, and now with the slightest complaint they get to vent their unhappiness over that, with fatal consequences for the one seeking the support of the best friend. So now the Shalom Bayis comes under pressure and threat not just from within the marriage but also from outside people and best friends who have no clue what binds or differentiates a husband and wife from each other.

    Say a husband and wife are having a disagreement about how to treat a child who has married and moved away, the wife then goes to complain about the husband to a best friend, the best friend does not understand the differences between the husband and wife, but has decided it is because of some other pet peeve, so the best friend tells the wife not support the husband in learning. Or, not help the husband financially, when that is not even what the argument is about. So then the whole Shalom Bayis situation becomes even more inflamed. Multiply this a few times over from a few so-called “best friends” and no surprise that we see so many cases of Shalom Bayis collapsing with so many cooks spoiling the broth.

    So the best course of action for best friends when their own friends have Shalom Bayis problems is to step back and keep your opinions to yourself. Encourage a local Rov or Rebbeztin that everyone respects to intervene PERSONALLY, and don’t assume you can solve other people’s problems. As they say: Discretion is the better part of valor.

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