Today’s post is from an interview I conducted with a Happy Wife of more than 35 years for our Sage Wisdom column. I will be archiving it soon and wanted to make sure you had a chance to read it before it’s removed from our home page.
Over the next few days, I will be posting interviews conducted with women happily married for 35 years or more. There’s so much wisdom to be gleaned from each of these interviews so I hope you’ll make the time to read each one.
Chutzpah & Common Sense
I was on the phone with Miriam for only five minutes before I fell in love with her personality. There was an openness and honesty in our conversation that made her a delight to interview. The boldness in her speech caused me to laugh out loud on many occasions. She has what is referred to in Yiddish as chutzpah, which is a gutsy audacity. She is not ashamed to say what’s on her mind and that made for an eventful – and enlightening – conversation.
Born in Israel, Miriam learned early about family and the importance of having a strong familial bond. Although she moved to the United States at a young age, she returned to Israel many years later and met the love of her life. Their courtship began long distance and involved cassette tapes being sent back and forth across the Atlantic. Rather than writing letters, they recorded messages to each other. Messages they’ve maintained on cassette to this day.
Ten years after they wed in Israel they decided to move to the United States. They brought with them luggage, their two beautilful children, as well as Miriam’s upbeat personality, love of life and what she calls good old fashioned common sense.
When asked why she believes marriages fail at such a disproportionately high rate in the United States she responds with her trademark frankness, “Common sense!” When I asked her to elaborate on what she meant, she said, “I believe in the basics. My attitude is this: I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Family must come first. And when I say family, I mean your spouse must come before all else, next your children and after that your parents.”
I asked what she noticed as the main differences between marriages in the US and those she’d observed around the world throughout her travels. Responding without hesitation, she says “They’re more family oriented.” She shared how in their culture it was not uncommon for the entire family to meet for dinner each night to discuss their days and to relax – together. It is a common belief that one’s spouse came before their children, so that’s the order in which it should continue. Spouse first. Children second. Parents third. Period.
Looking at our culture and society I inquired why she thought it was so difficult for many to put their spouse first. “For so long women have been taught that children are to come first” she said. “It began with the feminist movement, that albeit with good intention, taught us to put ourselves and our children first in everything. “You’re taught that kids are everything. You hear women say they’d die for their children. But they were not the first ones to come along.” Just as you would not pack up your children and leave them on the front porch if they did something you didn’t like, we should not consider doing this to our spouse.
Miriam argues the feminist movement, which allowed for women like me to rival the boys at the top of the workplace, forgot to share a few things with us. She said, “They told women to focus on yourself, children, career, life…this and that. But no one ever told us to focus on our spouse. God forbid your husband come in the house and you serve him dinner. God forbid I should say, ‘I’m a happy wife. My husband respects me and treats me well.’”
“Why are you so afraid to say you’re happy?” she continues, as if questioning wives in cyberspace. She ponders on her own question for a moment and then responds, “Maybe they’re afraid their happiness will be jinxed. Maybe there’s a fear that if they say they’re happy, it’ll go away.” Whatever the reason, she thinks it’s a bunch of nonsense and there are plenty of happy wives who need to be as bold about their enjoyment in marriage as those who are miserable and can’t seem to stop talking about it.
So what does Miriam’s common sense “List” look like? Here is her advice:
Put Your Spouse First: When the children are grown and move out of the home, who will be left but your spouse? Nurture that relationship first and foremost. It is your role, together, to be the best parents you can be and what better way to do that than by parenting together and teaching your children (by what you say and do) that the bond of marriage is stronger than any other earthly commitment;
Spend Time Together – Daily: Every night, Miriam and Efi spend the first portion of their evening having appetizers (that either of them will make) and a few sips of port. They wind down and tell each other about their day — work, friends, family. They’ve found unwinding together is the best way to distress. This is the time when you are able to let down your guards and talk about anything and everything with your best friend, your spouse;
A Little Attention Goes a Long Way: The smallest kind gesture, the littlest bit of attention shown toward your spouse can have great impact on your marriage. Rather than spending so much time showing you’re right, instead try spending it being kind toward one another;
You Don’t Have to Be Religious, But You Do Need Culture: Many of Miriam’s friends are religious about observing the Sabbath every Saturday and having dinner with family every Friday. She has found it a bit more difficult to always observe their religious schedule exactly. But they make sure the purpose and meaning of the holiday is still celebrated. If a religious holiday falls on a Thursday but the entire family can’t get together until Friday, then that holiday now falls on that Friday in her household. Family and togetherness is what is most important and she contends one can create their own family culture. You don’t have to follow the crowd;
Must Have Trust: You must make him your #1 priority and vice versa. It is important to respect and trust each other. Being jealous will only hurt your relationship. Nothing good is gained through jealousy. Simply trust the one you married and make sure you are also found to be trustworthy;
Get a Hobby & Social Life: Everyone needs space, including your spouse. Find a hobby you love and take some time to do that while simultaneously giving your spouse some time to pursue what he enjoys. A social life is imperative. Date nights. Meeting each other for lunch when time allows. Making time to spend with each other. Continue to date even long after you’ve finished saying your wedding vows. Go out on the town, have a drink, do some dancing and get lost in each other’s arms.
Miriam always wanted to promote happy marriages and to encourage other wives but just didn’t know how to do it. Well, hopefully her words of wisdom through this interview will stretch far and wide and help remind us of the “common sense” of nurturing our marriage and building our family.
Until tomorrow…make it a great day!
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