Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Not Driven Into Another Woman's Arms

While I would not do anything that would ever endanger our marriage, or the relationship we have (not to say anything about our family and the children), I completely understand how some men are driven towards extramarital affairs.

I work most of the day and most of the nights too now, and I am working from our little apartment in Beitar, Israel.  I still work Colorado hours, so my days begin late, and they end late.  I would say that I am experiencing "cabin fever," as I rarely get the chance to leave the house.  With all this, however, my only daily source of companionship are the guys from my community, and at home, my wife.

I come down to greet my wife late in the morning after the kids are in school.  My work day ended at 3am or 4am Israel time, and so I am waking up just as my wife is getting off of her "morning shift" of dressing the kids and getting them on the bus.  I come down the stairs to say hello, make us a brewed cup of coffee, and hopefully exchange a few meaningful words.

However, being a husband of almost TEN YEARS, she takes much of what I do for granted.  If I bring in a client that pays the bills for two or three months of our living expenses, and that client pays up front, she is not excited about this.  If I close a major case that I am working on, and the firm gets a large pay day, she is similarly not excited.  If I talk to her about the news, she is not excited and doesn't want to hear about it.  If I talk about a hobby that I am interested in, she is not interested in talking about it.  If I speak about something relating to our home, or what someone in the community was speaking about in shul (synagogue), she is not interested.  If I speak to her about something that we have similar interests in, she criticizes every one of my thoughts.

It is hard not to feel invisible or unloved in our family, but I am really feeling unloved.  I've reached out and have tried to make friends -- and I have been successful in doing so -- but this does not fill the deep void and the distance I feel between myself and my wife.

I don't know about you, but I need to feel wanted.  I feel loved when I am appreciated for the hard work that I do.  I feel connected to someone when I can have a coherent conversation with them -- about anything!  But each of our conversation devolves into a "you're wrong, you don't know what you're talking about" comment from her, and I politely end the conversation and retire into my own space, and I feel hurt and disconnected from her.  I could speak about the pigeons in Brooklyn, and she'll disagree that they are annoying.  I could speak about how the sky is blue, and she'll disagree that I don't know what I am talking about.  You know, this hurts.

For these reasons, I could totally see how a man could make the mistake of getting seduced by another woman and how an affair could happen.  Meet a woman in the bagel shop, and she laughs at your offhand joke, she finds you to be incredibly smart and sensitive, she finds you physically attractive, and any level-headed man could say, "Hey, I imagine that life could be better with this person.  My wife doesn't love me, doesn't respect me, doesn't care about me anyway.  How much could it hurt to start up a conversation with this woman who seems to be interested in me -- I know my boundaries and I would never let it turn into an affair" and then the man would tempt a platonic relationship or a friendship.  One conversation would turn into two, two would turn into attending an event, a movie, a dinner, or a wedding together (while the wife thinks you are "going out with the guys,") and then seclusion or a moment would inevitably occur as luck has it which would catch both off guard with a spark of chemistry or passion which would lead to an accidental touch, a kiss, an embrace, and then an affair which would end up destroying his family and all those around him, and then it would be his fault for doing so.

Anyway, I do have a head on my shoulders, and I am happy that Judaism provides a man with halachas of Yichud (Jewish laws of seclusion with women), and that a religious man knows his limitations, and knows that by spicing up relationships with the opposite sex, and getting into secluded scenarios with women, he, she, or they together might make the drastic mistake of cheating on their spouses with the other, a move which would destroy their lives, the lives of their spouses, and the lives of their children (not to mention their bank accounts after fighting a divorce, not to mention their freedom because all of a sudden they need to stay chained to their family's location, their time because now the father needs to allocate days, weekends, or large blocks of time for "focused attention" with his children, namely, visitation, whereas when he was married, being present generally and spending a few meaningful minutes here or there playing with one or more of his kids, or learning with his kids, sitting at the dinner table, or just sitting with them with a coffee in his hands would have been more than sufficient).  So no, it makes no sense to seek satisfaction in a mate elsewhere.  Even more so, it makes sense to keep conversations with the opposite sex limited to friendly and simple.  Some orthodox Jewish men avoid conversations altogether with women who are not their wives, and while I think this is a bit extreme, they are probably smarter for doing so.

But then what to do about the home life which is lacking meaning?  What to do about the wife who chastises and criticizes, and who neglects to pay attention or give value to her husband?  I don't have an answer to this, and while the answer of "go take steps to form a connection and make the marriage better" *is* the answer, it is easier said than done.

In our relationship, there are good days, and there are bad days.  Unfortunately, more days than not, we are just living our lives, and my wife finds more interesting things than "dealing with me."  I know in my brain that I am important to her, and I know that in her heart she loves me, but in my heart, I very often don't feel love from her.

I sometimes think that it is *me* that is broken -- that I have a proclivity towards feeling inadequate, or being more needy than the average husband would be.  I often wonder whether it is me who is bent towards feeling sadness and being unable to receive love from another.  But I am very, *very* easy to satisfy.  Give me one hug, say one positive comment towards me, compliment me once, and I am flying high for days.

Now let's be real.  I am never "flying high."  You know what I mean.  Compliment me once, or be kind to me, or ask me about my day, and I am happy.  I am very easy to satisfy.  But when many days or weeks go by without a spark or even an attempt to connect, and when my own many attempts are scolded day after day, week after week, it hurts.

NOTE: It just so happens that my wife came over to me just now with a smile and said a few cheerful words.  So while I am content, I am still affected by the conversation earlier today when my feelings were hurt.  So now I'm sad, but I really don't have a reason to be, or do I?  Who knows.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Calmer seas... Marriage-level fight averted, but do we want more children?!?

It is not much fun to blog when things are going well, but for those of you who were concerned that the shalom bayis between my wife and myself was shattered, fear not -- we talked it out.  Well, we fought it out peacefully.

Her issue with me is simply that my best effort is not good enough for her to satisfy her need for me to support her emotionally and otherwise after she gives birth.  I do work really hard and she acknowledged that she knows that I try really hard to help her after she gives birth, but time and time again, I have failed her by becoming overwhelmed myself by the extra burden which I am unable to handle.

That is a sad reality, but for some reason, she gained a new understanding from our "fight," namely, that I know my best isn't good enough and I feel terrible about it.  I guess she didn't understand before this fight that I really do care and am troubled by my failings with the past births of our other children (each one having a different story where I somehow dropped the ball because I got overwhelmed by the circumstances).  However, I am not punishing myself about it nor am I denying that I get overwhelmed easily when taking over household responsibilities which deals with handling, bathing, feeding, or playing with kids.  As much as I absolutely LOVE my children, I simply have a lower tolerance for stress than she would like me to have, and so I get overwhelmed easily.

I don't know if this is because I am coming from a broken family where there was trauma and a divorce, or whether I am simply the type of guy that shouldn't have children.  Who knows, it is too late to breach that topic after already having created and raised a large and amazing family.  Plus, I am happy with the meaningful life decisions I have made, and I am grateful to my wife for picking up the slack where I lacked, and for allowing me to have such a family.

Whatever the cause of my inadequacies, I am still a proud father, a good husband, and I work my butt off trying to be the best I can be, even to the point of pushing myself into overwhelm, and then continuing in the state of overwhelm for as long as I can tolerate the uncomfortable feelings before I shut down and must step away from the fun experience of parenting (usually to retreat into my office or some dark place metaphorically where I can "de-fuzz").  I am also very helpful, to the best of my abilities.  Obviously my wife would chuckle at the "to the best of my abilities" part, but as she says, "[T]here are many things that you are really good at, and there are some things that you are absolutely terrible at.  Handling stress with children playing, being wild, crying, or screaming is not your strong point."

Anyway, in hindsight she says it is because of my inability to do what she needs me to do that she is unwilling to have more children, and she is saddened by this and she blames me for this reality in our life.  While I am hurt by such a hurtful statement, I am not denying that she is wrong for feeling sad; I am also sad for us because I feel as if she is jumping to a false conclusion.

Where I differ with her on this topic is that I believe that if we were to have more children, for the week or so after my wife gives birth, I would once again do everything in my power to be there for her, to take over her responsibilities in the home, and to go FAR outside my comfort zone to take over both her responsibilities and maintain my own (or simply to shut down and/or minimize work with the law firm for a few weeks), and she'll just deal with my shortcomings as they likely will show up yet again.  But then this time will pass, she will get angry at me again, we'll have another major set of marital-level fights, and things will once again go back to normal.  I am okay with this, but she is not okay with this, and I don't necessarily disagree with her because our current lifestyle of me ending work at 6am when she wakes up does not lend itself to growing our family further than we already have.

I don't think the issue is that we don't want children, because in theory, I *too* want a large family (I actually think that we already have a large family, and I am happy with the children we have been given thus far).  I also don't think the main issue is that I wouldn't be there for her immediately after the birth.  Being realistic, I think the real issue is that I don't think it is healthy to add more family members to an already stressed situation where I am simply not home or around each morning and afternoon to help my wife with the kids, and I don't think that my wife should have the burden of raising the kids, cooking, cleaning, and doing homework all on her own.  And, this is not a "get a maid" issue -- my wife is well aware that I encourage and even would support her getting as much help as she needs to manage our large family.  The reality is that I do run a busy U.S. law firm alone now crazy hours (because I am running it from Israel), and I am not a regular father than leaves at 8am and comes home at 5pm to relax with the kids, do homework, eat dinner, and put them to bed. Yes, I do help with the household chores, and I do dishes, wash and fold laundry, I put the kids to bed, I love them, and I handle all the family's financial matters, but between myself and G-d, I am not present enough for my kids in the mornings before school and the afternoons after school to support them in their Torah learning, nor am I there to provide them help with their homework, and I don't feel present as a father to be able to say to my wife, "yeah, everything is great!  Let's add to our family since we already have everything so well under control." For this reason, namely, that I cannot support my wife with the daily tasks of running the family and raising the kids, I don't think we should be adding more children to the mix of our already active family.

We *are* both overwhelmed and stressed with the new move to Israel, and growing our already large family further is not an active goal of ours.  However, we will always welcome a new member to the Strickman family with open arms whenever he or she decides to join us, and/or when Hashem blesses us with another child.

...On an unrelated note, as far as shalom bayis is concerned, I *do* need to get an office outside the home, if not so that my wife appreciates and feels that I am actually working every day to make us the money that we are making, then for my own sanity of getting out of the home and feeling like I am accomplishing something in life.  I am very self-critical and I do not compliment myself or my achievements, and so it is very easy for me to get depressed in life feeling like I am a failure, or that I am not accomplishing something in my business life.  Working in my pajamas with the kids yelling outside my door while I am on a conference call is not only unprofessional, it is also destructive to my own confidence and my sanity.  I need to feel like someone who is actually working a business, and although I *am* running a successful law firm from an office in my home in the middle of Israel, I don't feel the "official'ness" of my law practice where I eat, sleep, play, and say Shema with the kids in the same place where I run my grueling law practice with its long hours, its stresses, and its harsh mental requirements.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.

Monday, January 04, 2016

Disparity in work responsibilities - Living in Israel, Working in the US.

Okay, so only four views on the last article, probably all were me reading my own blog.  I logged in this morning looking for some kind of feedback about the marital issues, as they are my life, and without a marriage, the life I have built for myself crumbles.

I woke up this afternoon upset.  Why?  Because yesterday, my wife stormed into my office upstairs in a rage accusing me of being a bad father and not supporting her during our last child's birth.  Mind you, if I did anything that she claimed I did, it was in April of 2014 (almost two years ago!).  When she stormed in, not remembering ANYTHING about what I allegedly did or did not do, I smiled, supported her, agreed that what I must have done was terrible, and moved on.  But then it didn't stop.

Later that night, she continued on about how angry she was at me, and how I was not supportive, and how she cannot have any more children with me because she knows that it would be the same here too in Israel, and that I would be just as unsupportive.  Again, now slightly annoyed that she's harping on something that I really didn't think happened, I continued to be nice without arguing with her.

Then later in the evening when I gave her a kiss on the head, she shrugged.  Now this was late in the evening, and she was still angry with me?!?

Okay, at this point, I got mad...

I concede with full apology that literally a day or so after our second daughter was born (child #3), that I left for a week to study for the bar exam.  This needed to happen, and I passed the bar exam, and from this effort alone, I supported our family for many years (and I would not have passed without doing this).  However, because her parents were unwilling to assist my wife, she had to take care of three children on her own, for which she never forgave me.  But then, totally sensitized to her need for support, on child #4, and on child #5, I was certainly there, taking on extra duties and going to the extreme to support her in her recovery.
 Then I remembered the circumstances surrounding this last child.  She just had the baby, and Passover was right around the corner.  We discussed and agreed that we would NOT be hosting her family as we had done in past years, and that we would be going "out" to the communal Passover seders provided at the shul.  That way, she wouldn't have to go through all the terrible burdens women go through when preparing for the seders, and we could "take it easy" and let her recover.
But then she went against our decision and invited her entire family over.  She thought she could deal with it, and I warned her many times that it was a bad idea and that she should cancel.  As a result of her decision, I don't remember the details, but I do remember going nuts trying to take care of everything to assist her while at the same time, working the law firm, she stressed herself out and it ended up being a very negative experience.  As usual, nobody in her family helped her with the seder (I don't remember if we even flew my mom in to help, but I think we did, but she did not stay for the seder because she had to get back home), and the seder was a very negative experience because yet again, everything fell on my wife's shoulders.

So last night after communicating to her my dissent to her accusation that "I even made her drive the kids to school and bathe the kids when she got back from the hospital," I thought to myself, "yeah, this was one of the things she did as part of her responsibilities."
I remembered now our fight about asking her to bathe the kids when she got back -- it was a few days of absolute exhausting hell running around all day and night back and forth from home (taking care of the four kids) to the hospital (bringing her kosher breakfast and meals) to let her recover (then running home, picking up kids, spending the day with them, putting them to bed, also running the law firm, then running to pick up and drop off dinner with my wife at the hospital, staying with my wife until midnight), etc., etc.  It was an exhausting marathon.
Finally when I brought her and the new baby home from the hospital, she was totally normal and rested, walking around and talking as if she were fully back on her feet.  I, on the other hand, was ready to collapse from exhaustion.  So I asked her to bathe the kids because this was something that she always did.  Yes, I should have done this too, but I had my limits, and at that moment, I did not understand that this would be a big deal for her.  Apparently, it was a big deal, and I did not hear the end of the insults, calling me "subhuman" among many other hateful names for weeks afterwards.

Okay, I screwed up, but what does it have to do with NOW, almost two years later?  

So she was triggered by something her friend said, and she was upset that if we had kids, she again would have the same problem with me, and that I'm such a piece of shit father that she wouldn't be able to recover in the hospital because I wouldn't be there for her.  I cried inside because that statement really hurt.

This is not the right time to mention it to the blog, but in Israel, my work schedule is 4pm-4am (or, 7am-7pm CST), or more realistically, it is 6pm-6am Israel time because of the time I need to "get to work," and because I take off Fridays and Sundays altogether, so I only work four days each week.  Us needing to do this (running the U.S. law firm from Israel) was a CONDITION that we discussed at length before we decided to leave to Israel.  As a result, I wake up most mornings between 11:30am - 12:30pm.  I have coffee, I sit down to say hello to my wife, and then I "hang around the home" sometimes with the kids, sometimes in my office until it is time to get to work again.  This is a killer schedule for me, especially because I find myself to be a slave to my home since I work in our apartment (yes, I am looking for a place to work outside the home), and because my work day only starts after I am totally exhausted and wiped out from a few hours of activities with the kids running and screaming.  It is also a punishing schedule for my body, because I force it to stay awake when it wants to sleep at night.  So when its bedtime for the kids (~7pm'ish), my real work day begins.  In short, with this lifestyle, I feel like a zombie most of the time.

So she's right -- if we have another child, it will be very difficult for me to support her because yet again, I will need to alter my SLEEP habits (as I do over and over, and this takes a large toll on my health), [and it would be a difficult few WEEKS, not days, since my wife is insisting next time on going to a "new baby hotel" that she says women apparently go to in order to recover while the men take over all housework and continue their jobs (a feminist, anti-male, and sexist idea which I think is horrific because it negates all the work we men already do even when they come home after a day or so from being in the hospital giving birth)].

But that brings me to the greater point that if she is feeling this way and bringing up these old arguments and accusations, then we cannot stay in Israel.  Back in the U.S., I had the ability to take over my wife's responsibilities if needed, and to maneuver around town to pick up food, arrange for things to happen, and handle anything that came our way.  Now in Israel, I do not speak the language, and I do not know my way around town.  But even more relevant, I am sensing that she does not see or appreciate the work that I do, and this is a problem.  Why?  Because it seems to me as if she gets into the habit of thinking that because Hashem provides the parnossa for our family, I am just a vessel that receives the blessings (and thus she negates ALL THE OVERNIGHT HOURS EVERY NIGHT AND THE HARD WORK that I do to earn the income we make).

She simply doesn't see me working, and all she sees is me waking up late (after she has made lunches for the kids, woken up early, gotten them breakfast, dressed, and then off to school), then she sees hanging around doing nothing during the day (after she just cleaned for an hour or so), and then she sees me isolating myself in my office when her day gets hard (just when the kids come home from school and the tough part of her day begins)

And, because she does not see, she does not comprehend the harsh circumstances of staying up ALL NIGHT EVERY NIGHT trying to focus and run the law practice (while she watches videos at night, relaxes after a hard day's work, and sleeps a full night's rest).  No fair, this is not okay.

Now if we were working together as I thought we were, meaning, she understands that we are both sacrificing to make this work, then yes, living in Israel can continue.  But if she starts the "you're selfish, I do everything" game again, totally negating all the months of work and sacrifice I have done thus far (and that I continue to do each night), no, I cannot handle this, and we'll have to leave.  And if we left, I cannot promise that I wouldn't blame her for not making our Aliyah to Israel work.  I do feel that if we left, our shalom bayis would suffer from such a blow that I am not sure we could ever fully recover.

NOTE: Image taken from Pixbay, CC0 Public Domain, Free for commercial use, No attribution required.  Link.