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  Chapter 11 from
Dear Daughter
A father's wise guidance for wholesome human relationship, a happy marriage, and a serene home

By Rabbi Eliyohu Goldschmidt  Rabbi Nosson Scherman 


Other Available Chapters
16 


A Sympathetic Ear

Dear Daughter,

Last week, a bachur came to discuss some of his personal problems with me. Seeing that he was very tense, I suggested we go for a walk. It was beautiful outside. The sun shone brightly, and there was just the slightest nip in the air.

We walked along in silence for a while. Then he began to talk.

For the next hour, we walked and talked. Or to be more precise, we walked, and he talked. Occasionally, I would contribute a sympathetic grunt or a word of understanding. Such as, “I see.” Or, “Oy vey!”

By the end of the hour, he was animated, even ebullient. He thanked me for all my help and complimented me for being a “master mashgiach.” Then he hurried away to join his friends.

I stared after him for a while, shaking my head. Amazing! Believe me, I had said nothing to him. I didn’t give him a single piece of advice. And yet he felt his problems were solved.

Who had solved them? He had, himself.

So what had I done for him? Why did he call me a “master mashgiach”?

I listened.

That’s all I did. But apparently, it was enough.

Our Sages say, “Daagah belev ish yesichenah l’acherim. If a man has a worry in his heart, he should confide it to others.” We all have a strong need to express our worries and concerns to others. Knowing that someone is listening to us with a sympathetic ear gives us a sense of relief and comfort. Once we have that emotional support, we are usually better able than anyone else to find the solutions. After all, who knows the problem better than we do?

When we are young children growing up, our parents are our most sympathetic ears. They love us and care about us more than anyone else in the world, and they hear us out with the most warmth and concern.

When we get married, we look to our spouses for that emotional support. What a wonderful feeling it is for a woman to pour out her heart to her husband, to discuss all her problems and express all her inner fears to that special someone who cares so deeply about her. And what a wonderful feeling it is for her husband as well to serve as that sympathetic ear for his wife, to give her comfort and reassurance.

This is one of the fundamental elements of the bond between husband and wife. When it is exercised, the bond becomes stronger. When it is not, the bond weakens. My dear child, never hold back from confiding your worries to your husband. Sharing and solving your problems, both big and little, is what brings you close together. Keeping your problems from each other drives you apart and damages your relationship.

But you must always use your special wisdom when you are telling your problems to your husband. As with everything else in life, it must be done in moderation. Give him too much, and you risk overloading him and turning him off. The Torah tells us, “The voice of Hashem comes with force.” Our Sages explain that the voice of Hashem comes with the amount of force that each person is capable of absorbing, even a pregnant woman. Hashem wants each of us to hear His voice. Therefore, He modulated it for each individual person to the exact level that he or she can tolerate.

I know you always enjoy my little stories, or at least you say you do, so let me tell you another one.

I was once visiting another city, and in the morning, I went to a shul in the neighborhood for Shacharis. After Shacharis, as my host and I were getting our coats, I suddenly heard piercing screams. I ran to the door to see what was happening.

An old man was sitting on a folding chair. He was holding his tallis bag and rocking back and forth crying uncontrollably. Rivers of tears streamed down his face. My heart wept for him, although I didn’t know what was causing his pain.

But then I noticed something that shocked me even more. People were coming out of the shul and walking right by the man without giving him a second look. How could it be? How could people be so callous?

Just then my host came out.

“Do you know why that man is crying?” I asked him. “Who is he? And why does everyone ignore him?”

“It is a very sad story,” my host replied. “This man is a Holocaust survivor. He saw his entire family slaughtered in front of his eyes. Every single day after Shacharis, he sits on that chair and weeps over his family. The people aren’t ignoring him. They’re just used to it. And what are they supposed to do?”

Do you hear those words, my dear daughter?

They’re just used to it. And what are they supposed to do?

When people hear someone crying very often and are really incapable of doing anything about it, they just turn off. There comes a point where the tears no longer arouse their compassion, and they respond with indifference. It is human nature.

Husbands also react according to the rules of human nature. If you overload his circuits and swamp him with worries and problems that he is incapable of handling, and if you do this often, he will inevitably shut off that wonderful sympathetic ear of his and become like those people from the shul walking right past the weeping man. And this would be a very bad thing, both for you and for your husband. The lines of communication must be kept wide open in order for your relationship to flourish and deepen all the time. So that is why I was saying that you should use your special wisdom to decide what, when and how you should tell him your problems. I’m not saying you should hold anything back from him. But perhaps it is not necessary to give it to him all at once.

Try to tell him your problems as calmly as possible, because if you get emotional or hysterical it puts tremendous pressure on him. He may feel incapable of dealing with you in that condition, although he very much wants to, and he will become frustrated. This, too, may lead him to turn off. Remember the modulation of Hashem’s voice? You must modulate yours as well so that your husband will be able to tolerate it and give you the emotional support you need.

A while ago, a young man came to me for advice. He was having problems at home, and he wanted some help. For the most part, he was complaining about his wife, but even as he spoke, I could see that a great deal of the fault lay with him. He was clearly far too impatient with her.

I gave him a copy of Sechel Tov and pointed out a number of the chapters in which I explained the obligation of a husband to be patient with his wife. The young fellow, who really meant well, was excited with the book. He really wanted to do the right thing, and he promised to read the chapters very carefully.

A month later, he came to me again and told me he had read the chapters and found them very illuminating. Then we spoke about the home situation, and it was apparent that there had been very little practical improvement, if any.

I asked to meet with his wife.

After speaking with her for a half hour, I finally understood the root cause of the problem. Simply put, she expected far too much from him, far more than he was capable of giving her. And when she did not get what she wanted, she became resentful. He was constantly becoming more and more frustrated, and she was constantly becoming more and more resentful. Where was this marriage heading?

Not to a good place.

I explained to her very diplomatically that she could not make such heavy demands on her husband, that she had to be like a teacher who knew how much to demand from a student. Demand too much and you get nothing. The message got through, and I’m happy to say the situation is vastly improved.

This is a very important lesson to remember. Know the limits of your husband’s tolerance. Listening to you with a sympathetic ear is as important to him as it is to you.

He wants to listen to you. He wants to give you emotional support. He wants to offer you any practical help he can. It makes him feel that he is important in your life, and nothing gives him more pleasure than making you happy and bringing you comfort. Share with him the troubles in your heart. But remember, as long as you give it to him little by little, in amounts he can handle, he will always respond with the love and caring you need for your emotional support.

 
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