Torah Musings: More Secrets Towards a Happier Marriage


More Secrets Towards a Happier Marriage

Sarah Pachter

An acquaintance of mine, Judy, opened up about her strained marriage. I told her about a book entitled The Empowered Wife, by Laura Doyle. Doyle’s personal story sounded similar to Judy’s, and she had made this the premise of her book.

Despite being stuck in a tense marriage, Doyle and her husband stopped attending therapy after they saw their therapist berating her own husband one evening in public. Doyle spent the next few years interviewing thousands of happily married couples who had been together for at least 15 years. She uncovered their “secrets” and discovered six common threads which she calls “intimacy skills.” She claims these skills can salvage most marriages and make a good marriage even better.

The Empowered Wife gives unconventional advice, tailored to women. A number of prominent rebbetzins utilize her book as the basis of their shalom bayit classes. After learning Doyle’s concepts with several students of mine, the real-life feedback I have received has been tremendous.

Last week’s column enumerated the first three skills: self care, gratitude, and becoming a receiver. The following three skills are respect, relinquishing control, and vulnerability.

Skill #4: Respect

Men need respect like oxygen. We want to respect our spouses, we try to respect our spouses, but we have to make sure that our actions are translating into what they consider respectful. When men feel they are getting the respect they crave, they return that sentiment with adoration towards their wife.

Doyle suggests that one of the most useful phrases in marriage is, “Whatever you think.” This phrase indicates our trust in our spouse’s decision-making ability. Many of Doyle’s clients ask skeptically, Yes but what if I don’t trust that he makes good decisions? Doyle claims that when we put our faith into our spouse, he will step up to the plate and our trust becomes a “spouse fulfilling” prophecy. When a husband looks into his wife’s eyes and sees that she doesn’t think he’s capable, his self-image is diminished. However, if he looks at you and sees reflected back a person who values his worth, he will perform better in every area of his life.

Doyle shares, “Take a step back and trust him to run his own life without any help from you and watch him take a step forward and start acting like the man you fell in love with.”[1]

It is worth noting the difference between the phrase “whatever you want” and “whatever you think.” Doyle explains that when a woman says whatever you want, what a husband hears is, I’m not going to tell you what makes me happy, good luck figuring it out. When you say, “Whatever you think,” he understands that you trust his judgment.[2]

The concept of respect starts to become controversial when our opinion differs from our spouse’s. The second game-changing phrase is, “I hear you.” This opens up the possibility of listening wholeheartedly, while maintaining our own opinion. Listening without offering advice shows respect and validation to your spouse.

Another important factor in showing respect involves cutting out bossiness. Delivering orders to your spouse is antithetical to respect. Rather, Doyle suggests complimenting what we do like. Doyle explains that men crave respect more than physical intimacy, and the way to communicate respect is by refraining from criticizing, contradicting, and dismissing him. Utilizing these phrases will translate into respect, and he will once again begin to delight and amaze you.

Skill #5: Relinquish control

Famous author and speaker, Sarah Yocheved Rigler, explains succinctly about control. She says we have 100% control over our output and 0% control over our input. This of course includes our husbands, and the best way to achieve positive results in a marriage is to laser-focus our energies inward.[3]

A student of mine recently shared and experience that illustrates this concept. Her husband’s home office was in disorder, and she was itching to have him reorganize it. Rather than asking him to make any changes, she decided to focus her energy on her own clutter first. Room by room, drawer by drawer, she started to organize things, and her husband noticed. The house was looking great, and on his own, he started to declutter his office without her mentioning (or hinting) anything! When you stay on your own side of the lane, the overall picture improves.

Sometimes women insist that they are not controlling their spouse, but rather “helping.” “Helpful,” in “wife language” translates as “control” in “husband language.”[4] By correcting his driving or taste in clothing, we are letting him know that we don’t feel he is competent in that area, and even if we mean well, this pushes away intimacy. Control and intimacy are like opposing sides to a seesaw. If we choose to exert control, we are losing intimacy, and we need to ask ourselves if it is worth the cost. Usually, what you gain in exchange for control isn’t worth the intimacy you just lost.

What if you are on the road, and your husband is speeding in the wrong direction, and it will now take twice as long to get to your destination? We can view it as extra, uninterrupted time together. Nagging or saying, “I wouldn’t have done it that way,” is backhanded criticism, which translates into a lack of respect. Giving up control is a vulnerable place to be, but it is also the cornerstone of intimacy. Which leads me to…

  1. Strive to be vulnerable

Everyone hates rejection. Vulnerability creates an accepting atmosphere that enables our fear of rejection to dissipate, and allows our spouses to flourish.

The nature of living with another person for eternity lends itself to the fact that our spouses will be insensitive from time to time. Doyle suggests one word for hurtful moments: “ouch.” Instead of lecturing or ranting to our husbands, this word indicates immediately that we are hurt, without invoking a defensive response.

Rather than making demands, vulnerability means guiding them with our desires. A student of mine was complaining that her husband, a successful neurosurgeon, was working around the clock. She really needed to spend more time with him and contemplated saying, “Please clear your schedule one day next week, I want a day with you!”

I felt that it would be better to let him know how much she misses him and would like to find ways to spend more time together. Rather than trying to control his schedule, she could be vulnerable by expressing her desire and leaving the details up to him. Vulnerability means leaving the when and how up to someone else. Although difficult, the benefits of having an intimate relationship without control far outweigh the challenges.

While being vulnerable, we can still express our needs, but we should be mindful of how those needs come across. Doyle calls complaints “lazy desires,” and claims any complaint can be rephrased as a desire. For example, instead of “It’s a scorching day, I’m so hot!” Try, “I would love to cool off.” When you express a complaint, the response is stagnant—you are essentially saying, I’m upset, and there is no way to please me. However, when we express a desire, the imagination lights up. A person can come up with all sorts of ways to cool down. Perhaps a glass of cold water, a cool shower, or a shady spot would do the trick.

The relationship with our spouse is a vehicle for connection to Hashem, and the spousal relationship serves as a metaphor for that connection. When we pray to G-d, we can make requests, but ultimately the “when and how” is up to Him. Similarly, when we make requests to our spouse, we must give him the space for when and how it happens. Relinquishing control with our spouses is good practice for accepting Hashem’s life trajectory for us.

When we practice respect, relinquishing control, and vulnerability with our spouses, we will eventually reap the benefits of this challenging task. Although these tools may be difficult to implement in the moment, they have lasting, long-term effects on a marriage. Doyle’s six intimacy skills are crucial to improving the spousal relationship, and can make any marriage even better.


[1] Doyle, Laura, The Empowered Wife

[2] Doyle, Laura, The Empowered Wife, pg. 72