My wife has become too religious, how can I cope?

Question: My wife was always more observant than I am but she has become more religious. I don't mind taking our boys to shul on Shabbat, but now she wants me to stop taking them to football on Saturday afternoon too.

Rabbi Naftali Brawer

Naftali Brawer is rabbi at Borehamwood and Elstree United Synagogue.

The situation you describe is unfortunately not uncommon. Not all couples are on the same wavelength when it comes to religious observance and commitment. This does not mean that such situations are easily navigated or resolved but it does mean that there are many people who could share their personal experience and hopefully guide you to some constructive resolution.

I would suggest a good starting-point would be for you and your wife to have an honest and open discussion about your core values. What do you each believe in? How important are these values to you and why are they important? The clash you are experiencing over your children's Shabbat afternoon activities might just be a symptom of a deeper divide and that is what you urgently need to explore.

In an ideal world a couple should have such conversations before they decide to marry. Much heartache and disappointment can be avoided when a couple are aligned in this way from the start. Romantic love is a fickle thing. Personal chemistry, while important, cannot sustain a relationship in the long run if it lacks basic shared values.

Sometimes however a person's values can shift or evolve over time and when this happens in a relationship, it can be extremely challenging for everyone involved. Usually, however, values do not shift dramatically overnight and if a couple is sensitive to its gradual shift, they can do much to prevent the situation you currently experience.

Your wife - as you describe her - deeply values Jewish tradition and practice. It is apparently very important to her to pass these values on to your children. The question for you is how does keeping your boys from certain activities on Shabbat undermine your core value system? Is Saturday afternoon football a core value? If it is, you are going to have great difficulty moving
forward. I suspect it is not and that what you are experiencing is not so much a clash of values as a fear of the unknown.

You are afraid of what might change next due to your wife's religious commitment and so you are setting down a marker now before it's too late. If this is so, the best thing you can do is to be upfront with your wife about your fears. She may have to slow down a bit until you catch up and you might have to be open enough to adjust your lifestyle. It will not be easy but with love, understanding and patience, you will achieve a positive outcome.

Rabbi Jonathan Romain

Jonathan Romain is rabbi at Maidenhead (Reform) Synagogue.

This is not just about Sabbath observance but about two much more complicated issues: how to establish a joint approach to bringing up children, and what happens when one partner in a marriage changes their outlook.

On childen's upbringing: it is always best to discuss this well in advance - by which I mean before the wedding - so that you both understand each other's perspectives and have plenty of time to reach agreements over differences.

Questions abound: should they attend a private school or be part of the state system? Go to scouts, Jewish youth club or both? Be brought up eating kosher, vegetarian or neither?

Such issues affect the type of family life that couples intend to pursue. It is also important that children do not become the battle-ground over which parents' religious or ideological battles are fought.

However, while one should plan ahead, the unexpected is a
normal part of life, and this includes a person developing new
priorities that can re-orientate their life, as in your wife's case.

It brings obligations to both sides: the person changing has to explain their motive, demonstrate they are still committed to the marriage, recognise that they are the one seeking to alter the pattern of home life, should not act unilaterally but gain the other's consent.

The other partner has to try to understand this transformation, realise that it is a not a personal rejection and allow them the ability to change so long as it does not alter the relationship beyond an acceptable point.

Communication and goodwill are the key factors, and a good marriage can allow many changes and compromises. The result for you may mean the family doing certain things differently to accommodate your wife, but, equally, her not imposing everything she wishes for herself on you or the children.

As for going to a football match on Shabbat, it can be very relaxing for both you and the boys after a week of work ie Shabbasdik, while it can also be a good father-son bonding experience at a time when it is not usually cool for them to be seen in public with Dad. I see no reason for her to demand it should end, especially as you are honouring her preferences in the morning, and in the process giving the children a strong Jewish identity and education.

    Last updated: 12:23pm, July 28 2011