Several years ago, I was speaking with a few of my friends and I postulated a theory about marriage that would come to be known simply as 2½ Days. The basic premise is that a few times during the year, a husband should get autonomy to make a decision based on what he feels is best for him, even if it may inconvenience his wife and family. Those times are Yom Kippur, Purim and where to daven on Rosh Hashana, hence the ½. (My wife, of course, has since seen my 2½ days and raised it to a full week, but that will be for another time.) Granted, this rule of mine would develop into the punchline of many jokes to come: “My wife is 9 months pregnant, but I still get my 2 ½ days right?” Or “My wife’s parents want to come for Rosh Hashana. Does that violate my 2 ½ days?” But my friends would soon see the wisdom behind the 2½ Days.
In his sefer, Habayis Hayehudi, Rav Shimshon Pincus, zt’l, writes that couples often fall into the trap of thinking that being married means that two individuals must become one. They must think alike, act alike, and have similar interests and pursuits. If I feel something you are involved in is uninteresting and boring, you must give it up. And if something inspires me and is meaningful to me, we must then do it together. Rav Pincus even goes so far as to say that one of the biggest sources of tension in a marriage is when one cannot allow his or her spouse to act in a certain way simply because it is something they themselves do not do and do not understand.
In a healthy marriage, each person remains an individual. One can act as they please, dress as they please and have hobbies outside of the confines of the relationship. This is not only healthy, but even recommended by many marital therapists and coaches. When spouses are able to pursue their own interests, especially when those interests allow them to grow as a person and a Jew, the relationship as a whole benefits. Whether it is through accomplishing something, growing in a certain area of life, or even just having some time to one’s self, being stronger individuals ultimately leads to having a stronger relationship.
The challenging part becomes when the very thing one spouse feels connected to is something that is incomprehensible or inconvenient the other spouse. Can it possibly be that that one pitch in that one game is worth yelling and screaming about even though it is April 1 and there are 160 games still to play?! Can it really be that important to go to another sale for yet another pair of shoes?! And while these examples may seem trivial (and common nonetheless), there are times throughout a marriage when each spouse must see the value in letting the other do their thing regardless of the inconvenience. If a husband feels his davening is infinitely better on Yom Kippur when he davens in a particular shul, even if the schedule of that shul is highly inconvenient, perhaps his wife should allow it anyway. Similarly, if the wife feels it is important for her to be at her friend’s simcha, even though it means leaving her husband to take care of the kids by himself for the day, perhaps he should accept the opportunity to allow his wife to enrich her friendships. Undoubtedly, it would be easier to just say no. But allowing our spouses the freedom to be who they are, and strengthen themselves, will in the end benefit us as well.
Every year when Purim comes around, countless wives grimace at the thought of how their husbands will behave throughout the day. Dressing like a buffoon (sometimes literally) and dancing and singing in the streets are, for some, part of how they tap into the simcha of the yuntif. On the other side, Jewish husbands everywhere roll their eyes in unison as their wives attend to every painstaking detail of the family’s costumes and matching shalach manos. But for their wives, that is how they get the children to feel the simcha of Purim and how they feel they increase the achdus throughout the community; it must be unique and perfect. If each one can see the value in what their spouse is trying to achieve, even if one cannot fully understand it, perhaps there would be more room for allowance and even encouragement. After all, by allowing our spouses to pursue their interests and goals, we are very likely to get a better version of them when they come back.
No doubt some of my friends will be reading this article and chuckling along in shock and full disbelief that my 2½ Days rule has now been officially published. That’s fine with me…. Just remember to thank me when you drop off your perfectly creative shalach manos while dressed like a buffoon.