At times husbands offers to help out and in his mind he is being sincere, and yet his wife sees him as unhelpful and does not accept his offer. Sometimes what the husband says and what his wife hears are miles apart. We need to appreciate how our words come across. She may be hearing the opposite of what he meant.
So when you say:
“If you need any help preparing dinner I am happy to help you. Just let me know, I’m right here in the living room.”
You thought that was being nice. But your wife hears:
“I am going to the couch to chill. If you really desperately need me, then you will have to come and disturb my peace and I will reluctantly come and cut up a few vegetables like a martyr.”
Not a very convincing offer. Even though you didn’t say it in those words, between the lines you implied a willingness to help, but not an eagerness. You are not presenting yourself as being at her service, but rather as not opposed to doing your bit if it is absolutely necessary.
Your wife does not feel supported by this offer because it is passive. You are making her feel as if you are doing her a favour, and she should be forever indebted to you for your heroic gesture of bothering to get off the couch to cut up a salad. No wonder she doesn’t feel you are sincerely offering to help her.
Here’s a different way of saying it:
“OK, I am here for you. Tell me what I can do to help.”
The words are only slightly different. But the meaning is worlds apart. Here you are making yourself available, putting yourself at her service. There is no ‘if’, you are not requiring her to interrupt you, you are there for her, at her beck and call ready for instructions. When you offer help in this way, the offer is received graciously because it was presented sincerely. Let’s call it an active offer, rather than a passive one.
We learn the idea of active offering from an event that happened over 3000 years ago, the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah at Mt Sinai. G-d wanted to give them His laws, but before they even heard the first commandment, the Israelites committed themselves to fulfilling His will. They said Naaseh Venishma – “We will do whatever You want from us. Now let’s hear what it is that You want. Without knowing what You are about to ask of us, the answer is already yes.”
I have no doubt that you truly want to support your wife. So try expressing that in a way that she will hear it. Actively offer your help so she feels you are not just there for the salad, you are there for her.
We are soon coming to the holiday of Shavuot, the celebration of the giving of the Torah. As we face yet another festival without regular communal services, the message of active offering is more relevant than ever. We say to G-d “Naaseh venishma. We are ready to do whatever You want. If You want us to come to shul and pray, we will. If You prefer we stay at home and pray, we will do that too. If You want us to hear the Ten Commandments being read from the Torah, we are ready to do it. If You don’t want that this time, we will study the Torah at home. Whatever the mitzvah of the hour is, we will do it, and do it with joy. We are here to do Your will.”
We have the opportunity to do something amazing this Shavuos. We are accepting the Torah from our living room. For the first time ever, we will stand at Mt Sinai AND stay on the couch. That’s called home shuling.
Mendel (Menachem) Bluming and Rabbi Moss