The Care and Feeding of Marriage

drlauraHave you heard about the New York Orthodox couple who built a wall down the middle of their house as a solution to their marital issues?

Neither Chana Taub nor her husband Simon will give up their three-story Borough Park house as part of a divorce settlement that can’t quite get settled — the Taubs have been in court for almost two years trying to dissolve their 20-year marriage. A judge with a creative sense of justice has ordered them to put up a drywall partition that gives Chana the top floor and the kitchen; Simon gets the livingroom and the diningroom. Mom has three of the kids, Daddy lives with one. No word on how Simon and the last kid eat with the kitchen barricaded; it’s a good thing Brooklyn has killer takeout.

When I first read about the Taubs I thought “What a fabulous idea! During the ten days out of the month when the mere smell of my husband’s socks can push me into a psychotic tirade, I will simply erect a wall between my side of the closet and his. I will nail the door shut to the downstairs and he can sleep and cook on the grill in the garage. He’ll pee outside, which he does anyway and thinks the neighbors don’t notice. Since the laundry’s down there, he can do that, too. We can alternate between the two children, depending on which one’s behaving the worst.”

Unfortunately, this is not a real solution, since I cannot possibly trust him to wash my delicates. But it got me thinking about marriage, and what a crazy myth this “happily ever after” bollywash is. Now, listen, I love El Yenta Man with all my heart and soul. I know a spaz like me is blessed to have a found a virile Jewish prince to help propagate the Chosen people. It’s just that living with him drives me batsh*t sometimes, especially around that time of the month when I am feeling particularly sensitive about having all the dishes put away and absolutely no lintballs floating down the hallway, and he is just not being empathetic enough to my need to have order and silence and tends to mock me instead.

We have always been what you might call a “sparky” couple; there’s a lot of arguing, but lots of make-up sex. However, in times of stress (say, moving across the country to care for his ailing mother, or of course, PMS) the spark can be more like the toxic green flame that comes out of those chemically-treated EZ-burn logs and smells like nuclear waste. In the eight years we’ve stood under the chuppah, I’ve broken four windows, countless dishes and an alarm clock trying to “win” an argument with El Yenta Man. And guess what? I never have. All I ever get from all the yelling is laryngitis and two children who have heard the F-word way too many times while he stands there laughing at me.

We always manage to turn it around, but I’m getting too old, and hopefully too wise, for this kind of exhausting interaction anymore, not to mention we’re out of dessert plates. Hence the wall option. But I’m not so good with tools, so it’s time for other, more drastic measures: I checked out Dr. Laura Schlessinger‘s latest self-help tome The Proper Care & Feeding of Marriage out of the library.

I’ve listed to Dr. Laura’s show on AM radio on occasion, and frankly, I find her to be the worst thing for modern women since pantyhose. She espouses a rigidly traditional kind of household where Dad brings home all the money and Mommy is supposed to enslave herself to caring for him and her children, as if working mothers, not George Bush, were responsible for the ills of American society. Plus, she’s a moronic, intolerant bigot on the subject of gays and lesbians. And then there’s her renunciation of Judaism. Oh, and she’s not even really a doctor.

But I’ve had about a third of the couples I know divorce, and a few more on the way. Don’t want to go there. So I read her book in an afternoon, and I take away a one very important principle while rejecting her horrid 1950’s bullhockey about putting on lipstick and meeting my husband at the door with a cocktail: Treat your spouse as you would like to be treated.

I know, it’s so obvious, it’s practically insane that “Dr.” Laura has built an empire on such a simple premise (maybe it’s her patronizing delivery of it that makes her sound so authoritarian.) So I try this out. Instead of bitching at my husband to pick up his gawdamn towels off the floor that have been there for a week emitting the mildew stench of an abandoned bathroom in Guam, I say nothing and sweetly remove them and wash them with Sol-U-Mel to get out the stink. Rather than rushing to my computer after the kids are in bed, I offer him a massage and a blowjob. After all, he works at a fairly lame job all day and I have the privilege of staying home with my precious children and writing my cute little inconsequential blog.

Now don’t start thinking I’ve morphed into some ridiculous Stepford (or in my case, Stepstein) wife. I’m just trying to be nicer is all. I’m still a feminist, and he still does (most of) his own laundry. I’m learning to let a few things slide to keep shalom bayit (peace in the home) and I sure as heck don’t want to end up like the Taubs after 20 years of pointless bickering.

Besides, if acting a little more like a traditional woman doesn’t work for me, I can always break out the power tools and build that motherf*ckin’ wall, right?

6 thoughts on “The Care and Feeding of Marriage

  1. This was terrific! Loved it!!! In the end we all end up singing “Stand by Your Man” because we’re a team. Sometimes you get to be in front waving a flag and sometimes you’re schlepping. It’s all about the kids, right?

  2. There are days, and too many nights, where I hunger for the quiet(as in no snoring), the orderly (as in neatly piled stuff vs stuff everywhere), and the solitude (as in my space), but, after almost 40 years, I pick my battles carefully, knowing we share too much history (not to mention grandchildren) and we’re in this lifetime for the long haul. But,I’m keeping a contractor’s number handy who knows how to build The Great Wall, just in case…..

  3. Dr. Laura is a doctor a Phd. She hasn’t renounced Judaism, just orthodox Judaism and still says she’s a Jew although she wasn’t born one and converted. In addition….what’s wrong with staying home and raising your kids. My wife did it and my kids are much better for it. Apparently you do it too.

  4. Yes Allan, you’re correct. Dr. Laura does have a valid PhD — in physiology, not psychology. I’m not the only one who finds this a tad deceitful. And if you check the link, she did indeed annouce to 12 million listeners that she would no longer practice Judaism anymore. In addition, there’s nothing wrong with staying home with one’s kids — if that’s what you want to do. Personally, it suits me better than a real job because no one clocks my hours and I can wear whatever I want. But I don’t pass judgement on working mothers — some actually HAVE to work and some actually ENJOY it.
    I’m glad you dig Dr. Laura so much, but while I appreciate her “family values,” I find her to be rabidly intolerant of those who don’t conform exactly to her narrow little world. Some of the best, strongest families I know have two mommies (and one with two daddies, both good-looking doctors!) so I just can’t count myself a fan.

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