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The Duel: Mom vs. Wife    

The Duel: Mom vs. Wife

The wife and the mother-in-law are at odds with one another: what should the husband do? Who comes first? Who is responsible for keeping peace in the home?


“How Great is Peace!”, Part 4

Dear Parents: Peace!
Another very common and trying situation is where a wife has complaints against her mother-in-law, and tells her husband all about them. Here too, the husband must remember that the most important thing for him is to keep the peace with his wife. Although it’s painful for him to hear her talk negatively about his parents, he must overcome the pain and agree with her. He should give the feeling that he understands her and stands by her side.
It may seem that he is compromising his parents’ honor for the sake of peace with his wife, but this is not so. The greatest honor for his parents is their son’s peaceful, successful home. His love and peace with his wife will make it easier to appease her, and to bring back the peace between her and his parents. When she feels that her husband is firmly by her side, the things that upset lose their sting. If she still has complaints against her mother-in-law, she’ll feel that it’s not fair to fight with a husband who is so good to her. She won’t want to sacrifice such wonderful shalom bayit, so she’ll find a way to reconcile herself with his parents.
If the husband puts his parents’ honor before peace with his wife, he will lose both. Parents suffer greatly when their children fail in their relationships. The principal honor of one’s parents is to avoid causing them sorry and anguish (Talmud Yoma, 86). When parents learn that their son had a fight with his wife, they are saddened deeply. They get no consolation from the fact that the fight was for their honor. Sensible parents are happy to forego their honor, if doing so will enable their son or daughter to live in peace with his or her spouse.
A woman by nature is highly emotional. If she has sorrow from her mother-in-law, it’s very hard for her to make a balanced and objective appraisal of the situation. The responsibility to keep the peace lies with her husband, who is able to see such situations with less emotionality. He must remember that the greatest honor for his parents is having a son with a tranquil marriage and peaceful home.
This is the way it is
Jewish law states (Maimonides, Laws of Marriage 17) that there are women who as a rule hate one another, such as a bride and her mother-in-law, and a bride and her sisters-in-law. A wife’s complaints against her mother or sisters-in-law are therefore expected. Her husband must first stand by her side, and only then try to mediate between them and find a peaceful solution.
If a husband doesn’t stand behind his wife and show her that he understands her, but instead backs up his mother or sister, he destroys his relationship with his wife. She is supposed to come first in his life, so now she’s bitterly affronted. Her anger with him will take a long time to abate, because she feels that he abandoned her and rebelled against her. He is left now with no marital peace and no peace with his parents.
Peace comes before everything else. Only through peace is it possible to find solutions to the difficulties that arise in married life. In every situation a husband must reassure his wife that she comes before everyone and everything else and that he will never let anything or anyone come between them.
All It’s Ways are Peace
Another common and sensitive situation is where the wife transgresses the Torah, and it seems that she needs to be told so and even reprimanded. Even here, peace comes first. As long as there is peace, Hashem will be patient with her, for the Midrash says (Bamidbar Rabbah 11):
“Great is peace, for it is equivalent to everything else, as we say ‘He who makes peace…’, and only afterwards ‘and creates everything.’ Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Eliezer Hakappar says that even if the Jewish people serve idols, but have peace amongst them, Hashem says that the Satan cannot touch them, as it says, (Hoshea 4:17) ‘Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone.’ But once they were divided what does it say about them? ‘Their heart is divided; now they shall be found guilty.’ (ibid, 10:2).” Such is the value that Hashem places on us living peacefully with one another.
In such tricky situations, the first obligation is to keep the peace. Once this is accomplished, one can address problems in the proper manner through prayer, pleasantness, and love. When a husband showers his wife with love, even when she has transgressed, and prays for her – this itself will bring her back to the good. Our Sages taught us this when they said “Love the creations and bring them close to the Torah.” The husband is assured that in the merit of keeping the peace, Hashem will be patient with whatever transgressions are being done, and will assist his wife to return to Him.
Wanting the best
Even when there are differences of opinion in matters of principle, here too peace comes first. Even if a husband must momentarily compromise his convictions and/or aspirations to preserve the peace, ultimately he’ll merit both – the peace and his convictions and aspirations.
By realizing our ambitions through peaceful means, we truly attain them. Although it sometimes appears that a person makes gains through power, strife and arguments, achievements earned at someone else’s expense are worthless and short-lived. Indeed, they’ll all be outweighed by the long term losses.

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