The Key to Shalom Bayis (Family Harmony)
As life becomes increasingly more comfortable and convenient, we fall out of the habit of exerting ourselves; and the idea of investing effort into a relationship—even if it is with someone we care for—is becoming increasingly foreign. As a result we have become accustomed to the notion that comfort is the path to happiness. (Or perhaps more damaging is the notion that comfort is happiness.)
As we look at this issue through the lens of Torah, it is obvious that we’re becoming a generation of takers instead of givers. Therefore, if you are accustomed to being in a taking mode, it will prove to be very difficult to make concessions in your marriage.
Parenthetically, when it comes to our young children, we demonstrate a far greater capacity to give. It is often easier to give unconditional love to your child than to your spouse. The reason is tied in to our beliefs. We expect our spouse to give, whereas children are supposed to take.
If we are filled with resentment as a result of our sense of entitlement, we will inevitably feel miserable and take our spouse right along with us. Rabbi E. Dessler highlights this point when he writes, “When demands begin, love departs.”
Sometimes, it can be very difficult for us to give in, because it seems like we have to relinquish a part of ourselves, rendering us vulnerable. But the truth is that by conceding, ultimately you win. “Giving in” is not about being selfless, but about being sensible. Not only have you done something tremendous for your shalom bayis and for your character, but your action will produce a consequence that will result in your maximum benefit.
It does not matter whether you lease or buy a car, what the kids have for supper, or who sits where for Shabbos. If you think that you can be truly happy when your spouse is miserable, you have made a mistake. 
 “I always say to a couple at their wedding: ‘Make sure, my dear ones, that you always desire to give happiness and pleasure to one another, as you feel at this time. And know, that the moment that you start making demands from each other – behold, your happiness has already left you.’ ” (Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, “On the Love between a Man and Wife,” Kuntres HaChessed, p. 39).
 There are times, however, when giving in is inappropriate. Your spouse may not be seeing reality clearly, or may have a weakness on a certain issue, as we all do in many areas of life at some point or another. In such a situation, sit down and talk it out, using the strategy in the following chapter.
When I ask couples to consider this point, one person, usually the man, will customarily say, “But I’m right! In this case, I happen to be right. I looked at the facts, I looked at the numbers, it all makes sense.” And with as much compassion as I can muster, with as much sympathy as I can express, my response is, “What does it matter?” You can be right or you can be happy. You can’t always be both.
Our happiness is not contingent upon things we get, or even on our experiences. Rather, only the quality of our choices determines our satisfaction with life, and for that matter, the entirety of our relationships and wellbeing.
Shalom—peace—is the only vehicle through which blessing comes down to earth from Heaven. By making peace the priority, whenever you find yourselves heading for a disagreement or conflict, the decision about the correct way to proceed is made easier for you: intrinsically, whatever brings peace into the home is what will make us happy.
Furthermore, Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that a person who brings peace into his house is considered by God as if he brought peace to the entire Jewish people.
Don’t Some Things Matter?
 Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta said, “The only vessel that God could find to contain the blessings of Israel was shalom (peace), as it is written: ‘God will give strength to His people; God will bless His nation with peace’ (Tehillim 29:11)” (Mishnah Uktzin 3:12).
 There is a difference of opinion about the proper way to affix the Mezuzah. Rashi (Menachos 33b) rules that it should be set horizontally, while Rabbeinu Tam (ibid.) rules that it should be set vertically. Diagonal is acceptable according to both, and this is the accepted custom in many communities (Rema, Yoreh De’ah 389:6). The mezuzah thus serves as a reminder that shalom bayis trumps who is right and who is wrong. The Gemara also teaches that even when you feel that you are entirely in the right, it is better to seek to compromise (Bava Metzia 88a).
 Avos d’Rebbi Nosson 28:3.
What the children eat will affect their health; the car that we buy may not be as safe as another model; and who we invite over for Shabbos will affect our enjoyment. We could go on and on, but the bottom line is that as long as the circumstance does not require an open miracle, trust that God will make it work out for the best—whether or not it is readily observable—because God Himself tells us that He wants peace. So much so that the Torah permits the holy Name of God to be erased in water (in the course of the Sotah ritual) in order to restore peace to the relationship between husband and wife (Chullin 141a; Nedarim 66b). Even a public vow that cannot normally be annulled, can be annulled in order to maintain peace between spouses (Rema, Yoreh De’ah 228:21).
Masters of Our Destiny
It’s all too easy to observe other people’s relationships and presume that they have the ideal marriage and partnership. In reality, though, every couple faces challenges.
Each marriage has its own set of unique circumstances, but every married couple has one basic choice when it comes to responding to their challenges. The all-too common response is to get frustrated and disappointed when painful challenges appear. Then we begin to identify the other as the source of our own unhappiness and begin to try to change them; and if we are unsuccessful, as we are likely to be, our feelings for our spouse begin to wane.
Harboring such feelings towards your spouse can manifest itself in the realm of action, with complaints, criticism, and even acts of revenge. If this process continues far enough, the negative feelings within the marriage (resentment and contempt) can destroy the relationship—leading either to divorce or estrangement.
Couples who are aware that the answer to most of our marital challenges lies within themselves, are able to make the better choice when faced with these difficulties.
There is almost always, in every marriage, a situation where at least one side has a significant character flaw and might not be living up to his or her marital responsibilities. As a result, it is common to hear the other side protest, “He is not fulfilling his responsibility so I will not fulfill mine.” According to the Torah, however, just because your spouse is neglecting his or her role doesn’t mean that you are absolved of your obligations.
We are in this world in order to grow. The challenges that accompany married life should therefore be seen as opportunities for growth. To ignore these opportunities, or to take the seemingly easy way out, is not only foolish and irresponsible, but is ultimately detrimental to our emotional and spiritual well-being.
From a Position of Strength
If we concede out of fear or guilt, this does nothing to enhance self-esteem; it only diminishes it. It is not really us giving; it is the other person taking. We are being taken advantage of with our consent. We know that in our own lives, when someone tries to guilt us into doing something and we stand up for ourselves and say “No,” we feel better about ourselves. This is the same type of empowerment felt when we say “Yes” to a request that we should be accommodating, but are not in the mood to do so. Whatever our response, as long as it is from a position of strength—meaning we choose our course of action—we are victorious.
 In cases where abuse is involved, a person has the obligation to protect their own physical and emotional wellbeing. Your marital responsibilities don’t include being a victim. See page 78, note 108, for more on abusive relationships.