Early on while dating my now husband, I was dealing with a difficult personal situation. When I was talking it through with him, he listened intently, paused thoughtfully, and then replied earnestly, “I can’t make your pain disappear, but I carry the burden with you and you are not alone in this.” This is a moment in time frozen in my memory, and I can still clearly picture where and how I felt during this conversation. It was a pivotal moment in our relationship—not only bringing me clarity that this was the person I would spend my life with (what introverted and slightly misanthropic young women wouldn’t fall for that line?), but also serving as our mantra to one another in times of need.
We echo this idea to each other all the time, not just in times of intensity or hardship. Even in the mundane responsibilities of life—work, school, cleaning, cooking—we know that we can’t make all of the problems disappear, yet we have developed our own language that has enabled us to share the burden and lighten the load. This has in turn become one of the most beautiful and powerful aspects of my relationship with my husband—the confidence granted from knowing that I always have someone carrying my mental and situational challenges with me, and the grace granted from doing the same for him.
The mitzvah of keeping niddah and going to the mikveh can often be overwhelming for women, essentially falling entirely on the woman. In The Eden Center’s Kallah teacher training course this past week, we discussed that while many women love the process of counting sheva nekiim, preparing for the mikveh and going to the mikveh, many struggle with these mitzvot. Between women who love and struggle with this mitzvah alike, there is general agreement that keeping the halachot of taharat hamishpacha is a big undertaking.
In our class we further explored that while it may be hard for couples to navigate the role and responsibilities of the husband within the niddah process, it can also be an amazing opportunity for a husband to rise to the occasion and say: “I can’t keep this mitzvah for you, but I can do things that will make it easier for you; and you are not alone in this.” While every couple will find the right combination that works for them, through the processes of communication and trial & error, it is important for women who are keeping hilchot taharat hamishpacha to feel like they are not alone in this.
This idea can best be exemplified by Rabbi Aryeh Levine, the Tzadik of Jerusalem. There is a story that one time Rebbentzin Levine was injured, and Rabbi Levine accompanied her to the doctor. When the doctor asked what brought them to the clinic, Rabbi Levine replied “Doctor, my wife’s foot is hurting us.” Obviously, this is a very high level for which to strive, but the story illustrates the power of fully taking responsibility for the challenges in a spouse’s life.
In the course we discussed that for women who want their husbands to be more actively involved in the mitzvah, the husbands can also learn the halachot, ask halachic questions, respectfully give reminders to do the hefsek taharah and bedikot, calculate the vestot, or actively communicate about different expectations on mikveh night. For women who don’t want their husbands to be so involved in the halachic components, their husbands can be responsible for the more logistical side of the mikveh night, by changing the sheets, showering (a fairly reasonable request after all the time a woman spends preparing and removing chatzizot before the mikveh) cleaning the house, taking care of the children, or taking care of dinner.
When my husband and I first got married, we tried different ways of including him in the mitzvah, which helped to make the whole process a little easier for me. The first time going to the mikveh after we got married, I was nervous about going alone after a rocky first experience. My husband recognized my need, and walked me to mikveh, and then waited around the corner until I came out. It was such a simple act, but it made the emotional weight I felt about going to the mikveh for the first time in my married life, a lot lighter.
Since that experience, my needs have changed and we have been trying different ways to integrate my husband into the process. I am not a lover-of-chores by any means, so once before I went to the mikveh, my husband offered to change the sheets while I prepared. When I came back later that night to find the blanket rolled and crumpled entirely into one side of the duvet cover, we decided that there are more productive ways for him to be involved.
When my mikveh night falls on a Friday or Motsei Shabbat, my husband does both the floors and the dishes (whereas we normally fight over who is doing which chore during pre-Shabbos cleaning). When I had to go to the mikveh on Motsei Tisha Ba’av, he took care of making dinner to break the fast.
There were also times where my husband had a more active role in halachic support. When I was full force in the middle of studying for finals, time would sometimes slip away from me, and he would respectfully remind me when the time came to do a hefsek taharah or bedikah. If a halachic question ever comes up, he takes it upon himself to ask.
Over the course of our married life, we have found that there is no one secret recipe that works perfectly for us every time. Being able to communicate these changing needs in the day or two before mikveh night has actually brought us closer together and eased the transition back into our post mikveh relationship. It reminds both of us that we are a team, and we are tasked with the glorious responsibility of helping each other, especially when it comes to factors that are so intrinsic to our relationship.