Twice in today’s daf (Ketubot 48a) reference is made to what Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (in his commentary to Shemot 21:10) refers to as the ‘great principle’ of marriage – namely: עולה עמו ואינה יורדת עמו – ‘[A married woman] rises to her husband’s station in life, but she does descend from hers.’ What this means, as Rabbi Hirsch continues, is that: ‘no matter whether she brings the husband a dowry of gold and silver, or enters his home as a pauper’s daughter with nothing but the clothes that she is wearing… if the standard of living in her father’s home is higher than the husband’s standard of living, she is entitled to a continuation of the standard of living to which she was accustomed, unless she agrees beforehand to give it up.’
Significantly, while this principle is twice quoted in our daf, it is further discussed in Ketubot 61a where Rav Huna and Rabbi Elazar each attribute a different biblical source to this teaching. For Rav Huna it is Bereishit 20:3 which uses the phrase בעולת בעל which Rav Huna associates with the word עליה (ascent) – as if to teach that a husband’s role is to always maintain his wife’s higher standard of living. Alternatively, Rabbi Elazar derives this principle from Bereishit 3:20 where Adam refers to Chava as אם כל חי – from which he learns that marriage should give life to a woman rather than cause her anguish. As Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein explains (in his Torah Temimah notes on Bereishit 3:20), ‘[a wife] should be the beneficiary of her husband’s merits and benefits, but she is not required to deal with his lackings and his impediments’ (כלומר שתהנה רק מזכיותיו ומיתרונותיו אבל אינה מחויבת להזקק לחסרונותיו ופחיתותיו).
Significantly, the primary focus of this teaching relates to a woman’s material life. However, I believe that from the words of Rav Huna, Rabbi Elazar and especially those of Rabbi Epstein we can extract a further lesson that this teaching also applies to a woman’s emotional life – meaning that while it is important for a husband to share his life with his wife, ‘she is not required to deal with his lackings and his impediments’ – because a wife is not obliged to be her husband’s therapist. As such, if he has things that he needs to work through, and unless his wife truly wishes to play this role, then he should find someone else to help him.
Unfortunately, women are oftentimes expected to act as their husband’s therapist because he is unprepared to seek the support he needs and because she loves him and wishes to help. Yet from my experience all this does is create further strain in a relationship, and it changes the marital dynamic in an unhealthy way.
Of course, it is important to emphasise that even the most basic of conversations can be therapeutic, and couples must always talk and share. Yet all this should be understood within the spirit of the Gemara’s principle of עולה עמו ואינה יורדת עמו, and according to the teaching of Rabbi Epstein that: כלומר שתהנה רק מזכיותיו ומיתרונותיו אבל אינה מחויבת להזקק לחסרונותיו ופחיתותיו.