The “Twenty-four Hour Rule” in Marriage | Dr. Meir Wikler

How to discipline the children, which set of parents to go visit for the Yamim Tovim and whether or not to buy a new car are potentially controversial questions which are best discussed by taking turns with only one speaker and one listener at a time. Whose fault it was that the oven was left on when you left the house together yesterday, how­ever, is a potentially explosive question which absolutely must be discussed with only one speaker and one listener.

But when does the listener finally get a chance to be heard?!

Whether the conversation takes place in my office or in the couple’s home, I always recommend a 24-hour waiting period before the listener responds to what the speaker has just said.

The waiting period of 24 hours does not need to be rigidly enforced with stop-watch precision. If yesterday’s listener would like to respond today, 231⁄2 hours after yesterday’s discus­sion, that is perfectly acceptable. What really matters is that a full day has gone by and the couple has had the opportunity to sleep on the topic before the speaking and listening roles are reversed.

While the listener waits 24 hours before responding, that does not mean that the listener must sit mute when the speaker is talk­ing. The listening role is quite active, as the lis­tener should be reflecting what the speaker says and asking rel­evant questions.

In case it sounds absolutely preposterous to you to wait for 24 hours before you rebut, challenge or correct your spouse, just lis­ten to what Shmuly had to say about the 24-hour rule.

The Case of Shmuly and Nechy

I was meeting with Shmuly and his wife, Nechy, for our final, wrap-up session. I had just asked

them to critique the work we had done by reviewing what they each found helpful and detrimental.

Shmuly, the middle-aged C.E.O. of a successful ladies’ sports­wear company, answered first. “I think that 24-hour rule of yours was the most helpful, at least for me,” Shmuly vol­unteered, eagerly. “Nechy may not agree with me about this, but now we handle disagreements a lot better than we used to,” he added with a chuckle.

What was it about the 24-hour rule that Shmuly found so helpful, I probed.

“You know, Dr. Wikler, when we left your office after that first counseling session, I knew I would not be able to adhere to that rule. And as soon as we got into the car to drive home, I jumped on Nechy for criticizing me the way she did in front of you. I told her that she made me sound as if I were some kind of ogre.

“Then Nechy stopped me and repeated what you had said — that we were only allowed to discuss at home what we discussed in your office if we both agreed — and she did not agree. I was fuming. And I thought I would explode. But I kept the lid on and waited until the next day.

“Over the past few months, it has been extremely dif­ficult for me to wait 24 hours before I respond to some­thing Nechy says that I disagree with, although some­times it is easier than others. And I must admit that I haven’t always been able to follow that rule. But each time I do, I can see how it makes so much sense.

“First of all, the 24-hour rule helps me sort out the important from the trivial. Sometimes, for example, Nechy will say something while she is the speaker that I feel is incorrect. In the past, I would have interrupted her right away to set the record straight. Now, very often, after 24 hours, I realize that it was not that important after all, and had little to do with the main point of whatever it was that Nechy was trying to tell me.

“Secondly, it really does help with the listening part. Since I know that I will not be able to answer back to anything Nechy says to me during one of our communi­cation sessions at home, I really can focus more on try­ing to understand what she is telling me. After all, I might as well try to understand her better because that is all I’m allowed to do then, anyway.

“Last, but certainly not least, that 24-hour rule helped me to control my temper. If I got angry with Nechy before we came to you, I would have blurted out whatever was on my mind. And many times, I was sorry later for what I had said. But with the 24-hour rule, I have to wait until it is my turn to speak. And very often, by the time my turn comes, I’m not nearly as upset as I was 24 hours earlier.”

Nechy was nervously twirling her necklace and sitting impatiently as Shmuly was talking because she was anx­ious to share her own thoughts. “You know, Shmuly, there is something important here that you left out. May I add it?”

“Sure. By all means,” Shmuly obliged.

“The 24-hour rule was helpful for all of the reasons which you mentioned, Shmuly. But it was also beneficial to me because it gave me hope — ”

Nechy’s eyes welled up with tears and she dabbed them with a tissue. Shmuly turned to her with sympathy all over his face and asked, “What is it, Nechy?”

“When we first came here, I was seriously considering divorce. We had been married for 27 years. All of our children had grown up and I just felt that I could not get through to you — that you did not listen or care to understand how I felt. I was so frustrated because even our Rov could not get you to change. I said to myself, ‘If he cannot understand why I get so upset with him all the time, then maybe we should just get divorced and be done with it.’

“But then we came here and started following that 24-hour rule. So whenever I spoke to you, you had to lis­ten and think about what I had said for a full day before you could answer back. Just knowing that you were thinking about what I had said gave me hope that maybe things could improve in our marriage.”

Then they both smiled, shyly, at each other.

_ _ _

Dr. Meir Wikler is a noted psychotherapist and family counselor in full-time private practice with offices in Brooklyn, N.Y. and Lakewood, N.J. This article has been adapted with permission of the author and publisher from Ten Minutes a Day to a Better Marriage: Getting Your Spouse to Understand You by Dr. Meir Wikler (Artscroll, 2003).


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  1. Thank you, Dr Wikler, for such tremendous insight and sensitivity into the avodas ha’kodesh of preserving the sanctity of shalom bayis. The Rabbis emphatically praised the individual who manages to keep their mouth shut in the heat of a debate. May Hashem bless you with continued success and many more opportunities to help couples and the general community with your fine skills and exemplary middos.


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