The state of marriage in the Orthodox community is hard to gauge, but the Orthodox Union, in alliance with the Aleinu Family Resource Center, took up the challenge last year by engineering an online survey taken by thousands of married observant Jews.
Data collected by the responses to the questionnaire include the Orthodox world’s overall level of marital satisfaction, concerns with regard to health and fertility issues, and the toll familial stress can exact on each spouse’s quality of life. The results, parsed by the OTX research and consulting firm, ranged from predictable to surprising.
At last week’s unveiling of the study’s conclusions, Dr. Eliezer Schnall, an assistant professor of psychology at Yeshiva College, began with the good news: “Seventy-two percent of men and 74 percent of women rated the status of their marriages as very good or excellent,” he said, adding that “almost 80 percent of our respondents say their spouses meet their expectations, with a similar number reporting that they would marry their partner again if the clocks were ‘turned back.’ ”
Schnall noted that “academic research suggests the relative strength of marriages in the observant community is traceable to a positive coupling of noble religious ideals with a healthy set of family values.”
The sampling also indicates that a significant number of couples report some measure of discontent with their relationships after having been married for several years.
“[It resembles] a U-shaped curve, where satisfaction dips and dips, eventually rising again for those couples who remain married for several decades,” said Schnall.
“Debra Umberson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, recently wrote that the academic world took note of this roller-coaster-like continuum of marital life in the 1950s, when it was concluded that a marriage’s quality diminishes after the birth of the first child, and does not begin to improve until children leave the parental home.”
Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil responds to a reporter’s question at the press briefing on the OU survey of Orthodox marriages.
Debbie Fox, director of the Aleinu Family Resource Center, said that “there seems to be five key points of friction between spouses that develop [during particularly straining periods of a] marriage: problems with communication, a lack of quality time spent with one another, financial stresses, religious conflicts, and issues with intimacy.”
“With this knowledge in hand,” she said, “it really is about what we can do to make sure that the [stressors] are better handled by helping people gain insight into how to best deal with them, thereby leading to an increase in overall marital happiness.”
A significant red flag raised by the survey is “the affliction of ‘affluenza’; a seemingly counterintuitive phenomenon which refers to the over-representation of financially well-off families who have children at high risk of involving themselves in deviant behavior patterns,” said Dr. David Pelcovitz, a professor of psychology at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish education.
Pelcovitz expressed the belief that the emergence of delinquent offspring will almost certainly add to any existing strife between a husband and wife.
“The anomaly of the ‘wealthy young derelict,'” he said, “has been studied by Dr. Suniya S. Luthar, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University. Dr. Luthar posits that a preventative solution to the issue of delinquency may rest in not over-pressuring one’s children to bring home straight A’s, really being present for one’s kids…and teaching our youth the intangible benefits they will gain by devoting some of their time to helping others.”
Frank Buchweitz, the OU’s director of community services, summed up the marriage survey’s core purpose by expressing his hope that its results will serve a vital step in guiding the Orthodox community to “… proactively use new methods to prevent irreconcilable spousal conflicts from ever arising. Just as we teach mathematics and other subjects of import in our schools, marital guidance should be [offered to the younger generation] too; you’re not buying a used car when seeking a prospective spouse.”