Dear Dr. Respler:
I know that many couples are busy before their weddings dealing with clothing, photographers, caterers, florists, bands, etc. This is especially so among young couples who are also setting up their new homes.
Unfortunately, the importance of the marital relationship, i.e. future communication, is often pushed to the wayside. Yet, this crucial subject merits pre-marriage discussion.
My son got married last summer and I thought he hit the jackpot by marrying into a wealthy family. But I guess everything was not as amazing as it seemed. He is home now, having recently separated from his wife. While he is seeking professional help, it may be too late for them to reconcile.
Many of my friends are struggling with their children’s divorces. Where has everything gone wrong?
A Heartbroken Mother
Dear Heartbroken Mother:
Thank you for your sensitive and heartfelt letter. It is true that we put so much time into the gashmius of a wedding. The same amount of time, if not more, should be spent on the ruchnius of a wedding (and the subsequent marriage itself).
This generation is living in a disposable, fast-paced world; thus many young couples are unaccustomed to the hard work that goes into a successful marriage. Marriage is never a fairytale and while some couples have it easier than others, all marriages require much sacrifice and selflessness. Many individuals think that all it takes for a marriage to work is being with a loving spouse. But in all marriages, the hard work of mutual love and support is required for success to be attained.
Many couples benefit from premarital counseling to increase the chances of avoiding issues during the marriage. Here are some potentially helpful ideas for married couples or singles in the shidduch scene:
Anger: In a marriage, it is important to express anger in an appropriate fashion. Unexpressed anger can lead to anxiety, explosive outbursts, depression and even physical illnesses (i.e., ulcers, heart disease, high blood pressure and possibly cancer). Inappropriately expressing anger can lead to marital distress, as well as some of the aforementioned disorders or illnesses. Learning to express oneself in an appropriate way allows clarification of those feelings, helping to enhance the marital relationship. And learning to assert oneself without being destructive can be most effective at the beginning of a marriage.
Learning how to use the “I feel” technique as opposed to the “you are” method can be very helpful. For example, if your spouse is doing something that is hurtful to you, say “I feel bad when you…” This permits you to broach the issue in a sensitive, non-confrontational way. Saying something like “You are so obnoxious when you…” will likely lead to an argument and will probably not engender any change in your spouse.
Before you criticize, consider whether the criticism is necessary. Are you criticizing in order to build your self-esteem, or is it helping the marriage? Remember that most criticisms can be kept to oneself. A kind and loving word, along with positive reinforcement (i.e., complimenting your spouse when he or she gives you what you want and/or need) is much more effective in building a positive and loving marriage.
Love: For couples raised in homes in which love was not expressed openly, expressing positive feelings can be most difficult. The individuals involved may feel insecure and be afraid of being hurt. Sometimes only one spouse feels this way, and the other is left baffled and defenseless. In this scenario, it is imperative for the couple to seek professional help to assist them in learning how to demonstrate love and affection in a non-threatening manner. If a couple continuously feels vulnerable with each other, they may not be able to form the close bond needed to build a solid foundation for a happy marriage. Insecurity can lead to much unnecessary hostility and pain, emotions that could be easily avoided by receiving professional help. That help can create dual self-esteem, teaching the couple how to communicate more effectively.
Unrealistic expectations: Young people often fantasize that if a spouse would love them, he or she would understand their feelings without their having to express them. “If you love me, you would know how I feel without my having to tell you,” is the often-heard refrain.This attitude can be particularly destructive in a new marriage. Lasting love and understanding are achieved through good mutual communication.
Happiness from within: A person cannot expect his or her total happiness to derive from a spouse. One must try to attain personal happiness, hoping that the marital relationship will enhance contentment. It is dangerous to enter a marriage with the expectation that it will solve all of your problems. A healthy marriage can certainly help a person grow emotionally, but it is not a panacea for an unhappy individual.
Finally, it is important for parents to discuss relationship-related issues with their children. And if one’s child or the couple needs premarital counseling, remember that that is a more important investment than any material thing you can purchase. All parties must be careful with the choice of a premarital counselor, making sure to choose someone with a positive approach to marriage.
Parents should help their children opt for a spouse with the fundamental building blocks to construct a beautiful and lasting marriage. It needs to be someone willing to work hard in the pursuit of building a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael.
Thank you for trying to help others. I hope that you and your family find much happiness in the future. Hatzlachah!