Question: I am becoming an Orthodox Jew. I totally love what I am doing and the new meaning it is giving my life. I want to be become more strictly observant, but my wife does not agree and has become an unwilling participant. She refuses to consult with my rabbi because the one time she spoke with him she felt he wasn’t being sensitive to her needs. The more religious I become, the more irreligious she becomes. I really do love her but as far as I am concerned, when it comes to religious observance, things are black and white. I don’t want to live a non-observant lifestyle and yet, she won’t consider becoming religious. What do I do? I told her I was writing to you and she agreed to try whatever you’d suggest.
Answer: The pressure is on. While I am a big fan of a religious lifestyle, I am also a fan of a happy marriage. It is truly a wonderful moment when spirituality and marital love exist together. Your question, however, highlights the general issue of how do we make changes in our personal lives when we are married and expect to keep in step with that relationship.
Any union that will make it to the 50-year mark, and beyond, is going to face significant changes, because we will change as people. Those changes are often not the same for both halves of a couple, so the marital concept of growing together will often face a major challenge.
The answer lies in forming a loving spirit of cooperation by both spouses. First, the spouse who seeks change – in your case it is you wanting to become more religious – has the responsibility of including the other spouse in his/her desire to change. This means that you offer her a say in how to proceed. The fact that she did meet with your rabbi and is willing to listen to my suggestion means she isn’t closed to the process, but rather, hasn’t found a comfortable way to become a part of it. It might be a good idea to visit different synagogues with her, in the hope of finding one you can both relate to. This will also give her the feeling of having a say in the process.
You’re desire to lead a more religious lifestyle is admirable but it’ll be a far richer experience with the love of your life along for the ride. Toward that end you may have to go slower in making certain changes and give her time to “catch up” and join you on this journey. This doesn’t mean you each won’t have your individual thoughts, feelings and strengths. In fact, each of you will relate to different parts of what religious life offers because you are different people. This is wonderful because you will teach each other things you wouldn’t have related to on your own. But at the core, you will become closer to each other and reach a consensus on how to proceed.
The second part of cooperation is solely your wife’s job. Too many people discount any changes desired by their spouses claiming it wasn’t what they agreed to when they married. Of course not. How can we stay exactly the same throughout our lifetime? Others will think they are being good husbands or wives by telling their spouse to do what they want as long as they keep them out of it. This is a recipe for disaster.
What do you think happens when one spouse commits to personal changes and chases his passion without the involvement of his mate? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Either there is a mote of distance that quickly builds or the changed spouse finds someone else who loves these changes and gets on board (or both). Obviously, this doesn’t mean that a spouse can’t have some personal interests not shared with his or her mate, but it does dictate that there shouldn’t be too many and primary passions are best shared.
When your spouse feels compelled to discover new things, get in on it from the start. It may not be your choice or something you’d ever think of doing, but isn’t that what marriage and life is all about? We develop a complicated quilt of life experiences because of the people we love. If you’re child becomes a violinist, you’re going to learn more about Mozart than you ever cared to. Likewise, if your child is hearing impaired, don’t you think you will become an expert in sign language?