Marriage demands the best in maturity, but this does not mean that couples are necessarily mature to begin with. A factor of greatest importance in the success or failure of any marriage is the emotional maturity of the partners. Marriage is a cooperative venture involving two people who must make certain sacrifices for the partnership and for each other. The maturing person begins to recognize the necessity for giving. Each person gives of him or herself— in emotional support, acceptance and appreciation — as part of a mutual exchange that adds up to a satisfying relationship. The maturing person begins to understand that much of life consists of exchanges and stages of achievement that are necessary for emotional growth.
Yet some adults marry, never having achieved this level of maturity. Why? Eric Erikson, a well-known psychoanalyst, explains that each stage in life presents the individual with a major task to be achieved, which includes problems, needs and limitations. He states that “an achievement mastered at the appropriate stage may prepare the growing child to take on the task of the next stage.” Failure to attain specific achievement when it is crucial to do so, will stun, if not stop, the emotional growth to an immature stage in life. The result is the lack of ability to solve new problems, new challenges and changing circumstances. This can cause difficulties in marriage and at work. Erikson also states that “The ability to accommodate oneself to changing circumstances is a mark of maturity.”
Recently, a therapist from out of town called me for some supervision on a particular case he was working on. It seems that the couple he was working with has been married for 15 years. The wife is insisting on a divorce, stating that she just doesn’t love him anymore. The husband claims that he loves his wife and children and always will. In 15 years of marriage, he has provided her with the emotional and physical support so that she could grow and become more secure and independent. This was not easy, as he would come home from work and then start cooking and cleaning the house. But with all this, she wants her freedom!
I explained to the therapist that in the early part of marriage, couples often tend to parentify each other, each pushing the relationship toward the form of parent-child relationship. The husband did try to improve their relationship by taking anger management classes, but they were still left with issues regarding her lack of emotional maturity.
Emotionally, the wife is now in her teenage years, trying to find herself. In many cases, these marriages do work! In time, the immature adult does grow up through marriage. If a proper emotional environment is created, a caring spouse can undo the psychological damage done by inattentive parents. Adults who are immature cannot put the needs of a spouse and children before their own. They feel the need to escape back to the freedom that they had before marriage.
I advised the therapist not to give up on the couple. With all the anger and confusion, the couple needs to become aware of what has been and is happening to them. For many adults, the responsibilities and privileges of marriage are the greatest incentive to growth and shalom bayis. •
Moishe Herskowitz M.S., LCSW, developed the T.E.A.M. (Torah Education & Awareness for a better Marriage) approach based on 20 successful years of counseling couples — helping them to communicate effectively and fully appreciate each other. As a licensed and highly certified social worker and renowned family therapist, he developed this breakthrough seminar to guide new couples through easy-to-accomplish steps towards a happy, healthy marriage. Moishe Herskowitz holds a certificate from the Brooklyn Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in couples and marriage therapy. He is an active member of the New York Counseling Association for Marriage and Family Counseling.