Latest update: March 5th, 2012
If you would like to know if your marriage is relationship centered or not, the way to find out is to ask yourself about your core values. For example, what is the most important principle of your marriage? Is it your desire for money or pleasure? Do you dream about being comfortable, being honored by your spouse and having a lot of fun?
Experience has shown that couples who place their relationship at the center of their lives have the greatest chance of sharing a successful marriage together. Unfortunately, our society has sold us a distorted image of marriage, which maintains that external factors such as money or comfort are the factors that make marriage work. Just think about how popular culture depicts the perfect couple, who have all the conveniences one could ever imagine. They have all the money, pleasure, and fun they could ever want, but are they happy? That’s the million dollar question.
I believe that there is no real way of telling how happy a marriage is, except for one factor: ask them how their relationship is doing. Afterwards, you’ll know if their happiness is real or illusive.
Although many people may choose core values such as wealth, pleasure and honor for their marriage, in the long run, experience has shown that these external values are temporal. Happiness in life has very little to do with externals, and those who focus on the external values often find their relationships unsettled, lacking direction, and without the strength to last a lifetime.
In fact, over the years, I have witnessed many families who have little financial means, yet have the power of a healthy relationship. Against the conventional wisdom that money alone buys happiness, these families prove that success is dependent on other variables such as spiritual values, healthy attitudes, and high levels of emotional intelligence. Above all, they are dedicated to maintaining and nurturing the most important commodity in their lives, their relationship.
As a young yeshiva student, I learned a lesson about true happiness when I spent one of the most rewarding Shabboses in my life volunteering in an old age home in Sanhedria Murchevet, a small ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. My predicament that weekend was that I wanted to spend Shabbos visiting the old age home, but didn’t have a place to stay.
Thinking out of the box, and knowing I was in an ultra-orthodox community that was famous for its chesed and hachnosos orchim, I decided to take a chance by asking some elderly Chassidim, who frequented a small shopping mall in the neighborhood, if they would be kind enough to take me in as their guest for Shabbos.
After waiting for about five minutes in front of the store, an elderly Chassid from the Viznitz community walked by with his younger daughter. In my broken and heavily American-accented Hebrew, I tried to explain to him where I volunteered and what I needed. Without blinking, the man said that he would be delighted to have me as his guest.
The elderly Chassid met me just before sunset at the local shul and brought me home to meet his wife and family. At first, when I walked into his home, I felt that I was entering one of Roman Vizniak’s scenes from pre-war Poland. Despite my initial discomfort at feeling out of place, my fears were quickly relieved when I was warmly welcomed and asked to bring my suitcase into the room I would be sleeping in. After arranging my clothes, I was served a pre-Shabbos treat: a hot cup of coffee and some chocolate rugelach. Just as I finished my last bite, the Shabbos siren blew and I ran off to daven Kabalos Shabbos at the old age home.
After davening, I returned to my host’s apartment to sleep in a very comfortable bedroom. The next morning I awoke and realized that, despite the fact that they had seven children, there were only two bedrooms, and I was sleeping in one of them! It turned out that they had set up their children’s beds in the living room and the parents had slept in the one remaining bedroom! Embarrassed and overwhelmed by their generosity, I walked out of the living room to wish a good Shabbos and, once again, my hosts insisted I sit down for another cup of coffee.
That Shabbos, we spent hours eating, drinking tea and talking about our lives. They were devoted members of the Viznitz community. The father worked as an accountant for the local Chevra Kadisha and his wife was an assistant in the community kindergarten. They were married during the War of Independence and for many years lived in Mea Shearim. About ten years ago they had bought this apartment, and one of their dreams was to have special guests over for Shabbos. I happened to be one of the lucky individuals that would benefit from their kindness and hospitality.
What amazed me the most about this couple was their tremendous sense of happiness and camaraderie. Love seemed to permeate their home and their relationships with the people who happened to enter into their lives.
That Shabbos, I was given a present far greater than a bed to sleep on: a glimpse at the secret of what makes and sustains good marriages. That secret is a commitment to building meaningful relationships, and an overriding desire to do chesed for one another.
I also came away from the experience realizing that people tend to confuse real happiness with temporary pleasure. The line of reasoning is that happiness is dependent upon our ability to purchase comfort. Yet, human experience teaches us that pleasure and happiness are two different things. You can have all the pleasure you desire, yet still not be happy.
In the next column, part 3 I’ll discuss: Why Most Marriages Can Work
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and the author of an upcoming book about marriage called First Aid For Jewish Marriages. He maintains a practice in family counseling and is a popular lecturer on S.H.A.L.O.M. Workshop for Engaged Couples. To register for the workshop, visit www.shalomworkshop.org. You can e-mail questions to him at email@example.com.
About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, LMFT is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, treating anxiety and depression, and helping teens in crisis with offices For more information visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 646-428-4723.
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