Are we doing enough to prepare our children for marriage? I’m not talking about matters of Jewish law which couples learn about with their chassan and kallah teachers before they get married. What I’m referring to is the lack of knowledge of effective communication skills needed to make marriage successful and relationship-building tools that can enhance feelings of love and camaraderie.
Couples in our community now face more demands than ever before. The typical complex marriage – managing two careers while rearing children – really requires that couples have very strong, well-established abilities to communicate, resolve issues, maintain mutuality and set goals. Without this foundation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by stress and time pressures. Problems can intrude much more easily than most couples realize. Marriage preparation can function as an immunization that boosts a couple’s capacity to handle potential difficulties.
Overall, we need to give our young couples better skills so they can become successful in their marriages. Unfortunately, couples spend very little time learning about the art of shalom bayis before the wedding. And, unlike other professions such as law and medicine that test and certify their graduates, marriage – the most important and longest profession anyone can enter into – doesn’t require any specific training or certification. Therefore, many couples begin unprepared to meet the challenges that occur on a daily basis such as child rearing, financial pressures, and spending quality time together.
Think about it. A person spends around twelve years in school preparing to enter college which takes four years to complete. Yet, how many years do people train for marriage, which is supposed to last a lifetime?
To take the analogy one step further, if marriage would be placed side by side with other professions, how would it rank? Today, national statistics tell us that only about 50% of marriages are successful. Imagine a doctor who was successful only 50% of the time or a lawyer who only won half of his cases. At some point, there would be a national upheaval and public call to re-evaluate if these doctors and lawyers were truly prepared to enter into their professions.
I know that our community does not share these discouraging statistics. Yet, many of us believe that the divorce rate seems to be rising in the Orthodox world and that divorce appears to be more common than ever before.
All of this points to the need to address the challenges facing young couples and begin the process of pre-marital education. Couples need to learn marital skills and develop realistic expectations before the marriage takes place. Only then will they be prepared to cope successfully with the inevitable ups and downs.
Recently a new program called the S.H.A.L.O.M. Workshop (Starting Healthy and Long Lasting Marriages) was initiated to help engaged couples and newlyweds learn the skills needed to achieve successful marriages. In just one or two sessions the chassan and kallah cover important issues such as:
• Increased understanding and sensitivity to each other’s feelings • Communicating effectively through a sense of mutual respect • Promoting self confidence in each other • Financial Management
As their literature describes, “The S.H.A.L.O.M. Workshop teaches specific, easily learned methods for successful communication and effective problem-solving.” The goal is that participants will emerge with a deeper self-knowledge and the tools to build a happy, successful and long-lasting marriage.
It’s important to note that this workshop in no way replaces traditional chassan and kallah classes; rather it enhances the knowledge learned with easy-to-use and practical tools that can make marriage more enjoyable.
During the workshop, a couple will learn how to actively listen to one another, express their feelings in a healthy way and negotiate a power structure for making key decisions in their lives.
One workshop participant recently commented, “As I am getting married very soon, I think that my future husband and I will greatly benefit from the workshop. Taking the time to listen and let the other person know you are listening felt very validating, and actually enabled us to do something we both were too subjective to suggest doing with each other on our own.”
It’s time to expand the scope of educational programs offered to engaged couples to improve their chances of having a successful marriage and build a Binyan Adei Ad. A pre-marriage program like the S.H.A.L.O.M. Workshop is the place to begin.
To find out more visit their website at www.shalomworkshop.org.