Dear Dr. Respler:
I notice a certain unfortunate trend. People who lose a parent at a young age often stay single for a long time – or, unfortunately, do not marry at all. This was first pointed out to me at a sheva berachos in the fall of 2011. My internal thought was that the person who lost his father when he (the son) was just 28 – which, in my opinion, is an age when one should be able to function on one’s own – was simply looking for an excuse to rationalize why he had not yet gotten married.
I then reflected about a few other people whom I know, all over 30, who are still single – but I still was not convinced. I have another friend who, unfortunately, has no parents and does not expect to get married. All of these situations caused me to start thinking that it was possible that the aforementioned person’s rationalization was not just an excuse.
Very recently a non-Jewish colleague, in his early 50s, was asked by our client if he was married. He responded that he wasn’t, as his father died when he was a young teenager. As this answer came from a non-Jew living in the secular world, I began to think that maybe there is in fact a general correlation between losing a parent at a young age and not getting married – or marrying later in life. Following my colleague’s insight, I had a date with a young lady who lost her father when she was young; she is one of four unmarried children.
My sister, brother, and I lost our father, a”h, when we were in elementary school. Baruch Hashem, my sister is happily married. My brother and I still have not found our basherts. Could it be that since parents may be one’s emotional and financial anchors, orphans have a very hard time getting married? Could it be that since orphans do not have both their parents to rely on, they have a hard time getting married? Could it be that since kol hatchalot kashot (all beginnings are hard), not having both your parents at the early stages of one’s growth makes it much harder for orphans to get married? Or maybe there’s a totally different reason why orphans have a hard time getting married.
Or am I totally off the mark on all this?
Anonymous This answer was written by both Dr. Yael and Dr. Orit:
Thank you for taking the time to contact us. It was courageous of you to discuss this personal and painful issue in writing.
When one loses a parent, one experiences deep pain. When someone goes through a trauma early in life, it can affect him or her in many different ways. Specifically, the early death of a parent influences a child’s development.
Additionally, children experience their grief yet again as they reach every developmental milestone. Thus, it stands to reason that when reaching the milestones of dating and marriage, people go through their grief again. It is important for a person in this situation to seek professional help in order to work through this complicated emotional process.
Research has shown that losing a parent between the ages of five and nine is perhaps the most challenging time for the child, as it is the most vulnerable and difficult developmental stage. Children at that age think practically, and have a hard time understanding abstract thinking. They often feel that the parent’s death is their fault and that if they behave, their parent may return. A child aged five-nine who experiences the trauma of a parent’s death needs to speak with someone who can clarify what the child is thinking and feeling, and who can reframe events to make them more logical. The child also needs someone who can help build his or her self-esteem, namely by praising the child’s accomplishments and by highlighting his or her importance. Even just having someone listen to his or her ideas and helping the child understand what he or she is going through can be extremely beneficial.
Perhaps children are afraid to enter into another loving relationship when they lose someone they love so deeply. This could be because they are subconsciously afraid of losing someone else they would care for so deeply – namely a future spouse. By not committing to a marital partner, they do not risk ever experiencing the extent of pain they endured when losing their parent. While this may sound a little extreme, it can truly take place in a subconscious way.
Most people do not consciously think that they are fearful of marrying because they do not want to experience any further loss in life. But opening up one’s self to another person makes us vulnerable, and when someone loses a parent the child may have difficulty with that vulnerability. Furthermore, although difficulty with feeling vulnerable is a common issue with singles, it is possible that the added trauma of losing a parent can exacerbate this issue.
It would be valuable for anyone who struggles with these difficulties to seek professional help in order to work through whatever obstacles are impeding his or her life growth. We hope our thoughts are helpful to you and to our readers, and welcome comments on this complex subject. Hopefully, people who lost their parents and married at a young age will share their ideas on this matter with us.
I wish you hatzlachah and hope that you and your brother find your basherts as soon as possible!Dr. Yael Respler
About the Author: Dr. Yael Respler is a psychotherapist in private practice who provides marital, dating and family counseling. Dr. Respler also deals with problems relating to marital intimacy. Letters may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. To schedule an appointment, please call 917-751-4887. Dr. Orit Respler-Herman, a child psychologist, co-authors this column and is now in private practice providing complete pychological evaluations as well as child and adolescent therapy. She can be reached at 917-679-1612. Previous columns can be viewed at www.jewishpress.com and archives of Dr. Respler’s radio shows can be found at www.dryaelrespler.com.
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