Latest update: June 18th, 2012
Statistically, about half of all couples marrying this year will see their marriage end in divorce. For couples undergoing marriage therapy, surprisingly or perhaps not surprisingly, the rates of divorce are no different about one-half will suffer divorce.
Does marriage therapy help? Unfortunately, the answer is “Not much.”
Husband and wife arrive at the psychologist (counselor or therapist) for marital therapy. The psychologist attempts to make both happy, a sort of 2 for 1 deal which rarely works. Counseling is individual oriented with the specific objective of helping the individual find happiness. The marital counselor is caught in a Catch-22: facing two dissimilar individuals, suffering together, both seeking to find happiness. Unfortunately, the therapist has no common framework in which to offer help.
In psychology’s happiness-based weltanschauung, marriage is a means, not an end – and, as a result, lacks any valid reason to assume permanence. Marriage may have been the answer for such a couple seeking happiness 4, 5 or 10 years ago, when they were in love and dreamed of spending the rest of their lives together, but what about now? They’re different. People do change after marriage. What guarantees their compatibility or love 5, 10 or 20 years after celebrating their marriage? If marriage will increase their happiness, then, psychology advocates marriage. But if, say, 10 years later, marriage fails to offer them the same happiness, then, psychology may well advocate ending the marriage. Marriage therapy and counseling notoriously fail owning to their explicit “happiness focused” paradigm.
Marriage demands effort; there are no shortcuts. It’s not always easy working on oneself, overcoming personality imperfections and becoming a better person. It’s much easier to blame one’s spouse, indulge one’s failings by quitting and simply trading in the old model for a newer one. And that’s exactly what occurs in half of American marriages today. Marriage has become disposable, expendable; a temporary means serving a goal of individual happiness rather than being a hallowed end, worthy of sacrifice.
This “happiness” malady is well bred into the American psyche. The Declaration of Independence guarantees our “right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Beyond the clichés, while the Declaration of Independence guarantees one’s right to the pursuit of happiness, it fails miserably to guarantee finding happiness.
In contradistinction to the American ideal of inalienable rights, self-evident truths, manifest destiny and the pursuit of happiness, the Torah lists 613 commandments. In place of freedoms and rights, the Torah places obligations – lots of them. We eat only kosher, dress modestly, pray three times a day, fast when we want to eat and eat marror when Hashem says to. We refrain from work on Shabbos and live according to the Laws of Family Purity and Chazal state “Only he who submerges himself in Torah is truly free.”
Marriage, according to Judaism, is an end, not a means. Marriage is the ideal state of humankind; human perfection is attained only through marriage. Improving one’s marriage brings him or her closer to Hashem. “It is not good for man to dwell alone. I will create for him a helpmate beside him.” Life challenges. Marriage challenges and people find happiness by overcoming challenges. The Hebrew word nisayon translates, not as difficulty but as challenge – based upon the word nes, which means to elevate.
Marriage succeedswhen it is viewed as permanent and husband and wife are absolutely dedicated to their marriage’s enhancement. The Torah’s many teachings clearly depict marriage’s importance and permanence.
In a Jewish wedding ceremony, the man gives a wedding ring to the woman and through this act consecrates her as his wife. In Jewish Law, the monetary transaction of acquiring a wife is learned out from a monetary transaction in a different Biblical verse with similar syntax; dealing with Avraham’s purchasing Machpela from Ephron the Hittite. It seems odd that acquiring a wife is learned from buying a burial plot for one’s wife who had just died? Death annuls the marriage bond. Avraham’s crying for, eulogizing and burying Sara followed her death when they were no longer married!
This is exactly the lesson! All that Avraham did following Sara’s death showed that their bond continue to exist even after death. Marriage creates a permanent bond between husband and wife, beginning in this world and continuing in the World to Come. Unlike other monetary (chattel) transactions, which are passed on to inheritors, the bonds of marriage are not only in the physical realm but in the binding of the souls – the nefesh, ruach andneshama of husband and wife. This permanence of bonding can be learned specifically from Avraham’s purchasing Machpela – which is where Adam and Chava, Avraham and Sara, Yitzchak and Rivka and Yaakov and Leah are resting. The Talmud shows that the bond created under the chuppah remains forever.
The Torah perspective on the permanence of marriage even after death leaves no room for doubt. The Torah places special emphasis on spousal burial together after death. When Pharaoh met Yaakov, Pharaoh was astounded at how aged Yaakov looked and asked how old he really was. Yaakov answered Pharaoh that his days were few and troubled. Yaakov suffered greatly during his life: dealing with the treacherous Lavan, the evil Esau, Rachel’s premature death giving birth to Binyamin, his daughter Dina’s abduction and violation by Shechem, Yosef’s disappearance, Shimon and then Binyamin being taken into captivity by the Egyptian viceroy and yet only once does the Torah give witness to Yaakov being driven to tears. When he first met Rachel, he “raised his voice and wept” because he saw prophetically that, while he would marry Rachel, he would not be buried with her.” Only this sorrow broke Yaakov, his inability to spend eternity next to his wife, Rachel.
Lavan merited that the Twelve Tribes trace their lineage to Rachel, Leah, Bilha or Zilpah, all his daughters because he exclaimed “[this match of Rivka to Yitzchak] is from Hashem”. He was the first person to verbalize that matches are the work of Hashem.
Jewish marriage, and by extension, marriage counseling or therapy must be based on the eternity of marriage and the singular unity of husband and wife. The goal is successful marriage; the client is the marriage, not either spouse. Husband and wife must be educated to make their marriage the best possible. When marriage rests on sound footing, both marriage partners find contentment, happiness and joy. For these reasons, I named my first book on marriage, Together We Are One – Making Marriage Work opening with the words of the Ramban, “And they [the children and grandchildren of Yaakov that went down to Egypt] were seventy souls and their wives were not counted [separately], for a man [together] with his wife are one.”
Lee Baucom PhD. “Save the Marriage”Eliezer Medwed
About the Author: Eliezer Medwed, author of "Together We Are One – Making Marriage Work" and the just completed "The Art of Jewish Marital Intimacy" is a marital and family educator and counselor, an alcohol, drug and addiction counselor, author, lecturer and columnist. He is an ordained rabbi and graduated from the University of Michigan. Visit his website: www.Great-Marriages.net
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