It is said that on Yom HaDin, when a soul has departed this world, it will be summoned before the Heavenly Court and its behavior and actions as a flesh and blood person will be scrutinized and assessed. While standing in judgment, one will be asked whether his business and financial transactions were conducted ethically and honestly – or not.
I find myself hoping that another inquiry be made: Was the person truthful and forthcoming when asked about the physical and mental health of a person he/she was a reference for in a potential shidduch. Did he (or she), to the best of his ability, accurately describe the boy or girl being redt – or did he – in the misguided belief that marriage would “fix” the troubled, dysfunctional person, withhold vital information? Did he, against the Torah commandment to not put a “stumbling block in front of a blind person,” cause that naïve individual a lifetime of misery, turmoil and trauma?
They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that is precisely what almost always happens in situations where a reference knew someone had serious but hidden emotional issues, but did not reveal the information to the person making inquiries.
Innocent, trusting young men and women, as well as their parents, accept what they are told about the potential dater – especially if the reference is a highly respected rosh yeshiva, rav or teacher.
But a reluctance to speak what they feel is lashon hara, or because of a naïve belief that the problem is surmountable, has resulted in many shattered lives, with bewildered, distressed spouses eventually having to decide on the lesser of two evils: Getting divorced and becoming single parents, or staying married and suffering miserably for decades.
In addition, due to these toxic unions, new generations are being raised in dysfunctional households leading to emotionally impaired individuals who, in the future, will perpetuate the dysfunction, because they themselves will be mentally damaged and repeat the mistreatment – that is all they know.
For example, kids raised in a home where one spouse is consistently denigrated and belittled may see this behavior as normal. It is their template, unless they see other families act differently. Even so, people tend to copy what is familiar. The word “familiar” is rooted in the word “family.”
References are living in a fantasy world if they think “frum” people are immune to the mental health issues that afflict the rest of humanity. Burying their heads in the sand or putting blinders on does not mean the problems don’t exist. Denial doesn’t change the truth.
Several of our columnists who are psychologists, therapists, and life and marriage counselors have written in great detail about the mental health issues assailing our community, extensively describing addictive behaviors, anxiety, depression, and various personality disorders. They have also examined the extreme stress, distress, isolation, and social difficulties associated with being married to, or the child of, a mentally unsound individual.
Often, these hapless men, women and children end up with battered egos. Years of verbal, emotional and even physical abuse have destroyed their self-esteem, and some become angry bullies who lash out at those they feel are weak – in an unconscious attempt to shore up their negative self-image. Others become the timid, vulnerable victims of these verbally and physically abusive bullies. Many are unable to develop healthy attachments or relationships since the abused child locked in their psyche believes the vile message of their youth – you are worthless, you are unlovable.
I remember an incident that took place over 30 years ago but that has been seared into my memory.
I was friends with a young mother whom I would describe as being quite easygoing and mellow. One day we were schmoozing in the kitchen when her three-year-old son opened the fridge, grabbed a fruit and started biting into it. To my utter shock and disbelief, my friend’s face became contorted with rage, and she shrieked with fury at her child for taking food on his own – without her permission.
I thought that what he did was praiseworthy, an act of initiative and independence, and not at all deserving of his mother’s anger. (To put things in perspective, as a single mother of very young kids, I always worried how they would manage if I passed out or fell, and was thrilled when my oldest was strong enough and aware enough to access food on his own if necessary so he and his siblings wouldn’t starve until someone noticed I was incapacitated.) So for my friend to be outraged at her child’s resourcefulness had me shaking my head in astonishment. But even if what he did was against the household’s rules, her ferocious anger did not fit the “crime.”
I knew that that she and her husband were not financially well off – but a child grabbing a snack between meals surely did not warrant such wrath. Did she have an anger management issue? In public was she “nice” but in private, an explosive, hot-tempered, verbally abusive individual? Was she tragically repeating emotionally destructive parenting that she may have been exposed to?
I was never asked to be a reference, but I like to think that I would have had the integrity to say that she was a very sweet person, however, I had once witnessed behavior that gave me pause, with the caveat that she might have just been having a “bad day” and sometimes even the calmest people “lose it.” Then again, both sides of her could be real.
Unfortunately, people with personality disorders are usually cunning enough to put on a relatively normal persona in public. It’s not unusual for them to be well-respected, viewed as ehrlich and approachable. They are able to convince the people they associate with that it is a spouse or child or parent who is difficult to live with and the one who is “crazy” and unreasonable. They portray themselves as the abused parties. Since they have a distorted view of reality, their lies are convincing; this is actually how they interpret their world.
That is what is so scary about shidduchim. References can be manipulated, fooled and misled and thus quite innocently say favorable things about a very sick person. That is why it is reprehensible when those who do know that the individual has serious issues are silent.
I think it is crucial for future chatanim and kallot to be taught to recognize certain “red flags” that could indicate that a date has serious problems. It would be a huge mitzvah for psychologists and other mental health specialists to have sessions in the girls’ high schools and boys’ yeshivot and seminaries to teach what to look for. Someone who, for example, loses his temper at the waiter because his soup is lukewarm is not necessarily personality disordered, but it is a behavior that should be watched to see if it is part of a pattern.
Further investigation, for example, is warranted if a young lady is overly critical about trivial matters or speaks disrespectfully and condescendingly about her parents or friends as the relationship progresses. If she disparages these people, chances are she will be critical of her future spouse and children.
One young man I know quickly changed his mind when he saw how the pretty and charming girl he was dating was critical of her father, telling her date her father was too lazy to shovel the sidewalk and apologizing for the snow he had to walk on when he picked her up. Obviously, she saw nothing wrong in belittling her father, that was probably “normal” in her home – but he wisely saw the writing on the wall and stopped seeing her.
Did she put on a “good show” in public and fool her references? Or did they know but rationalized marriage would help her “mature”?
The Heavenly Court will know and judge accordingly.
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