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It’s very rare nowadays to be at a simcha, shul or any community gathering where the shidduch crisis does not come up. It may even be the main topic of discussion, particularly amongst the mothers seated at the table. Those who have unmarried children in their upper 20s and into their 30s are particularly pre-occupied by the stressful status of their adult children. It is understandable. Anyone remotely connected with the frum community is aware of dozens upon dozens of older singles – some of whom are approaching their 40s.

But not much is mentioned about a new and very distressing “shidduch crisis” – the epidemic of divorce.

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A few weeks ago in these pages, Sandy Eller wrote about Frum Divorce, an organization founded 2½ years ago “to guide divorced parents and children through their new reality.” In that short period of time, almost 4,000 people have attended its programs. Four thousand mothers, fathers and children who are in the “divorce parsha.”

When I divorced in the 1980s I was pretty much the “odd man out” – actually the odd woman out – since there were very few divorces in the community.

But times have changed and divorced people have sadly gone from being singularities to almost a sub-community. The stigma has been watered down by the sheer number of those with gittim in every segment of our community.

I believe there are several factors that have led to the disturbing explosion of non-viable marriages in our community.

The shidduch crisis has caused many to panic that they are “missing the boat.” As early as the age of 21 there are fewer phone calls from shadchanim and a girl might wait weeks or months between suggestions, many of which are not even close to what she is looking for.   So when a boy who is her age and has the same hashkafa is redt, she might jump in, suppressing any unease if their personalities don’t click – a reality that could lead to unhappiness, discord and ultimately divorce.

Sometimes one or both of the married parties are immature and have a fairy tale image of what marriage is about. I remember years ago seeing a cartoon in the city newspaper: As a bride and groom are pronounced man and wife, each smilingly has a thought bubble their head with the image of what he/she is being served for breakfast in bed by the other.

The expectations of many young couples today are unrealistic – she may expect her husband to learn full time, earn lots of money on the side, and wine and dine her. He may think she will work full time, keep an immaculate house, serve elaborate meals, bathe and put the kids to bed and look like a model out of a fashion magazine – and then fetch him his slippers. When married life isn’t what they feel entitled to, that marriage will likely end, a casualty of the delusional belief that the next spouse will have all these maalehs.

It’s impossible to have a successful marriage when a spouse is emotionally a child – often a spoiled, self-absorbed one. Therapy may help, but there has to be recognition that one has a problem first, and a willingness to address it. Blaming the other spouse for one’s marital woes is so much easier.

Other marriages are doomed to fail because of insidious mental illness that was not initially apparent. One cannot live with someone who is physically, verbally or emotionally abusive – there is no compromising or negotiating with a malignant personality. You have to cut it out of your life before you cease being the healthy, happy person you were.

I am not a psychologist, but it seems there are more and more people with personality disorders out there.

On the same page of Sandy Eller’s article on Frum Divorce was a letter sent to Rachel Bluth’s “Life Chronicles” column, from a very distraught, desperate mother. She describes her daughter as “a beautiful and talented young woman, always popular with many friends.” After several years of being single, their daughter marries a young man from the West Coast whom the mother describes was “very handsome and old world charming.” (She writes that the shidduch had proceeded “after checking some references.”) After not seeing the young couple for a while, the letter writer and her husband surprise their daughter with an unannounced visit. To their extreme shock and horror they find her physically and emotionally abused. Two years later, she is still without a get – an agunah with no resolution in sight. The mother writes, “The situation consumes my days and my husband worries that I will have a heart attack or stroke.”

I don’t pretend to have a solution to the spiraling divorce rate. I can only suggest that:

*Parents not pressure their children to get married to just anyone who kind of “fits the bill” out of fear that they will be left behind. You and they must have bitachon that their true zivug will come at the right time. If, however, your child consistently dismisses dates that truly are appropriate, then some therapy to see if there is an underlying fear of commitment might be warranted.

*It is absolutely imperative that references be thoroughly interviewed and, if possible, people who know the young person, but were not listed as references, be approached and mined for information. Marriage is a life-changing choice and accurate information is crucial. I would call it pikuach nefesh.

*Parents should respect a child’s personal preferences – he/she will have to live with the person, not you. If your child wants to live in Israel – and you do not want her/him to – do not nix “good” dates who plan to make aliyah. If your daughter wants to marry an earner – do not insist she only go out with learning boys. Don’t push your son to marry the “rich” girl whom he is parve about. You had your chance to marry whom you wanted, let your child have his/hers.

*Most important, raise your child to respect her/himself. Do not belittle denigrate, put down, scorn, disparage, incessantly yell at your child – or unfavorably compare him/her with siblings or others. (Why can’t you be more like your sister?) You will likely create a self-loathing individual with a negative self-image who will make bad choices. There is constructive, benign criticism and then there is toxic, soul-destroying censure. If you don’t know the difference, take parenting classes and/or get therapy to understand why you are so negative or why you unrealistically demand perfection.

There are way too many mothers and fathers of older singles and the “re-singled” who no longer have a good night’s sleep.

In our community, the multi-lane highway to lasting matrimony needs major repair.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. You glossed over the most frequent problem leading to divorce. Parents are raising children who are spoiled, self-absorbed, narcissistic, and immature. Marriages have little chance of succeeding if only 1 of the 2 partners has this problem, none if both do. It's time parents owned up to their mistakes. They had good intentions but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and many of these marriages are hell.

  2. there is one paragraph I do not like. If the canidate turns down oppropritate dates then the reason should be investigated. Apparently the canidate doesn't want to get married and to say this is has to be fixed is wrong. If they don't want to get married then don't force it on them.

  3. In today’s community people are no longer unwilling to settle for misery and unhappiness in their marriage. We will no longer stand by and accept distain, animosity, abuses and being taken advantage of. We will fight for our happiness and we are willing to be the "odd one out" to put ourselves in the position to find true love… Even if it means divorce. We will show our children that when something is broken it must be fixed. We will show them that ignoring the problem will not make it go away. We will show our children that love is worth it. Divorce is not the “easy way out” (anyone who says that is clearly not divorced). We didn’t get divorced to be happy. We got divorced to put ourselves in a position to be happy again.

  4. In today’s community people are unwilling to settle for misery and unhappiness in their marriage. We will fight for our happiness and we are willing to be the "odd one out" to put ourselves in the position to find true love… Even if it means divorce. We will show our children that when something is broken it must be fixed. We will show them that ignoring the problem will not make it go away. We will show our children that love is worth it. Divorce is not the “easy way out” (anyone who says that is clearly not divorced). We didn’t get divorced to be happy. We got divorced to put ourselves in a position to be happy again.

  5. While I agree with the author that “In our community, the multi-lane highway to lasting matrimony needs major repair,” I disagree with almost everything else she wrote. Her suggestions at the end may be good strategies for parenting in general but have little to do with the shidduch crisis or divorce crisis, in particular. (I know of no one who wished to make Aliyah only to have his parents sabotage the shidduch.)

    Moreover, I question the author’s suggestion that it “is absolutely imperative that references be thoroughly interviewed” and others “mined for information.” Most who have written about the shidduch crisis claim the opposite. They lament the “third-degree” tactics used by over-protective parents, and connect an overabundance of pre-screening with a decline in actuall date-going. After all, dig deep enough and no one will appear suitable!

    Here’s a little experiment to prove my point: Look at all the married couples you know. How many of them were family friends as children? How many grew up in the same shul or neighborhood? In my circles, it’s not many (though my brother did marry my sister’s best friend). Usually, the families are complete strangers. Why is that? Why don’t people marry their children off to the children of people they already know? My answer: because they are too familiar, and, hence, too imperfect. They know the other familys’ faults, follies, foibles, and meshugassin. We can only fantasize about the perfect shidduch when we are starting with a table rasa.

    As for the divorce crisis, the best comment I ever heard came from Rabbi Ari Berman who said, “The greatest cause of more divorce is more divorce.” As the stigma continues to diminish, fewer people are willing to “stick it out.” Sometimes this might be the right decision. But more often than not, it comes back to an unwillingness to understand and do the work required to make a marriage work. There is not, as the author contends, an “explosion of non-viable marriages.” It’s an explosion of viable marriages, once we accept that viable does not mean the same thing as “fairy-tale.”

    And this is the reason, in my opinion, for the shidduch crisis and the growing divorce crisis. It’s really an Entitlement Crisis. We are asking for too much, and contributing too little. The author’s cartoon reference is apt. We need a little JFK-“Ask-not-what…” injected into our lives. We need to absorb the words of Rav Mendel Kaplan, zt”l: “Life is like a stick of gum: A little flavor and the rest is chew, chew, chew.” We need to be reminded that historically Jews suffered from hunger and anti-Semitism that we have no ability to even imagine today. We need to be grateful for what we have and become interested and motivated to work hard in order to build the Jewish future.

    Unfortunately, we have built—and are continuing to build—a society where a boy must succeed in learning (despite the Gemara’s warning that fewer than one percent will actually do so); earn a high six-figure parnassah (despite the warnings of his rabbeim that college is assur and even perhaps any secular education beyond eighth grade); and be a mature father and husband (despite the helicoptering of his parents from his youngest age until, and perhaps even beyond, the chuppah).

    The women, too, are being asked to be superhuman—raise ten to twelve children; work to help support the family; and keep the often undersized home neat and clean, with hot meals at the ready and plenty of nosh in the cabinets. We are not properly preparing the next generation for what awaits them. Many in our generation have not been properly prepared.

    One last point: The author equates verbal and emotional abuse with physical abuse. However, while physical abuse is cut-and-dry, anyone can claim to be the victim of verbal or emotional abuse. After all, if one is “emotionally a child—often a spoiled, self-absorbed one”—then he or she can easily view any negative conversation or experience in the marriage as verbally or emotionally abusive. These terms are so malleable that they have lost their meaning and their potency. It is no wonder then that the author contends, “there are more and more people with personality disorders out there.” No there aren’t; it just might seem that way when you expand your definition of “disorder.”

    I see no solutions on the horizon for either the shidduch crisis or the divorce crisis (not to mention the tuition crisis and the parnassah crisis). All of these crises come back to one element: the Entitlement Crisis. Only once we learn to live with less, be willing to give more than we expect to receive, and be grateful for everything we have (and don’t have), can we begin to expect some happiness, or at least satisfaction, from life.

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