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July 29, 2014 / 2 Av, 5774
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The Miracle Of Marriage

       With the Sefiras HaOmer period behind us, the wedding season is in full swing. Invitations to engagement parties, aufrufs and chasunahs will soon be stuffing many a mailbox.

 

         This leads me to a speech I heard years ago in Pittsburgh, during which the speaker repeated a comment he had heard from his rav years earlier when he was a bochur. The rav pointed out that based on statistics (at that time), 50 percent of all marriages ended in divorce. That was not surprising to him, he stated. What was surprising to him was that half of all marriages didnot succumb to divorce;they actually succeeded! When you factor in human nature, with its tendency to be selfish, stubborn and easily bored, one’s logical expectation was that long-term unions would be rather rare.

 

         Think about it. What does marriage entail? You have two relative strangers (in fact, they likely were unaware of each other’s existence months earlier) who suddenly must surrender their habit of living their daily lives “my way” in favor of “our way.”

 

         Both members of the twosome were raised in a unique environment, and thus experienced the same life situations in a unique way. After years (from infancy through adulthood) of being exposed on a daily basis to their particular family’s “culture,” and being influenced by its way of assessing and reacting to what they see, hear, feel, etc., a newlywed is expected to accommodate his/her spouse’s perspective of how their lives should be lived.

 

         It can be as simple a matter as one growing up on spicy food, with lots of garlic, paprika and pepper, while the other was raised on blander food. Or something a bit more complicated as one wanting to have lots of company every Friday night, and the other desiring a more quite, relaxing evening. It goes without saying that when a couple does not see eye to eye on major issues (i.e., only one partner wants a materialistic lifestyle, or only one is set on living in a particular geographical area), they are in an at-risk marriage.

 

         And that is the greatest challenge to a lasting union – the mutual willingness/ability to set aside individual views and find a common path that is acceptable to both.

 

         Even those couples that have been raised with identical values and hashkafahs,and basically agree on major issues (i.e., both want to make aliyah or both want a learning-based lifestyle) will find themselves at odds over how some things should be done.

 

         On the road of life, to use a rather common metaphor, I feel that husbands and wives are in parallel cars that are side by side on a four-lane highway, committed to heading in the same direction. However there are times when one will insist that one must turn left or right in order to get to where they should be going. The only way their journey will work is if they take turns yielding to the other’s “navigation,” whereby each must compromise and follow the other’s direction.

 

         Yet one cannot always be yielding to what the other wants, nor expect the other to do the same. In a healthy matrimonial journey both must respect the other’s point of view, if not necessarily agree or even understand it. Remember, each human being has a unique way of assessing things that may or may not be on the same page as his/her partner’s.

 

         It is very common for a police officer, for example, to interview several witnesses to an accident and get conflicting accounts of what happened. All saw the same thing, yet their perceptions of the very same scenario vary, influenced by their unique life experiences. What counts is that each validates the other’s feelings and opinion on how to go about that particular stretch of road, and work out something both can live with.

 

         It’s OK for either to make “lane changes” since they are still headed in the same direction. Say one likes to watch baseball games while the other enjoys hiking; each should have the freedom to pursue what they enjoy. It’s healthy from time to time to be a “me” and not an “us.” A bit of space between the cars is a good thing – or there is risk of collision.

 

         The goal is to head in the same direction. If both cannot agree on the road, there is a danger that their paths will diverge – that they will lose sight of each other and ultimately drift apart – for good.

 

        Understanding that no two people are going to think alike 100 percent of the time, mutual respect, and the willingness to compromise, combine to be the GPS on the long road of life.

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