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September 21, 2014 / 26 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Engaged Couples’

Part 3 – Why Most Marriages Can Work

Friday, February 6th, 2009

The first two parts of this series were printed November21 and 28, 2008; we now resume the series.

(Names changed)

Mordechai, 36, and Chani, 35, were married for six years and came to ask me for advice on how to save their relationship. They seemed to have everything going for them. They were working professionals, successful and upwardly mobile; they shared many common factors including similar religious beliefs, intelligence levels, and were both pleasantly extroverted.

 

Yet, soon after marriage, it was apparent that Mordechai and Chani didn’t get along very well.  Little things like the cleanliness of the house, or who made dinner, became mountain-sized issues that were often blown out of proportion. The quality of their relationship was going downhill and their marriage was in crisis. Only six months had passed since their chupah and they were beginning to feel that they were unequipped to deal with each other’s emotional needs. Instead, they tended to withdraw from one another and were avoiding taking the obvious step of working together to solve their issues.

 

On the outside, they seemed to have everything going for them, yet now they had little to show for it.

 

What was causing their marital stress?  Did they share some deeply rooted negative patterns?  Was it a question of personality differences?  Did they have trouble managing their anger?

 

Mordechai and Chani were also scared, because some of their lifetime friends were also experiencing similar difficulties in their marriages, and the prior year, two of them had gotten divorced. They wanted to know if they were heading in the same direction and if there was anything they could do to sustain their marriage.

 

Before I began to advise them on ways to improve their marriage, I asked them to draw an imaginary circle in the middle of the room, to represent their relationship. I then asked them to take their chairs and sit in the middle of the circle if they were committed to their relationship. If they weren’t able to sit in the circle together, then, I believed, their marriage would have little chance of succeeding.

 

I also made it clear to them that, statistically, the overwhelming majority of failed marriages (between two emotionally healthy individuals) end because couples are having trouble building and staying committed to their overall relationship. In fact, many of the negative statistics appearing about marriage boil down to the prevalence of couples losing interest in developing the quality of their marriage.

 

A 1995 statewide survey in Utah, for example, examining why marriages end in divorce, found that the lack of commitment to the relationship was the top reason for the growing phenomenon.

 

Specifically, the Utah Marriage Survey asked Utahans who had been divorced to answer the following: “There are many reasons why marriages fail. I’m going to read a list of possible reasons. Looking back at your most recent divorce, tell me whether or not each factor was a major contributor to your divorce. You can say, ‘yes,’ or ‘no,’ to each factor.”

 

The following responses show the percentages of those respondents who answered, “yes,” to each factor that they felt was a major contributor to their divorce:

 

Men / Women / The Mean

 

Lack of commitment: 87% / 79% / 83%

Too much conflict and arguing: 48% / 58% / 53%

Infidelity or extramarital affairs: 47% / 56% / 52%

Getting married too young: 39% / 43% / 41%

Financial problems or economic hardship: 31% / 35% / 33%

Lack of support from family members: 21% / 20% / 21%

Little or no helpful premarital education: 19% / 29% / 24%

Other: 17% / 28% / 22%

Religious differences between partners: 13% / 16% / 15%

Domestic violence: 6% / 37% / 22%

 

The table clearly reveals what Utahans who have experienced divorce perceive: that the lack of commitment was the number one contributing factor to their divorces.  Commitment often involves making one’s partner and relationship a priority, investing in the marriage, and having a long-term view of the relationship.

 

That’s why the most important issue in marriage needs to be the couple’s focus on the quality of their relationship.

 

Couples like Mordechai and Chani are a perfect example of a relationship that had migrated onto the back burner.  And, as I predicted, after several weeks of counseling, it became apparent that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with this young couple.  Neither was particularly high on “control”.  Neither of them had a history of serious emotional illness. And both came from parents who were happily married.

 

Mordechai and Chani needed to learn more about how to negotiate their emotions, how to communicate in a more effective way, and how to begin to recommit to their relationship.

Part 2 – Pleasure vs. Happiness in Marriage

Friday, November 28th, 2008

If you would like to know if your marriage is relationship centered or not, the way to find out is to ask yourself about your core values. For example, what is the most important principle of your marriage? Is it your desire for money or pleasure?  Do you dream about being comfortable, being honored by your spouse and having a lot of fun?

 

Experience has shown that couples who place their relationship at the center of their lives have the greatest chance of sharing a successful marriage together. Unfortunately, our society has sold us a distorted image of marriage, which maintains that external factors such as money or comfort are the factors that make marriage work. Just think about how popular culture depicts the perfect couple, who have all the conveniences one could ever imagine. They have all the money, pleasure, and fun they could ever want, but are they happy?  That’s the million dollar question.

 

I believe that there is no real way of telling how happy a marriage is, except for one factor:  ask them how their relationship is doing.  Afterwards, you’ll know if their happiness is real or illusive.

 

Although many people may choose core values such as wealth, pleasure and honor for their marriage, in the long run, experience has shown that these external values are temporal. Happiness in life has very little to do with externals, and those who focus on the external values often find their relationships unsettled, lacking direction, and without the strength to last a lifetime.

 

In fact, over the years, I have witnessed many families who have little financial means, yet have the power of a healthy relationship. Against the conventional wisdom that money alone buys happiness, these families prove that success is dependent on other variables such as spiritual values, healthy attitudes, and high levels of emotional intelligence. Above all, they are dedicated to maintaining and nurturing the most important commodity in their lives, their relationship.

 

As a young yeshiva student, I learned a lesson about true happiness when I spent one of the most rewarding Shabboses in my life volunteering in an old age home in Sanhedria Murchevet, a small ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem. My predicament that weekend was that I wanted to spend Shabbos visiting the old age home, but didn’t have a place to stay.

 

Thinking out of the box, and knowing I was in an ultra-orthodox community that was famous for its chesed and hachnosos orchim, I decided to take a chance by asking some elderly Chassidim, who frequented a small shopping mall in the neighborhood, if they would be kind enough to take me in as their guest for Shabbos.

After waiting for about five minutes in front of the store, an elderly Chassid from the Viznitz community walked by with his younger daughter.  In my broken and heavily American-accented Hebrew, I tried to explain to him where I volunteered and what I needed.  Without blinking, the man said that he would be delighted to have me as his guest.

 

The elderly Chassid met me just before sunset at the local shul and brought me home to meet his wife and family.  At first, when I walked into his home, I felt that I was entering one of Roman Vizniak’s scenes from pre-war Poland. Despite my initial discomfort at feeling out of place, my fears were quickly relieved when I was warmly welcomed and asked to bring my suitcase into the room I would be sleeping in.  After arranging my clothes, I was served a pre-Shabbos treat: a hot cup of coffee and some chocolate rugelach. Just as I finished my last bite, the Shabbos siren blew and I ran off to daven Kabalos Shabbos at the old age home.

 

After davening, I returned to my host’s apartment to sleep in a very comfortable bedroom.  The next morning I awoke and realized that, despite the fact that they had seven children, there were only two bedrooms, and I was sleeping in one of them!  It turned out that they had set up their children’s beds in the living room and the parents had slept in the one remaining bedroom!   Embarrassed and overwhelmed by their generosity, I walked out of the living room to wish a good Shabbos and, once again, my hosts insisted I sit down for another cup of coffee.

 

That Shabbos, we spent hours eating, drinking tea and talking about our lives.  They were devoted members of the Viznitz community.  The father worked as an accountant for the local Chevra Kadisha and his wife was an assistant in the community kindergarten.  They were married during the War of Independence and for many years lived in Mea Shearim. About ten years ago they had bought this apartment, and one of their dreams was to have special guests over for Shabbos.  I happened to be one of the lucky individuals that would benefit from their kindness and hospitality.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/family/marriage-relationships/part-2-pleasure-vs-happiness-in-marriage/2008/11/28/

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