T he children have grown up, gotten engaged, and will soon start their married lives. After witnessing their own parents’ marriages for a couple of decades, they are now ready to embark on this new stage of life — or are they? 

 

WHAT DO THEY REALLY KNOW?

If all the kids know is what they’ve superficially seen of their parents’ relationship, they’re in deep trouble when it comes to marriage. Many have seen endless squabbling or other forms of chronic conflict. Lots have seen the “all-business” marriage — functional but lacking real warmth. All have seen the imperfect marriage (as all of life is imperfect), and even those who have seen a very good-looking marriage have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

Even if there’s only more good behind those doors, children have no way of seeing the behind-the-scenes mechanics of their parents’ marriage: how the couple negotiates big and private issues, how they recover from marital wounds, how they’ve ensured and maintained their areas of success. In other words, even though kids live in the same house as their parents, they have relatively little knowledge of what goes into making marriage work.


MARRIAGE ENLIGHTENMENT

Although they can’t save their children from learning many lessons the hard way, parents certainly can — and should — give over whatever wisdom they have acquired. Failure to do so can cause unnecessary suffering not only for the young couple, but for the extended family as well.

When Simcha and Pessy got married, I was the most excited mother on the planet! I’ve always been very close with Simcha, and I was looking forward to extending that love to my new daughter-in-law.

Unfortunately, I never got the chance. Pessy immediately drew Simcha into her large family circle. The two were always at her parents’ home or at one of her many other relatives. They never came to us for Shabbos.

After six months of this, I had a meltdown. I told my son how devastated I was that he had “defected” to Pessy’s family. He was shocked.

“Pessy is very close to her family and I just wanted to make her happy. I thought that’s a husband’s job — especially during shanah rishonah!”

It was then that I realized that this was my fault. I had never taught my son the basics of marriage.

What hadn’t Mom taught Simcha? To begin with, she should have told him that although he and Pessy would be very busy getting to know each other during their first year of marriage, one of their important tasks is to merge their new family unit into each of their families of origin. Both families will need time to get to know and love their new child-in-law. The couple should try to share themselves as equally as possible between the two families, unless practical considerations make this impossible (e.g., one lives around the corner while the other lives on a different continent). Even then, finding creative ways to strengthen family bonds is important.

Mom should also have told Simcha that marriage is never a one-way street. While he should be concerned about making Pessy happy, Pessy must also work on making him happy. When only one person gives and the other always takes, the imbalance will eventually lead to resentment and conflict.

Moreover, Mom should have mentioned that one must feel comfortable raising issues or expressing honest feelings and needs. Why should a spouse get upset in reaction to a normal request or an honest expression of feelings? In fact, any strong display of emotion that causes fear or discomfort is a red flag that must be addressed, and it can’t be assumed that young people already know this.

Finally, Mom should point out that when resolving issues is painful or otherwise difficult, reaching out early for help can prevent years of unnecessary suffering. Keeping troubles a secret for years on end (“Because I didn’t want to hurt my parents,” or for any other reason) can backfire, causing trauma in addition to prolonged pain.

Parents may have many other valuable tips to offer. Young people may have an attitude of “Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out,” but this should not deter adults from fulfilling their duty. Although there’s no guarantee that the kids will heed their advice, parents will know that they’ve done their best by offering it. This can make the difference between a marriage dissolving or enduring. (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 559)