Commitment| February 8, 2022
When we appreciate the preciousness of marriage, it’s easier to weather the challenges
“He doesn’t help me at all, and I get nothing from him emotionally, either. So what’s the point? We might as well divorce.”
This sentiment, expressed by 42-year-old Alice, mother of two (Max, six, and Karin, two), is common in today’s secular world. Alice makes a good living and doesn’t need her husband’s financial support. Her husband Bruce adds little to her quality of life; in fact, he just adds to her burden, so she can’t see why she needs to continue to live with him.
Her marriage, in her eyes, is a relationship worthwhile only as long as it’s good. Like so many things in modern life, it’s disposable when it’s broken. And the kids? Alice figures they’ll be just fine. Most of their friends come from divorced homes anyway; it’s a perfectly normal way to grow up.
The secular world is failing at marriage. Stats in 2020 show that around 40 percent of American adults have never been married. Of those who have married, half don’t stay that way, and about 50 percent of children experience their parents’ divorce. Marriage, it seems, is too hard and too disappointing for the average person to tolerate.
A Different World View
Our Torahdig belief system is grounded in the big picture, the long-term goals of existence. To us, marriage is holy. It goes way beyond a friendship that is or isn’t working out.
When Alice divorces, Max and Karin will no longer have the security of their own bedrooms. Two weeks at Mom’s; two weeks at Dad’s — ad infinitum through all their developmental years. It’s a lifestyle no adult would ever willingly adopt — and with good reason. It’s emotionally unhealthy.
But that’s not all. Max and Karin will experience a rotating cast of new parents and step-siblings — rotating because second marriages have a higher failure rate than first ones, and third marriages even higher. But according to Alice, this will somehow be fine, because she wasn’t happy being with Bruce. In reality, future partners will also fail to fulfill Alice, to make her feel she’s sufficiently understood, loved and appreciated, because the concept of such marital fulfillment is inherently flawed.
In fact, no one can “make us happy.” It’s something we must learn to do for ourselves. Cultivating the ability to appreciate everything and everyone is a very good place to start on that journey.
Chaya also struggles in her marriage. She’s resentful that her husband Shmuly comes and goes as he pleases, while she’s stuck at home with the children. And like Alice, she feels frustrated at the lack of emotional support she receives from her husband. She has plenty of other complaints as well, and has recently been considering asking Shmuly to go to marriage counseling with her. “
I know we can be a lot happier if we just work on it,” Chaya says.
Chaya knows that marriage is forever (except in unfortunate cases of intense suffering). She knows the home is a sanctuary, a place with meaning and purpose, an edifice within the Jewish People, a place where personal, emotional work leads to spiritual growth, and a place that will nurture her children’s optimal development.
She knows, in other words, that her relationship with her spouse is only one aspect of marriage, and, while it’s obviously so important, it isn’t the only determinant of her commitment.
Marriage as a Microcosm of Life
Although everyone wants to be blissfully happy in marriage, we know that ready-made marital happiness is a rare gift. We know that Hashem distributes gifts in accordance with our unique personal mission here on earth: some of us will be born into wealth, others will be handed intelligence or talent, some will be blessed with a household of healthy children and so on. We know that Hashem also distributes our challenges: financial hardships, illness, traumatic experiences, etc.
We’re ready for life — or, as l’havdil, Jon Kabat-Zinn, might say, “full catastrophe living.” We approach life with courage and emunah, using our gifts and our challenges to achieve our full spiritual potential.
We approach marriage the same way. We accept its frustrations, disappointments, and challenges, along with its limitless blessings, under no illusion that some other person will be able to save us from our own responsibility to live with joy, gratitude, faith, equanimity, and a commitment to the bigger picture.
Our commitment is to ourselves, to joyfully live a life of purpose, dedicated to Hashem.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 780)
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