I understand how busy you and your spouse are, but there is nothing that will replace spending time together.
Written with Zivia Reischer
I’ve been following your column over the past few weeks and I have a question about one point you keep mentioning: that couples should go out together weekly — the famous “date night.” I understand that spending time together is a necessary ingredient to keep the bond strong and the connection close. And to be honest, it sounds wonderful!
My problem is that it’s just not practical. I work. My husband works. We have six kids, the oldest of whom is just 14. Evenings are a crush of homework, suppertime, baths, and of course the never-ending bedtime routine. Finding a babysitter is harder than finding a shidduch, and even if you find one, they’re never able to get the kids to bed, so we come home to chaos and we pay for it the next morning. That’s besides the fact that the babysitter is not going to study with the kids for their tests or practice their kriah with them. We can barely make it to PTA or simchahs — usually only one of us goes, or we switch off. A weekly date night is just totally unrealistic.
Thank you for your perspective. Let me share some background.
I’ve worked with countless couples who find themselves fighting constantly and aren’t even sure why. They have the same life goals and ideals, they are both dedicated to their family, and both really want this marriage to work, but by the time they get to me, they feel hopeless, ready to throw in the towel. Yet their differences aren’t that great, and things used to be good between them. They once had a solid marriage, and they recall fondly their time together as a young couple.
Oddly enough, nothing significant really changed since then. He didn’t start drinking. She didn’t start gambling. Nobody went off the derech.
The only thing that happened is that they stopped investing in the relationship.
So, almost imperceptibly, they drifted apart. Then one day she said something, and he took it the wrong way. She was hurt, so she replied in kind. One thing led to another. Voices were raised, things were said. Both walked away feeling betrayed and mistreated.
This happens even in great marriages. The problem is that their bond was weak. There wasn’t enough of a connection to mend the damage and get things back on track. Their benign neglect of their relationship led to a state of crisis.
I can’t possibly stress this enough: The success or the failure of your marriage is dependent on the love you feel for each other. Love in marriage is vital; it’s the grease of the wheels and the glue that keeps everything connected. But love doesn’t grow and flourish on its own. If you don’t work on it, it will wither. It won’t be long until both of you become small-minded, petty, and vindictive. At that point, anything is enough to set the house on fire.
I understand how busy you and your spouse are, but there is nothing that will replace spending time together. There is nothing else that will keep you connected as a couple, no matter how compelling your reasons are. The opposite of spending time together is drifting apart. You choose one or you will inevitably get the other.
I would like to address your points about bedtime and homework for your kids.
Consistent bedtimes and organized bedtime routines are important. Kriah practice and homework is important. But by far the single greatest investment you can make in your children’s success is to have a happy home. Children who were brought up in a secure environment, where the parents exhibit respect, love, and concern for each other, will grow up to be exponentially more wholesome, better developed, and more secure than children who were brought up in a home where the parents bicker, snipe at each other, or are distant from each other — which is the inevitable result when spouses don’t spend time together. When you invest in your relationship, you are not abandoning your children and their needs while you party — you are actually fulfilling your children’s most important needs.
This is probably harder when your children are very young, but it is also especially true then. Young children view their parents as the center of gravity, the axis on which their entire world spins. You are their definition of home, their definition of family, a major part of their definition of themselves. A strong marriage is worth the sacrifice of late bedtimes and missing homework. Even if Yanky doesn’t understand the Rambam and Ruchie doesn’t know her multiplication tables by heart, they can still develop into wholesome, secure individuals. But if Mommy and Tatty are fighting, all bets are off.
Date night is not only good for you, it’s the greatest gift you can give your kids.
“It’s not fair to my kids.”
This is probably the most common reason that parents give for not being able to go out together.
It comes from a good place, it doesn’t account for a basic fact of life: The greatest gift you can give your children is a secure, happy home, and possibly the greatest trauma to a child is to grow up in a home where their parents are constantly fighting, or worse — they divorce. People like to promote the idea that children are resilient and they’ll adapt to the situation, but living through a divorce (and the years-long custody issues that often follow) is traumatic. Growing up in a happy home is the key, the game changer, the factor in the child becoming a wholesome, well-developed person. So if you are legitimately concerned for your children and want what is best for them, you should do everything in your power to make your marriage as vibrant as it can be. And if the cost is leaving them once a week, it’s well worth it.
As strange as it sounds, you may have to rescue your marriage from your children. If you’ve just recently gotten married, you won’t know what I’m talking about. But if you have children, you know that children are the single greatest challenge to shalom bayis. They compete for your time. They complicate romance. They get in the way of everything that’s going to bond you together as a couple. Obviously, they’re a tremendous brachah, but their needs are great and will infringe on your marriage — unless you learn, as a couple, to set boundaries. Tuesday night is Mommy and Tatty’s time to go out.
This is one of the mistakes that many couples make: not putting your marriage first. It’s true that children need attention. Children need time spent with them. Children have endless needs and two parents full-time probably don’t have enough time to devote to the needs of a family. And there’s no question that the more time you spend with your children and focus on their needs, the better you’ll be doing your job as a parent. But don’t sacrifice your marriage. You must dedicate time to your marriage, even at the expense of your children’s homework. Even if they resent that you left them with a babysitter.
Rabbi Bentzion Shafier is the founder of TheShmuz.com, a life-changing mussar shiur that is available on TorahAnytime, The Shmuz Podcast and The Shmuz App. His newest book release, The Ten Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make, is available on TheShmuz.com and will hit Jewish bookstores later this year.
Note: This column is intended to offer an understanding of the mechanics of a good marriage. In situations of chronic abuse, a qualified professional should be consulted.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 886)
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