| Family First Feature |

Not Yet Home

Mazel tov! You just got married. This is what you,ve been dreaming of...so why do you feel strangely nostalgic for how things were before this major change? Family First takes an honest look at a little-talked-about phenomenon: adjusting to marriage


hen Tirtza got married, she left the out-of-town community where she had a job she loved, plenty of friends, and all the comforts of living at home, to embark on her new life with her husband.

“So there I was in this brand-new place… I didn’t know anyone, I had a new job I’d started two days after sheva brachos, and I was trying to figure out how to be a wife. It was very intense,” she says. “We were going to be paying for our groceries and our rent. My husband was still in school, so it was all on me. I had to hustle.”

On top of these serious adult responsibilities, everything was new to her. Managing a house was brand new. Cooking was brand new. Being in a relationship was brand new. It was a lot. “I struggled with housekeeping a lot, which is so funny because I lived in a literal shoebox. It was so tiny, but somehow so hard to keep clean. And we were only two people! But you still have to clean the bathrooms, you still have to do the dishes. It’s never-ending.”

Another challenge was making supper. “That definitely didn’t take off for a while,” Tirtza laughs. “That was probably my biggest struggle, getting the groceries and figuring out what to make, and it actually coming out edible.”

Once, she tried to make meat pizza. “The recipe said to choose your own deli, sauté it with onions or something, pick your two favorite sauces, mix them, and then put it on the dough. I thought, ‘Great, what could go wrong?’ My husband likes barbecue sauce and hot sauce, so I took equal parts of barbecue sauce and hot sauce and put them on a pizza dough. It was so spicy it wasn’t edible!”

One part of her life that was going well was her job as a secretary in a frum business. While it was challenging and the long days could be draining, it was a very social environment and fun place to be, so Tirtza made friends pretty quickly. “That really helped me get out of bed in the morning during that initial difficult time.”

At the same time, her success at work only highlighted her struggles to run her new home. “At work I was the new employee, and they were so excited about me. I was doing what I was good at, and I felt good about that. When I came home, I felt like a failure, and I’d wonder why couldn’t I just get it together in the house.”

It was so hard in those first six months that Tirtza would sometimes feel an urge to just get in her car and drive back to her childhood home. “It was just too much. I didn’t want to leave my husband, but I didn’t feel like I was managing.”

Even though it didn’t feel like she was managing, she kept plugging away, and got support from her mother as well as a therapist from home whom she would check in with via Zoom from time to time. “I did speak to my mother probably a little too much,” Tirtza says. “When I called my mother, she basically just listened to me, which is what I needed. Especially since I was pregnant early on, I just needed emotional support, which she did provide, baruch Hashem.”

I asked Tirtza’s mother, Rochel, about those emotionally laden phone calls. What was it like being on the receiving end of them? “I myself had a hard transition when I got married, so I definitely understood what she was going through,” Rochel says.

When Rochel married and moved near her husband’s yeshivah, her neighborhood was comprised of other newly married couples, plus more-established families. This gave her a robust support system of young women who were on the same page, plus mature neighbors who could give perspective and advice when needed.

“It was such a wonderful experience,” Rochel remembers, but notes that even though there were so many positives about the community with its bungalow colony vibe and built-in camaraderie, at the end of the day, when she closed the door to her apartment, it was just her and her husband.

“It was a little too quiet for me. I missed my family. When it came to Shabbos at my childhood home, everyone had their jobs. Here, I realized that it was all my job. My mother wasn’t there and my sisters weren’t there, so it was all on me. My husband was very helpful, but only to a point.” They went back home to her parents for Shabbos nearly once a month that first year, even though it wasn’t so common in her circles.

Mimi David teaches frum kallahs in St. Louis, Missouri, and around the world. While discussing this topic, she reflects back on her own shanah rishonah experience. “I got married very young and moved to Eretz Yisrael right away. This was in the days before WhatsApp. It was a dollar a minute for a phone call, so you called home once a week and you spoke for ten minutes. That was it.” There was no Zoom, no FaceTime, no posting pics on the family chat. It was a much tougher adjustment in those days.

Mimi is very close with her family, which made the transition harder. “It was really hard and I really was very isolated, and there was nothing to do about it. I remember I used to cry in the airport when we left.” She would say goodbye to her parents and then wait at the gate with her new husband. Aware that she wouldn’t be able to talk to her family for a long time again, Mimi would sit and sob.

“Usually about two weeks after we got home, my husband would turn to me out of the blue and ask why I had been crying so much at the gate, which would trigger a whole new round of crying!” remembers Mimi. “Those were the days.”

It was also challenging to leave her friends behind. “I had a friend who got married shortly after I moved to Eretz Yisrael. I asked another friend of mine to prepare a box full of helium balloons and a long poster that said, ‘I wish I was there with you,’ with my name. At the wedding they brought it out and opened the box, and that’s how I participated in my friend’s simchah.”

Normal Growing Pains

Despite all beginnings being hard, the young bride does eventually adjust. Tirtza notes that there was no distinct turning point, rather, it was time that did it. They moved to a larger apartment. Her job became less stressful as she gained experience. And her home started to feel more like hers.

“At the beginning, when I would go home to my parents, I would always get choked up when it was time to leave. And then at a certain point, I realized that my home with my husband felt more like home to me than my parents’ house did.

“It’s the type of thing that you just have to go through until you’re out of it,” she continues. “There’s no magic formula that a mother could say to make it better. This was me becoming an adult. I really matured a lot since then.”

Because as hard as this transition can be, it’s a desirable hardship. Shifi Lieberman, a marriage and family therapist in Passaic, New Jersey, notes that this topic — the struggles young, newly married women experience adjusting to marriage — isn’t often discussed. It’s the kind of challenge that is easily viewed as a luxury, paling in comparison to challenges faced by older singles or couples struggling with infertility, for example.

“If a young kallah wakes up one morning and thinks about how she misses her friends, or waking up in her childhood room, or the noise of living in a house with siblings, or any of the normal things someone might miss, she has no complaining rights in our society,” says Shifi. “She’s married. She got the trophy, she achieved the thing that we’re holding up as the pinnacle of life achievements at this point.”

But Shifi points out that, yes, these kallahs could use some empathy. “When it comes to shanah rishonah, there’s more change in that one year than the couple’s going to have for the rest of their lives. It has so many adjustments, really similar to the first year of life. And just like that first year of life is the most critical for building the foundations that children need for life, shanah rishonah is a major opportunity to build the foundation of their relationship.”

Shifi notes that even if someone was blessed with a positive shanah rishonah, they’ve still undergone a major life adjustment. She feels that not adequately preparing our young women and men for what changes face them in their first year of marriage could make it bumpier than necessary.

“Take, for example, getting their new apartment. No matter how it looked in pictures, or what they expected, it’s different from how it looks, especially if they’ve moved to Israel. Buying all the things that they need for the apartment, toiveling, figuring out how to clean an apartment, where to even buy what’s need for cooking and cleaning, learning how to navigate public transportation if they’re in a new place — the list goes on and on. And this is all while building a relationship with each other and trying to create a home,” says Shifi.

In building the relationship, the most unexpected situations can be a source of possible friction. Shifi shares an anecdote from the early days of her marriage. “I poured myself some orange juice to drink, and I was in a rush, so I put the cap back on the container, but I didn’t totally twist it shut. When my husband came and he took the orange juice, he gave it a good shake, and the cap and orange juice went flying. I don’t usually shake orange juice before I drink it, but since he does, he couldn’t understand how I wouldn’t put the cap on tightly, and I couldn’t understand why he would shake orange juice so hard before drinking it!

“Marriage is about two different people with two different ways of doing things. It’s really a lot, but the beauty is in the communication and the emotional management and the commitment to making it work,” says Shifi.

Set for Success

What can help set a young married woman up for success? “Being aware that marriage takes work definitely helps,” says Mimi. “They’re not going in thinking they’re riding off into the sunset on two white horses.”

Having local support is also a big piece. “It doesn’t have to be a sibling, but even a friend who can give you a rundown on how to do things, especially in Israel. It’s a new life, but if someone has already done it, and you’re close to them, take advantage of that,” she says.

Staying in touch with your kallah teacher or a mentor is also a must. Mimi has noticed that around three weeks after their wedding, newlyweds often start to notice things about their spouse that makes them think, “Hmm, really?”

“It could be a hygiene thing, or a time management thing, or a money management thing, or a social skills thing. Things that are not bad, they’re just different. They’re two different people from two different homes and two different backgrounds,” she says. She notes that it doesn’t matter how similar their families are, they’re still two different people from two different families and two different backgrounds. “They’re going to do things differently, and very often we think that different is wrong. And it’s not. It’s just different.”

While some girls gain their footing in two months, for others it takes longer. Mimi has seen that most young women start to feel comfortable and confident within the first year. And if they don’t, they should consider talking to a therapist. “It’s very normal to have overwhelming moments, and it’s really okay to call your teacher, call your mentor, call your rebbetzin, your therapist if you have one you’re in contact with. Don’t hesitate to reach out to get help,” she says.

Mimi shares the story of a new kallah who was an anxious type, generally speaking, but was usually able to keep it under control. “Marriage brought out a ton of anxiety in her, just because there was so much change, so much newness, and she just started to panic.” The kallah would call Mimi and tell her that she was seeing red flags in her new husband, but when Mimi asked her for examples, she didn’t have any. “There wasn’t anything to not be okay with, but she really didn’t feel okay because she was having a hard time adjusting,” says Mimi.

“Fast forward a couple months, and this new couple went on a trip together over bein hazmanim. It was so bashert,” says Mimi. The kallah got sick and the new couple had to find an urgent care together. “When she saw how he took care of her, something clicked in her mind, and she saw that he was really there for her, and that things were going to be good.” This couple looks back at that trip as the moment their marriage really began.

“Give everything time,” says Tirtza. “Everything takes time to learn. In a few years, you’ll be able to make Shabbos in one hour, it’s not a big deal. It gets easier. After you get a little experience, when you find out Friday morning that you have to stay home for Shabbos, you’ll be okay. And also, it’s okay to buy takeout.”

Shifi is a huge fan of reaching out for help. “Don’t wait until you’re married four years and have two kids to figure out how to communicate with each other,” she says emphatically. “Everyone feels differently in the same situation, and men and women are so different. Learn the communication piece and get to know yourself so you can be confident enough to communicate in a way that actually has a chance of working.”

She also notes that if we’re saying that the girl is homesick, or the boy is even homesick, the first thing to do is to define what the home is.  “When it comes down to it, they’re feeling homesick for something that’s familiar,” says Shifi. “Anytime we move into a new stage of life, it’s inherently uncomfortable. Turning a house into a home is a beautiful process that builds connection between a husband and wife. Taking values and styles from each of their homes and combining them to build a unique, custom-made home just for them is what building a bayis ne’eman is about.

“We say you have to build a bayis ne’eman b’Yisrael, not just to have one. Building takes energy, it takes work. Even with a great girl and a great boy, there is no marriage on the planet that doesn’t require hard work, that doesn’t require compromising, that doesn’t have a learning curve. Not only learning who your spouse is, but learning that it’s not just about you.”

She points out that it’s even little decisions like having long meals versus short meals, eating out versus eating in that require compromises. “Every single thing has to be renegotiated. All those dreams that you had, like about what your home is going to look like? Well, guess what? Your spouse had his own dreams, and now you have to figure out how those dreams work together.

“And this is actually what you’re davening for,” she points out. “You’re davening for the hard parts and you’re davening for the change. You might not realize it in the moment, but the challenge is, in the end, bringing you closer. You’ll be able to look back and say, ‘Wow, we got through that together. That was totally worth it.’ ”

Zooming in on Israel

“When I asked how she was adjusting to marriage, I thought she was going to say starting off in Eretz Yisrael was the best thing for their marriage,” says Miriam. “I thought she would say something like, ‘We got there and we had to depend on each other and communicate with each other,’ which are all the things I think are necessary in terms of the foundation of marriage. I really expected her to say that. But she was honest enough to admit to me that while, yes, they did learn to depend on each other and communicate, there were also plenty of hard parts.”

Ahuva saw that her candidness was a bit of an eye-opener for her mother-in-law. “She viewed living in Eretz Yisrael as something blissful and great and figured that’s why everyone goes,” Ahuva shares. “I think it was a surprise for her that it’s hard and takes a lot of adjusting to the whole culture and to the actual move and to being married. Of course we know we’re so lucky to be here, and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, but it’s not as easy as it looks.  Everyone has their own story, but I have a bunch of friends over here now, and we all took our time to adjust.”

“Some of my friends are very real and don’t mind being vulnerable, and I would know when they were having homesick days, when they just wanted to go home, when they needed their mother,” says Ahuva. Other friends didn’t seem so bothered, or were just a little more private, or just adjusted faster. “I didn’t have a job at first and it was really bad,” she says. “Having a routine is huge, and a job gives you something to do every day, which helps you feel normal and productive.”

Ahuva was surprised that immediately after getting married, she found herself wishing just a little bit that she could still have her single lifestyle. Ahuva was always very social, and it was a huge adjustment for her to switch her focus from friends to her husband.

“From the perspective of a girl that got married first of all my friends, I definitely had the thought that maybe I should have held off with dating because all my friends were chilling together, every day,” she remembers. “They were going to weddings, having fun, hanging out. I was seeing all these pictures of my friends together, and I was sitting in this apartment, up four flights of stairs. It was like, where am I? Who am I? I’m a wife, I’m with a stranger, it was just hard.” She would often find herself vacillating between thinking about her carefree life before, and then thinking about how lucky she was to be married to her husband.

Her FOMO was worse when it came to family events, and Ahuva would notice a spike in homesickness when her family was together and she wasn’t there. Another big cause of homesickness was coming back from visiting America. “My friends and sisters warned me about this. The beginning was so hard. I would come back and I would literally cry. Even something like the smell of my apartment made me cry. I would not eat the food because I couldn’t take Israeli food, and I’d lose several pounds over those first few days back,” says Ahuva.

Now she notices that homesickness usually comes up more when it’s time to plan Shabbos. “My friends and siblings are just going to their parents, it’s so easy, while I’m thinking about how I have to make a whole Shabbos again when I just made one last week.”

In their discussion, Miriam asked Ahuva if it was the same type of homesickness as girls get in camp and seminary. “It’s a little bit different because in camp and seminary, you kind of know you’re going home,” says Ahuva. “There’s an end point. Camp is just four weeks long, and everyone knows initially adjusting to seminary is hard, but you get to Chanukah, and it gets better, but it’s also not forever. It’s much different when someone is feeling homesick, and it’s their life forever. It’s a lot to accept at the moment.”

Ahuva also notes that for the husbands, the adjustment period is different. “They go to yeshivah from the time they’re little, and they’re used to dorm life. They’re used to living away from home, not having home-cooked meals. And when they come back to yeshivah after getting married, it’s sort of like they’re getting back into their regular schedule that they’re so used to — just with a wife.”

While newly married men have plenty of adjusting to do within the home, many guys are returning to a familiar schedule. “Girls who have just moved to Eretz Yisrael have to figure out a whole new social life, a whole new schedule, a new job, while juggling the household chores and laundry, groceries, shopping, supper, everything. And not necessarily all of those things are enjoyable,” shares Ahuva.

While those early months of her marriage were difficult, with time and effort, those difficulties faded. “At the end of the day, the more you make your apartment your home, and the more it starts to feel homey and you start to settle into everyday life and routine, the homesickness goes away. Feeling normal, getting up on time, having a routine, having a job — those all help so much,” Ahuva says. “When you’re feeling homesick, let yourself be homesick and in an emotional mood, and sooner rather than later you’ll feel normal. Make yourself feel at home. Whether that means cooking food that your mom does or taking a shower, getting into bed early and reading a book.  Know that the more you get to know your husband, the more you make your home into your home, the less homesick you’re likely to get. Because you’re busy investing in your life.”

Reverse Homesickness

Newlywed Tirtza wasn’t the only one adjusting to a new reality. “I was almost as homesick for her as she was for her life in my home,” says her mother Rochel. “But I didn’t tell her that because I didn’t want to put it on her. She had her own things to deal with, she didn’t need my emotions. I dealt with my own feelings and did my best to be supportive of her. I did a lot of compartmentalizing.”

There’s a window of adjustment as everyone adapts to the new reality. As happy as everyone is, it’s still a change, and it’s common for mothers to feel conflicting emotions at the wedding. “Of course, we’re so, so happy. This is our goal, right?” says Rochel. “We walked our daughter to the chuppah. It’s beautiful, but we’re handing her over to this man, this boy, this person, who we don’t even know. Especially if they’re moving to a different city, we’re going to miss them.”

She adds, “It always rubbed me the wrong way when mothers would say, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to manage without her, she does all my errands, she makes Shabbos.’ That’s not your daughter’s business. Don’t put that on her. Don’t make her feel guilty that it’s going to be hard for you to make Shabbos without her. She’s not your servant, she’s your daughter. And while it’s wonderful if she helps, that’s not her job. Your household is your job. You’re going to miss her because you love her and she’s your daughter, not because your best helper just left.”


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 892)

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