“Finding a spouse who doubles as a best friend is a wonderful goal but it’s not the basic definition of ‘marriage’ or ‘soulmate’ ” says Rabbi Moshe Hauer a well-known speaker and rav of Congregation Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion in Baltimore. “If a couple respects and appreciates each other the relationship can still be strong and meaningful”
t was her birthday and a highly hormonal Simi — pregnant with her fifth her oldest pushing five — was crabby and depleted. Desperate she got a babysitter jumped on the Q train and phoned her husband at his 34th Street office. She got his voicemail.
“I need a break ” she said urgently. “I’m 30 minutes away from your building. I’ll meet you at Battery Park then we go out to eat?”
She was whizzing past DeKalb Avenue feeling a tiny seed of hope when she got the text: Sry. I’m tired. Going home.
“I sat on a bench in Battery Park and sobbed ” Simi recalls ten years later. “I’d been struggling in my marriage for years — my husband grew up in an emotionally dysfunctional home; he had serious self-esteem and relationship issues. But at that moment I finally allowed myself to feel the pain. I’d never before felt so uncherished so unloved.”
Elana a 35-year-old Canadian with three children tells a similar story of denial-and-crash. Though her husband is a good father and growing baal middos she felt almost zero attraction to him one year into marriage: She describes him as “slow” and “socially inept.” Shabbos meals were so boring that she fastidiously arranged for guests each week — anything to avoid the loneliness.
“It took me a long time to seek help ” she reports. “I didn’t want to face the fact that I might never feel excited about my husband.”
Eventually Elana sought the advice of a mentor who validated her pain but urged her to connect with Hashem. “When all is said and done it’s going to be you alone with Hashem ” the teacher said. “That’s the only real relationship.”
Elana knew this to be true — but she was hardly comforted.
“Fifty years is a long time. The thought of living with someone that long — and not connecting — was devastating. I wanted some hope some empowerment; instead I got the message that I was doomed to a lifetime of aloneness.”
Elana and Simi are hardly alone: Many women experience a disturbing sense of marital mismatch an overwhelming feeling of “Omigosh what have I done??”
Whether it’s financial incompatibility (he can’t be trusted with money) spiritual incompatibility (he has completely different values) or emotional incompatibility (he’s on a different wavelength; he doesn’t understand me) the feeling can be sickening blanketing one’s soul with a deep sense of dread.
And for some these pit-in-the-stomach emotions are compounded by guilt: “My husband is a good guy. Why can’t I just get over it and learn to love him?”
The good news say experts is that these feelings are normal — and hardly marriage-threatening. With the right perspective the right tools and a robust willingness to work even emotions like “Help! I don’t like my husband!” do not have to be a marital death knell.
Loneliness: Worst of All
How common is the “Oh no” feeling?
According to Sara Eisemann LCSW a Detroit-based therapist and MatchQuest columnist for Family First almost every married person goes through the “What did I do?” stage at some point — with varying intensity.
For some the feeling balloons into an existential loneliness — and an overwhelming despair. “Loneliness in marriage is pervasive and relentless ” Sara says. “It can feel like disconnection from life itself even worse than not being married at all.”
Citing Abie Rotenberg’s legendary lyrics (“and that loneliness is worst of all, I’m sure you will agree…”), Sara notes that the need for social connection is universal and fundamental; people will go to extreme lengths to avoid feelings of isolation.
“Every woman harbors the hope that she’ll find her soulmate, her bashert, and she’ll feel whole forevermore. The pain of that shattered dream is a burden she carries always, robbing her of tranquility.”
Rochel Leah, a British mother of eight who’s been married nearly 20 years, calls her marriage “one of the most difficult relationships of my life.” She describes her husband — a beloved activist who plays an important role in their local Hatzolah — as an easygoing guy who doesn’t “get” her.
Her ambivalence began during their second date. “I came home and said, ‘He’s great and he’s perfect, and I just really don’t like him.’ ”
While their ideals matched perfectly, Rochel Leah says something about his personality repelled her, though she couldn’t place it. After several more dates, she felt more hopeful — but ultimately, her decision to marry was more intellectual than emotional.
“I’m a sensitive, complex introvert and until today, I find his extroversion suffocating. He’ll bellow a warm, loud greeting into the phone, and I’ll cringe. He’s uncomplicated, but that comes with a lack of nuance and depth.”
Rochel Leah says she’d never leave the relationship — “He’s an amazing mentsch” — but the pain is often overwhelming. “I know it’s not true, but sometimes I feel like the only person in this world with a challenging marriage.”
Mrs. Aliza Bulow is the Denver-based director of Ner LeElef’s North American Women’s Program. In her ten years of mentoring kiruv rebbetzins, she says loneliness is one of the biggest issues raised.
“These women have lots of students and admirers, but they often lack deeper friendships. Superficial relationships are like eating candy when you’re hungry — you’re never satisfied. When women expect their husbands to be their ‘girlfriends’ as well, it puts a lot of stress on the marriage.”
For some, this gnawing hunger starts in shanah rishonah: As a new kallah struggles to achieve the ideal painted by her teachers, she may think, “Hmmm… this isn’t what I thought it would be.”
For other women, Mrs. Bulow notes, the loneliness becomes acute later — when they hit 30 or 35, and take a giant leap in self-awareness. “A woman who was busy navigating marriage and raising little kids may not have had the chance to get to know herself. Now that she has a more developed sense of self — her strengths, values, dreams — she may feel like, ‘Uh, oh, he’s not what I need!’ ”
These feelings are big and scary — but they’re just feelings. Happily, even couples who seem devoid of compatibility can work to create something beautiful.
“Finding a spouse who doubles as a best friend is a wonderful goal, but it’s not the basic definition of ‘marriage’ or ‘soulmate,’ ” says Rabbi Moshe Hauer, a well-known speaker and rav of Congregation Bnai Jacob Shaarei Zion in Baltimore. “If a couple respects and appreciates each other, the relationship can still be strong and meaningful.”
Rabbi Hauer has counseled community members in this situation. He says unrealized expectations often cause the greatest angst, but these expectations can be moderated.
Traditionally, the BFF element had little place in the husband-wife relationship. Each spouse had his or her own best friends, yet they partnered in building something magnificent and lasting. While today’s model (spouse-as-a-best-friend) is broadly different, Rabbi Hauer acknowledges, it is not the exclusive path to a rewarding relationship.
What’s more, 21st-century research shows that instinctive friendship is not a marital sine qua non. According to Dr. John Gottman, who spent 40 years researching the secrets of successful marriage, friendship is at the heart of any happy marriage — but it can be fostered through seven specific behaviors.
In his bestselling The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. Gottman writes: “The better able [a couple is] to understand, honor, and respect each other and their marriage — the more likely that they will indeed live happily ever after. Just as parents can teach their children emotional intelligence, this is also a skill that a couple can be taught.”
Dr. Chaim Horwitz, a Lakewood psychologist who’s treated hundreds of couples in over 30 years of practice, concurs. In his view, the word “love” can become meaningless.
Dr. Horwitz once counseled a non-Jewish couple who regularly engaged in physical violence. At one point, he asked, “Why are you staying together?” The pair stared at the therapist, stupefied.
“Because we love each other!” they cried.
For years afterward, Dr. Horwitz studiously avoided the term, until he finally found a meaningful definition in the works of acclaimed research professor and writer Brenי Brown. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Brown writes: “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness, and affection.
“Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow.”
This last piece, Dr. Horwitz asserts, is what millennials struggle with. Often, a husband or wife will step into his office alone and say: “I’m not attracted to my spouse; I need your help to cope with it.”
“That makes me sad,” Dr. Horwitz explains. “He’s already given up on creating friendship, on creating attraction — he just wants ‘coping tools.’ To a person like that, I’ll say: ‘There are no “done-deals” here. I’m a therapist who helps you be married, not tolerate a partner you disdain. With the right watering, love can grow.’ ”
Interestingly, even some prominent writers in the media’s most liberal strata make a case for redefining love — and normalizing “mismatched” marriages. In a 2016 New York Times op-ed, author Alain de Botton dismisses the notion of a “right” or “wrong” spouse. He asserts that the romantic view of marriage — the contemporary notion that a “perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning” — creates an excessive imaginative pressure that makes marital challenges seem “exceptional and appalling.”
“The good news is that it doesn’t matter if we find we have married the wrong person,” he writes. “It is the capacity to tolerate differences with generosity that is the true marker of the ‘not overly wrong’ person.”
And his clincher: “Compatibility is an achievement of love; it must not be its precondition.”
Ideas like these can be refreshing — and hope-generating — for struggling women. But on a practical level, how do you take marriage from spark-less to sparkling?
Say it Out Loud
The first step in reaching a place of wholeness is to acknowledge your feelings — and grieve your dream.
Maybe you thought you’d marry a wise talmid chacham, a sensitive baal regesh, or a successful provider. Maybe you dreamed of a kindred spirit who would instantly get your jokes and laugh. You didn’t get what you wanted — and that’s hard.
For Simi, acknowledging that her husband was difficult — and allowing herself to feel anger — was wrenching. “I felt cheated. I felt like telling Hashem ‘I deserve a normal relationship!’ I was mad at myself: How did I make such a stupid choice?”
Fifty-year-old Debra from the Midwest says she was reluctant to grieve: doing so would force her to admit that she’d made a bad judgment (though G-d had willed it). “It was tough. It’s hard to feel like you’ve made such a colossal mistake in such a colossal decision. It felt like I couldn’t trust myself anymore.”
Particularly for a newlywed, who may be lacking relationship tools, the “I’m lonely” admission can be terrifying. Other women feel ashamed — shouldn’t a really good wife just embrace her husband, whoever he is?
This emotional repression, warns Sara Eisemann, helps no one. “Pretending you’re an eishes chayil who accepts everything without reaction is counterproductive,” she says. “If you never grieve a loss, it takes up residence in some other inappropriate venue.”
When women are not emotionally honest, they might pick fights and speak disrespectfully in areas that seem random, when in fact, they’re playing out unresolved disappointment.
Mourning is essential, and it can take time. The younger you are, adds Simi, the longer it may take, because you may still be holding onto delusions of control and entitlement — as if we deserve to write the script of our lives.
Dr. Michael Tobin, a seasoned Jerusalem psychologist who’s been treating couples for over 40 years, says letting go of fantasies is critical — but “there should be no illusions that it will be simple.”
He describes a particularly difficult case: An emotionally savvy young woman had married a man with mild ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder). Instead of accepting her husband with his strengths and limitations, the woman was determined to change him via therapy. While this route can sometimes work, Dr. Tobin acknowledges, it’s an arduous and potentially pain-fraught path.
“Demands of ‘maximum change’ can break a person… and they may be an exercise in futility,” he says. “You need a lot of emotional capital to tolerate the pain after each failed try. My advice to someone in this situation would be, ‘Take back your life. Focus on what you do have. Invest in your friends, family, community and personal development to get specific needs met.’ ”
Sara Eisemann has similar advice. “Mourn the dream, but remember: It was just a dream. This isn’t about wallowing. Acknowledge that this isn’t what you hoped for; feel the pain. Then bury the vision, kindly and lovingly, and move forward — embrace what can be.”
Of course, if the marriage is truly challenging or if there are signs of emotional dysfunction, a woman must figure out if she should stay. In non-abusive situations where there are children, Dr. Tobin reports, a vast majority of couples try hard to make it work.
“Being divorced with children is not an easy status. Divorce wreaks havoc on the kids, and it’s not easy to find another suitable spouse.”
Dr. Tobin recalls a woman who had debilitating emotional baggage. The husband — a parentified child who’d needed to take on a parental role while still young — had unconsciously chosen a spouse he’d need to take care of. After ten intense years of therapy, he’d worked his way out of depression and was less codependent, but his wife was still mired in passivity and resentment.
“The marriage had little basis,” Dr. Tobin says, “other than the fact that they had six children.”
Today, the husband — determined to keep his children’s worlds intact — is valiantly holding out, using a refrain that Dr. Tobin says may well get him through the next few years. “ ‘I’m still learning and growing as a result of this relationship,’ ” he tells himself. “ ‘This is the hand HaKadosh Baruch Hu dealt me; I’m going to learn to play it well. It’s helping me to become more of the person I want to be.’ ”
In Aliza Bulow’s experience, some struggling spouses find it easier to contemplate the short-term future. “It can be less overwhelming to say ‘I’m determined to get my five little kids through school with two married parents. How can I build the best bayis neeman possible for the next 12 years?’ ”
Dr. Horwitz will sometimes ask young couples who are ready to give up: “When your child hits ten years old, will you be able to tell him, ‘I did everything I possibly could to stay together with your mother/father?’ ” While this doesn’t always save the marriage, Dr. Horwitz says, it often causes a redoubling of efforts.
Therapy: A Must?
Some women cannot get past the mourning stage: They feel perpetually angry and depressed.
“I would weep at every chuppah I attended,” Elana relates, “and it wasn’t because I was davening for the chassan and kallah.”
Shifra, whose father is a famous rosh yeshivah — but whose entrepreneurial husband left kollel unexpectedly after just two years — would fall apart after every family simchah. “My brothers and brothers-in-law would share these moving, content-filled words. And then my husband would embarrass me with this slapdash can’t-even-call-it-a-speech. I’d be a mess for a week.”
In these cases, says Sara Eisemann, there may be underlying issues — and a skilled therapist, coupled with authentic soul searching, can be helpful in exploring them.
“Ask yourself,” Sara advises, “ ‘Am I hiding behind my marriage to avoid confronting my own emptiness? Am I hiding behind my expectations of my husband as a means of avoiding my own spiritual responsibilities or shortcomings?’
“This life is yours to live. You are not a victim of circumstance.”
What’s more, marital dissatisfaction is often tied to childhood wounds. For example, a woman whose father rarely spent quality time with her may unconsciously seek rectification via her husband. When her husband doesn’t roughhouse with the kids, or when he fails to greet them exuberantly, she feels a double wound — one for the present, and one for her inner child.
Typical signs that a woman hasn’t let go of her dreams include chronic unrest or dissatisfaction, or “awfulizing” — the tendency to catastrophize a minor comment or incident. While it’s normal to feel slightly triggered by behaviors you find challenging, you shouldn’t feel like your marriage is collapsing “when your husband makes a dumb comment at the Shabbos table,” Sara says.
Sometimes, the discontent a woman feels in her marriage is a reflection of a hole within herself. For example, a very geshikt woman who was formerly G.O. president and valedictorian (i.e., accustomed to abundant external validation) may find herself at home doing the mostly thankless job of raising three kvetchy kids. Instead of acknowledging her feelings (“Where am I going in life? And how did I go from a competent, vibrant person to a run-down shmatte?”), she may blame her husband for her lack of fulfillment.
And while one spouse will often claim to be “the mature one” or “the responsible one,” Dr. Horwitz stresses that people usually gravitate toward others like themselves. Often, maturity levels — upon deeper examination — are similar.
Women, he offers as an example, are generally more expressive; they come across as more mature and sophisticated. In one case, a woman who eloquently described her “bumbling” husband as “emotionally underripe” later discovered that she had serious vulnerability issues: She wasn’t willing to open up and let herself be known. She had the gift of gab, but on an emotional level, she wasn’t more developed than her spouse.
“Maturity is the ability to handle ambiguity — and the capacity to work on yourself,” Dr. Horwitz says. “If your husband has shown real willingness to work, but you’re unwilling to introspect, who’s the mature one?”
Dr. Horwitz will sometimes cite a timely pasuk: Ani l’dodi v’dodi li. “We’re very focused on changing our ‘dodi,’ our beloved, but have we explored the ‘ani,’ our self? You need both.”
For this reason, Dr. Horwitz is passionate about including both spouses in the therapy process, even in situations where the issue is primarily associated with one of them. “Couples must grow together. If you don’t involve both in therapy, on some level, it’s not only counterproductive, it’s dangerous. One spouse may become far more emotionally mature, creating a hard-to-bridge gap. Or she may be encouraged by her naturally sympathetic therapist — consciously or unconsciously — to distance herself from her spouse.”
Therapy that includes both spouses — either with the same therapist or a collaborating one — is the safest and most powerful option, Dr. Horwitz asserts. What’s more, when a woman sees how hard her partner is willing to work to make her happy, that alone can ignite powerful feelings of connection.
Raizy, who sought professional help after struggling for ten years, says her husband made their therapy sessions a priority — and she found that deeply moving. “He was so focused, so present — and so willing to implement changes. But even more, he grew exponentially in self-awareness.”
When they talk about feelings now, Raizy reports, she feels understood. Her husband will never be Mr. Emotionally Intelligent — but she’s okay with that, because there’s enough to build a connection.
“Our marriage isn’t perfect, but the dynamic has changed: It’s not cold-shoulder wife versus clueless husband. It’s two partners actively working to understand and love each other.”
For Shifra — who tried several therapists before finding the right one — allowing herself to process the disappointment with a professional was key. She urges skeptical couples to try therapy, stressing that the journey was worth every penny. “I feel a thousand pounds lighter and a thousand times more hopeful about my marriage. The doom and gloom are gone.”
The Next Steps
If you’ve emerged from the mourning stage with no festering inner wounds, you’ve successfully created space for a loving relationship.
While many couples experience an unexpected rekindling at this point — often thanks to therapeutic intervention — many never achieve a head-over-heels dynamic… and that’s fine.
“The most important thing is respect,” Rabbi Moshe Hauer says. “Do whatever you can — talk to yourself, talk to someone else — to avoid falling into a rut of disdain.”
Dr. Gottman’s research has shown that one of the greatest predictors of divorce is contempt. (In fact, he dubs it the most lethal of the “four horsemen” — four negativities proven to kill marriages: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.)
Contempt, Gottman says, is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about your partner. The best way to nuke this deadly emotion is to (a) resolve “solvable problems” using effective communication and (b) collect positive thoughts about your partner.
Think back to why you married your husband, Rabbi Hauer suggests. Usually, there’s something — even many things — that you respected, liked. Some may have been illusions; some may have changed. But presumably, there’s still a lot of good.
“Rediscovering this good won’t necessarily ameliorate your loneliness,” Rabbi Hauer acknowledges. “But it’s very different to sustain a good marriage dynamic where there’s respect and appreciation, even if there isn’t tremendous connection.”
It’s also important to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt: Consider how life’s curveballs may have temporarily compromised his best qualities. “Life is complicated. Challenges can cause people to change, lose their drive — they’ve probably caused you to change somewhat, too. People need to be more understanding.”
A little humility can go a long way, notes Sara Eisemann. “You aren’t perfect either,” she reminds. “It may shock you to know that you may be a disappointment in some areas too.”
What’s more, every trait has its benefits and drawbacks. So the quality that’s your greatest disappointment — for example, “He’s boring” — has a flipside: “He’s predictable and faithful; he has integrity.” Even something that seems inherently negative — “He can’t make money to save his life” — can have positive glimmers: I’ve become more economical. I’ve learned to prioritize my values.
“No, he’ll never make it onto Forbes, but G-d bless him, he gets up for the baby every night and learns with the kids and loves them to pieces,” Sara Eisemann offers as an example. “Can you put a price tag on ‘exceptional father’?”
Simi, who’d been forced to face her difficult cards on a Battery Park bench, relates to this approach. Though her husband gives her little emotionally, he is a reliable provider — and he’s a loving father who runs a nice Shabbos table and is part of their children’s lives.
“I think we underestimate the value of financial stability — for ourselves, for our children,” Simi says. “Not having to worry about money is huge. I don’t think I could handle the nisayon of lack.”
Rabbi Ilan Feldman, rav of Congregation Beth Jacob in Atlanta, Georgia, cautions against labeling your spouse — in either direction. (No “He’s a masmid,” or “He’s a macher.”) “We teitsch people; we sentence them; we freeze them into certain categories,” he says. “After that, the only thing we see is more evidence to support our conclusions: ‘There you go again!’ When we do this, we destroy the possibility of discovery.”
The marital relationship, Rabbi Feldman explains, is meant to give us a glimpse of our capacity for a G-dly relationship. Just as Hashem is unknowable, and we must experience Him anew each day, we need to relate to our spouses in the moment: Who am I connecting with today? What’s he expressing now? And what am I going to give him?
Additionally, it’s critical to remember that your spouse will not be your everything — and he isn’t meant to be. If you have a friend who gives you something your husband cannot, you’ve won the lottery!
“One of the biggest mistakes is neglecting friendships,” Sara says. “Many of our emotional needs are best met via friends, sisters, mentors. Your marriage is top priority, but it’s not the only priority.”
In an age where the typical frum mother’s only “discretionary” time is at the office, Aliza Bulow notes, deeper friendships are often a casualty. Finding the minutes to nurture these relationships is hard — but it may be the best thing you can do for your marriage.
Michelle, a Floridian mother of five, learned this the hard way. “I’m extremely outgoing, as is every one of my friends,” she says. “Throughout my teens and early twenties, my friends and I would get together at least once a week. We’d play games, bake, crack each other up with impersonations.
“When I got information about my husband, everyone told me how popular he was. In my mind, that meant extroverted and fun. On dates, he seemed quiet, but I chalked it up to nervousness. And he was so nice and had many qualities I wanted. So when he proposed, I eagerly said yes.”
The problems started during sheva brachos. Michelle wanted to go on exciting outings together; her husband Daniel wanted to stay home and schmooze. She’d turn up the music in the car; he’d gently ask her to turn it down. She wanted company all the time; he preferred quiet meals.
“I tried to adapt,” Michelle says, “to become a demure homebody, but it wasn’t me. After six months, I was wilted. The thought of spending the rest of my life with this staid, quiet man felt soul-draining. And then I’d feel so guilty because he was a devoted husband who worked long hours to provide for us comfortably. Why couldn’t I get past this?”
The turning point came when they went to Israel on vacation. Michelle wanted to go rappelling; Daniel wanted to go to kivrei tzaddikim. One evening, she got together with Rina, a friend from the old chevreh. “So, how’s married life?” Rina asked.
“Boring,” Michelle blurted before she could stop herself. And the frustration poured out.
“Your husband sounds like mine,” Rina said. “I love the way he’s so solid and calm. When I want to have fun, I get together with friends. We have game night every Motzaei Shabbos, and I also head the local Neshei. They say your husband should be your good friend, but he can’t possibly be your only friend.”
“That conversation flipped a switch in my head,” Michelle says. “I’d drastically cut down on contact with friends after the wedding, thinking I needed to focus on Daniel. But as soon as I got home, I called three old friends and arranged to go miniature golfing. I met another for coffee. I made sure to slot in ‘fun’ at least once a week. Daniel saw how energized I was after every outing, and — caring husband that he is — actively encouraged my going out.”
It took a few months. “But as I filled myself up with what I needed,” Michelle says, “I was able to stop focusing on what my husband couldn’t provide, and start appreciating all he did bring to the marriage. By reconnecting with my friends, I was able to better connect with my husband.”
Couples need to find what helps them bond. Distressed couples should avoid boilerplate marriage advice ( like “Take a walk,” “Go out to eat,” “Go on vacation”) says Dr. Michael Tobin. “You need to find activities that will help you really see your spouse — and make you feel seen. This is true love.”
Something as simple as spending 30 minutes at the end of the day sharing ordinary details of life can build the foundation of connection. “Learning to like what your spouse loves is the road to a beautiful relationship,” he says.
On a broader level, many struggling women find profound comfort in their emunah.
Debra, who is married to a kind but emotionally disconnected man, says that already early in her marriage, she felt like Yehudah (son of Yaakov Avinu). “I felt like I needed to marry this person, but under natural circumstances I wouldn’t have — so Hashem suspended my free will. This was a source of comfort, not distress. If Hashem wanted this marriage to happen so badly, who was I to argue?”
Simi — now a mother of teens — says that divorcing her husband would have been “sacrificing my kids on the altar of selfishness.”
“Divorce is the rare exception in our community,” she says. “My kids love their father. They would have lost him, while becoming the nebachs of the neighborhood.”
With the help of mentors, Simi drew a clear line in the sand: She would stay in the marriage unless her husband became dangerous to her or her kids — physically or emotionally. “I feel very deeply that you grow where you are planted,” she shares. “Barring a situation of abuse, your spouse is a Divine prop for your personal avodah. Hashem put him there.”
With the wisdom of years, Simi now understands that many perceived “needs” are really indulgences. “Some of our ‘needs’ come at the expense of real, eternal values such as loyalty, sharing, and unconditional giving from a place of fullness — which we all have, because Hashem fills us. Instead of falling into self-pity over our perceived lacks, we can rejoice in our gifts; they are there for the taking, even in the ‘wrong’ man.”
Once one makes this choice it’s important to ensure that the children don’t witness nasty arguments or extreme friction between their parents. As negative as divorce may be for them, living with parents who are constantly fighting can be even more damaging.
Rabbi Feldman says that unless one’s spouse is mentally ill or abusive, obsessing over “Did I marry the right guy?” is a lack of faith — and a recipe for unhappiness.
“You never marry the right person… and you never marry the wrong person. You marry a person — and it’s your job to take responsibility in the relationship.
“All people have problems. If you spend your life pondering the rightness of your decision — or nurturing fantasies — you’ll never get to live the exciting life that’s available to you.”
Instead, Rabbi Feldman advises, work on cultivating genuine faith — not the “I-hate-my-life-but-I-have-bitachon” kind. “Real bitachon is not about being resigned to a bad situation. It’s when you say ‘This is my life; I’m embracing all of it, because I know it is not a mistake. I’m choosing to live this life, not an alternate existence.”
From a professional perspective, Dr. Horwitz has seen that the more people believe Hashem wants them in the marriage, the more they can accept their situation as a unique opportunity for personal growth — and the greater their chances for success.
These ideas and strategies can be game-changing, but implementing them is tough. It’s essential to periodically reach out to mentors and professionals for a shot in the arm.
“Feelings of disappointment will resurface, and they should be addressed,” says Rabbi Hauer. “Speak to people, get perspective, then move forward.”
Debra shares that when she’s down, she’ll try to do whatever it takes to climb out of the swamp. “A good book, a good friend, a night out — something. Hashem doesn’t give me nisyonos hoping I’ll voluntarily drown. He wants me to start kicking, start swimming. And if I’m momentarily in over my head, I have to trust that He’s also giving me the skills to swim to the shallows — and lessen the pain.”
In rare cases, one spouse is truly emotionally underdeveloped — and living with this reality, Sara Eisemann stresses, is painful and sapping. The natural human response is to avoid pain by shutting down the need. But this is a mistake, because the price of that safety is a small death.
“There is so much women can do today to stay emotionally invigorated: courses, shiurim, retreats,” she suggests. “Deep within every woman is a passion for something. Find it! Nurture it! Develop it! When you water that passion, you’ll come to life; you’ll become that beautiful hydrated flower everyone is drawn to.”
For example, the woman who spends her life lamenting her lost role as a rebbetzin — due to the fact that her husband is the furthest thing from a rabbi — is failing to take responsibility for her vitality and passion. “A woman who’s determined to find her calling, will. It may not be in the way she originally planned, but it can be done,” Sara says.
Shifra, the gifted intellectual who struggled with an ADHD husband who doesn’t share her passion for deep conversation, says that internalizing this — and assuming responsibility for her own happiness — gave her marriage a new lease on life.
“Once I acknowledged that I’d been hoping to ride my husband’s coattails to professional and spiritual fulfillment, much of my resentment melted,” she shares. “This wasn’t about him; it was about me. Now I know: It doesn’t matter if he barely learns or barely makes it to minyan. If I want to be close to Hashem, if I want to mentor others, I need to make that happen. I’m no longer stuck in victim mode; I feel empowered.”
Rebbetzin Tzipora Heller shares a poignant story. A woman approached her in deep pain; a series of events had led the woman to marry a man who seemed hopeless: no money, no intellect, poor middos. Following Rebbetzin Heller’s advice, she embarked upon a six-month personal growth program that included daily recording of her husband’s strengths (for three months) and then daily recording of ideas for cultivating those strengths (for three months).
Ultimately, the woman kept up with the program for even longer than six months, and Rebbetzin Heller describes their marriage today as “deeply loving.”
“One day, this woman called me up and said ‘Rebbetzin, my husband and I will be together up there — right? I know it sounds corny… but I cannot imagine living without him.’ ”
Will I Be Stuck with Him Forever???
A Hashkafic Perspective of Bashert and Soulmate
You’re miserable in your marriage. Could there be anything more horrifying than discovering that your husband is the other half of your soul — and that you’ll be fused together for eternity?
For some women, this causes enormous angst. “I’d feel such resentment toward my husband,” recalls Shifra. “Just imagine, you’re in deep inner pain, and you’re assured it will last… forever. The tunnel has no end.”
In other cases, well-meaning women bottle up their loneliness and resentment, because aren’t their partners bashert? If so, how can they complain?
“Bashert gets a bad rap through no fault of its own,” therapist Sara Eisemann says. “Bashert is not Yiddish for ‘happily ever after.’ It means: This is what Hashem wanted to happen. If undying, uninterrupted marital bliss were the measure of bashert, we’d have to say every marriage was a mistake.”
Marriage is no different from any other life nisayon: finances, kids, health issues. Hashem willed it, and it’s good; it’s the stretching our soul needs. But that doesn’t translate into “easy” or “fun,” and there’s nothing sacrilegious about sharing your pain — and reaching out for help.
While several commentators maintain that a person can “miss” her bashert, if both partners are mostly healthy people, the question is moot.
“Let us not concern ourselves with what the Ribbono Shel Olam is saying in the back alleys of Heaven,” Rabbi Moshe Hauer says, citing the famous rebuke slapped on Chizkiyahu when he avoided having children, knowing his son would be evil (Berachos 10a). “Instead of being preoccupied with HaKadosh Baruch Hu’s calculations, we’d do better to focus on what He wants from us down here.”
Finally, Rabbi Hauer reassures, an everlasting union with one’s husband is not a punishment-in-disguise. Yissachar and Zevulun — the pious kollel yungerman and the globe-trotting hedge investor — might also balk at sharing an otherworldly portion, but their togetherness up there will not be the chatting-over-iced-coffee kind. It will manifest as the bond that’s created between two people who have built something breathtaking.
“This is not the togetherness of simple talk or hashkafic conversation,” Rabbi Hauer says. “It’s the intimacy that develops when you’ve worked together to build something real and lasting.”
(Originally featured in Family First Issue 562)