The fear of divorce is misplaced. The real fear is that of an unhealthy marriage
I wish I had a dating question for you, but I don’t, because I am too scared to date. I am 24 years old, and over the last eight months, two girls from my inner circle of friends just got divorced. I am
completely freaked out. They looked really happy at their chasunahs and whenever I saw them afterward. I feel like marriage is too scary; I don’t trust myself to make a good decision either. Of course I want to get married, but I feel disillusioned, and, frankly, terrified.
Disillusioned and Scared
Two divorces, close friends, eight months — it’s the perfect storm for sheer fear. No wonder you’re “freaked out.” The first divorce was probably shocking, but the second one kind of makes you question everything.
Let’s unpack the fear, because I actually hear you expressing fear about two things: the institution of marriage and your intuition. Each deserves its day in the sun.
Let’s be honest — marriage is terrifying. You enter into a contract to spend the rest of your life, build a family, and make decisions that impact every part of your life with someone you barely know. Yet we take it on faith that, for the most part, it works out. There’s nothing logical about it, but somehow it works. So when it doesn’t work out, it undermines the whole premise, which was kind of shaky to begin with.
And then, when it happens twice, and to people similar to you, it takes on an aura of contagion. Is there something about my cohort that makes us more susceptible to divorce? The panic begins to feel justified.
The fact is, divorce has become more of a reality for your generation than for past generations. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean there are more unhappy couples. My guess is that marital happiness has probably stayed the same across the generations. But several other factors have conspired to raise the rate of divorce.
Awareness of mental illness, empowerment for partners in abusive relationships, the focus on the individual’s “right” to happiness, and the reduction in the stigma of divorce are some of the forces that have contributed to the rise in divorce. People are less willing to suffer it out their whole lives. And one factor that has significantly changed marriage is the presence of technology, with all it entails, up to and including addiction.
In short, the fear of divorce is misplaced. The real fear is that of an unhealthy marriage. And that’s been an issue as old as marriage itself. If you focus on building a healthy marriage versus fearing the growing divorce rate, you’ll feel empowered to work on something you can actually affect, as opposed to being crippled by fear of a force that feels larger than you.
The second fear you describe is your inability to trust yourself. When you say you don’t trust your feelings, it’s important to differentiate between your feelings about your own real life versus the feelings you have about the public life people choose to portray.
You state that the couples looked so happy, and therefore you fear you can’t trust your intuition. And to that I say — we can all be phenomenal actors. The sad reality is that at any given moment, most people have so much more going on in their lives than you could ever see. Even good friends can be adept at hiding their real struggles. That does not mean you can’t trust yourself.
The question you want to ask yourself is this: How good am I at reading my own relationships? Have I developed a good relationship with my instincts? Do I allow myself to sit with my doubt when something feels off in a relationship? Or do I succumb to clichés and misplaced righteousness? It takes a lot of courage to own our intuition, to actually pay attention to our feelings, and to listen to what they are telling us.
I read a beautiful quote the other day, “Our feelings are our most genuine paths to knowledge.” That doesn’t mean feelings are a substitute for facts, but it does mean that when we heed our feelings, they’ll lead us to what we really need to know. If we feel a twinge of discomfort when our date invalidates a feeling we share, we might follow that discomfort to realize that, in fact, this person has a pattern of discounting our feelings.
If you discover that you’re not great at listening to your inner voice, please enlist the help of a dating mentor to walk along this process with you. There are patterns they can help you find.
Finally, and most importantly, embrace the fear, and give it over to Hashem. You’re not crazy. Getting married is a big deal. The repercussions are huge. Still, you can only do what you can do. Hashem has given you inner wisdom, and you can do your hishtadlus by accessing guidance and help if necessary.
At the end of the day, however, you will only know what you are meant to know. Ultimately, true emunah does not mean that everything will be fine. It means that whatever happens is what is meant to happen and that it is for the Ultimate good. And, really, that’s all there is.
Wishing you strength,
Sara Eisemann, LMSW, ACSW, is a licensed social worker and a columnist for inshidduchim.com. She also lectures on topics related to relationships, personal development, and growth. She welcomes questions, comments, feedback, and interaction at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 743)
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