Shalom Bayit - Seeing the Other

Here's one of the top ten questions people prefer not being asked, primarily because they never gave the subject matter much forethought: Why do you want to get married? “Um...” is usually the initial response, “because my Rabbi told me to?” Or, there's the popular, “Because that's what everyone else is doing?” Notice how both answers show up as questions, indicating that the respondent never considered why, indeed, s/he would want to get married. “Gee (gazing up at the ceiling), I wonder why I'd want to shackle myself to this person for the rest of my life?”

Marriage is an institution and if we want to sign up, we need to go in with both eyes wide open. That means that we are charged not just to understand what being married means but also to appreciate it.

The greatest kind of marriages happen when two different elements combine perfectly. The best of cliches include water, salt and pepper, butter on bread or night and day. That's not to say that creating a happy marriage is as simple as a chemistry lesson or the basics of kitchen cookery. Rather, a harmonious union is a constantly evolving process, and one which continues to evolve when the two elements consistently complement one another. The same holds true when the two parties are able to encourage one another to bring out the best in themselves. A very dear [happily married] friend of mine summed up the above philosophy succinctly by adding that deep authentic relationships are based in being able to see and appreciate the significant other.

Realistically speaking, one of the more prevalent reasons people do get married is to compensate for their own perceived lacks. Essentially, their inability to see their own worth drives them to seek out marriage partners who will show them a positive mirror image of themselves. That, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. That's why many of us go to therapy. However, in the context of a marriage, low self esteem doesn't allow for emotional availability. If you cannot see an accurate image of yourself without using your spouse as a crutch, how do you think you'll be able to see your spouse?

Rabbi Glazer, a lecturer at the essentials program in Eish Hatorah (a religious institution for people interested in looking into their Jewish heritage), told me the following story. While giving his ten o'clock in the morning shiur (class), a new arrival announced that he was engaged to get married to a non-Jewish woman. Rabbi Glazer, sensing a challenge (it's an explicit commandment in the Torah that Jews are forbidden to intermarry), interrupted his class to pick up the gauntlet. “That's so beautiful,” he said. “Do you love her?” The young man confirmed that yes, he did love her. “Why do you love her?” the Rabbi asked.

The student listed the following reasons. As he spoke, Rabbi Glazer wrote them on them on the board.
  1. She loves me.
  2. She's beautiful.
  3. She thinks I'm funny.
  4. She listens to me.
  5. She shops for me.
  6. She cooks for me.
  7. She cleans for me.
  8. She helps me stay on top of my work schedule.
  9. She reminds me of my various appointments so I don't miss them.

When the young man finished, the Rabbi said, “Wow, it looks like you really love her. What do you think?” he asked the rest of the class, “Does he love her?” “Yes!” the other students called out. “Should he marry her?” “Yes!” was the unanimous response. Rabbi Glazer picked up the board marker again and next to each statement added me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me, me. “What do you think?” he turned to the class, then to the young man. “Who do you really love?” “Yourself!” everyone shouted. The young man fell silent; he had tripped right into the Rabbi's trap. Rabbi Glazer continued, “And the reality is that you don't even love yourself because you haven't mentioned a single reason that has to do with the young lady you are currently engaged to; everything you said about her makes up for what you feel like is missing in you.” The truth hurts.

Obviously, there were follow up conversations, ones that didn't include an avid audience. In the end, the young man broke off his engagement, became religious and married a Jewish girl. I'm sure there was a therapist involved somewhere in the middle.

Most of us looking for our missing half expect wedded bliss once we find [or are certain we've found] it. The bottom line is that marriage can't be dismissed by a simply penned '… and they lived happily ever after.' The best kinds of marriage are mostly about being able and willing to appreciate the other which means that you must be willing to try loving and accepting yourself unconditionally first.

Now, no one claims that attaining such lofty heights is easy. But neither was Rome built in a day. Nor did any melancholic type a personalities develop a healthy sense of tranquility from a day's worth of gratitude affirmations. In the same vein, good marriages take time and work; even when we've reached our personal goals with regard to all of the above: we love what we see when we look in the mirror and we think our spouses are G-d's gift to the world, we still can't rest on our laurels. The best of those in stable careers let alone marriages are always looking to improve their technique so that they remain a success story. But don't suspect them of false modesty when they say, "Me? Awesome? I've still got a lot of work to do!"  They're just being real. In the words of a great woman [who also happens to be in a committed marriage], to whom I often turn for marriage advice, “Stop putting me on a pedestal. It's uncomfortable,” as in, “C'mon, knock it off. Stop making a big fuss about how I conduct myself in the marriage arena. I'm just a regular Joe, living my life.” To this, I usually reply, “Alright, if you get cold, I'll throw you a blanket.”

No comments:

Yashar LaChayal

The majesty of the Western Wall

Nefesh B'Nefesh