I was very disturbed by a sign that someone recently posted in the yeshiva where I learn. He wrote that he was recently married and, within the first week of sheva brachos, his wife was crying and he couldn’t figure out what he had done wrong. He goes on to write that after much money spent on therapists and going back to his chosson rebbi, etc., he was able to work things out, and he is thankful that he didn’t get divorced “like other newly married couples he had heard about.” He was writing to tell all those out there that are going through things that they’re not in it alone and that there’s ways to fix things up.
The fact that someone who had failed so miserably with his shalom bayis right from the start of his marriage was giving out advice on how to maintain a solid marriage seemed very ironic to me. But besides for that, it seemed faulty logic to me to allow himself to make a mistake with how to deal with his wife and to find out after he got married how to fix it up, when he could have learned all those tips before marriage and thus prevented such issues and then marriage could have been a lechatchilah situation, one of bliss and enjoyment, and not of resolving issues that were unnecessarily created.
Am I the one making a mistake here?
Though the propriety of the method employed by this fellow to convey his crucial communiqué is relatively questionable, and perhaps a result of unbridled fervor and communal concern, its content remains as salient and on-point as ever. It is a lesson that is pertinent, precise and opportune, and one that every chosson and kallah should be well aware of and internalize as they head towards marriage. As such, I am afraid that your final question is the only one that I can genuinely answer in the affirmative.
That said, there are two key points I would like to share before addressing the specific questions herein.
First, and as is stated rather unequivocally by Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l in his seminal work, Alei Shur, the goal of a ben Torah is not to marry a carbon copy of himself. Disagreement and opposition are not only normal, they are ideal, and eternal harmony is a misguided goal. The proper goal is constant growth, and such an objective is grievously hindered when there is only pleasure and delight in sight. Inertia is the very antithesis of human development, and if there is no conflict, there is no growth, only stagnation. Conversely, when there is dissimilarity and resistance, anticipated or otherwise, and when that obstacle is approached with understanding and mutual respect, and properly worked through to a conclusion that is satisfactory to both husband and wife, that is when the opportunity to thrive is at its peak.
Second, in speaking with many rabbonim and mental health professionals these past few years, it seems quite clear that one of the many factors highly correlated to our sadly and rapidly increasing divorce rate is that of our generation’s expectation of instant gratification extending to the institution of marriage. This is not to say that divorce must be avoided at all costs. If that were the case, the Torah would not have directed us how to proceed when that is the appropriate course of action.
Nonetheless, it appears that some in our generation have lost a notable degree of the compulsory patience and perseverance when it comes to nourishing a marriage. Consequently, the tool of divorce as a solution is now oft turned to prematurely for lack of some combination of ability, capacity and interest in putting in the hard work when a marriage has struck upon hard times. And this is especially so in the early stages, when it is comparatively easier and simpler to pull the plug. In fact, in the most extreme of examples, it seems that some have gone so far as to see the commitment of marriage as one that is optional from the start, and parting ways is considered about as severe as returning a sofa, dishes, and a dining room table.
With the above in mind, to begin with, it strikes me as grossly unfair and condescendingly assumptive to proclaim that the young man in question failed in the shalom bayis department, or did not know how “to deal with his wife” (a cringe-worthy phrase if there ever was one), due to some sort of personal shortcoming, or that his issues surely could have been prevented, simply because his marriage immediately fell off the rails. Newlyweds may find their relationship unexpectedly going south for reasons too numerous to detail, and none of which would be categorized as in the realm of being their fault or under their control.
Correspondingly, there is no irony here whatsoever. On the contrary, he has succeeded where many others in this day and age have unfortunately failed. Who better, then, to proffer advice? Here is a newly married man whose matrimony started off with extreme difficulty, and who, together with his wife, exerted commensurate dedication and effort in order to right the ship. He exhibited true allegiance to his marriage, accepted that devoting profound time and money was called for in order for it to flourish, and went the distance to achieve that lofty ambition. In short, what he did is exceptionally commendable, and worthy of the attention and recognition of anyone who hopes to build a lasting home and family.
Additionally, I am nearly certain that his sign was a source of great relief to other newly married men going through similarly troubling episodes. Given the propensity of people to be ashamed to talk about such things – in part due to our society relentlessly perpetuating a farcical image of real life, leading to erroneous notions that everyone is doing just fine all of the time – many of our youth think that such complications simply should not occur. Thus, when our young men and women grapple with marital friction, they commonly presume to be struggling in solitude. The testimony delivered by his missive likely allowed others to appreciate that their problems did not denote personal malfunction, that they were not alone in facing calamity, and that it could be effectively overcome.
Furthermore, it is dangerously naïve to hold a conviction that there is any guaranteed path that will ensure that one’s marriage is perpetually contenting and gratifying. Again, no marriage is without struggle or strife. Nor should it be. It is only a matter of how long it takes to arise and how intense it will be. Accordingly, to write off the experience of this chosson as irrelevant to someone else who arbitrarily deems themselves better at dating, or somehow perceives that they can be more prepared than this man, whose circumstances they know nothing about, is only asking for trouble.
Such suppositions serve solely to deepen the difficulty and pain of that inevitable first moment of sizeable discord. The bewildering dispute will come as an utter shock, and may be positively crushing, as it will infer one of two unpalatable implications for the person who approaches marriage with such a stance. Either one must then be completely and spectacularly defective, or the very bedrock of their worldview was profoundly misguided – neither of which is a pill that anyone is in a rush to swallow.
Of course, each single man and woman must do their utmost to be equipped for marriage, and endeavor to receive guidelines and instructions that aid in cultivating as happy and harmonious a home as possible. However, one must also know that no amount of eitzah or training will infallibly protect a marriage from incongruity or dissension, and that this is a reality that is all the more relevant given our current, and exponentially expedited, dating process. One should do all they can in advance to soften the blow, but understand that when it arrives, in whatever measure it does, it is no signal of deficiency or inadequacy. It is but the nature of marriage, it is an opportunity for maturation and improvement, and it can be ameliorated with effort and assistance.
May the Misratzeh Birachamim impart wisdom and compassion upon the many men and women of Am Yisroel, and may He guide them mitzarah lirvacha, umei’afeilah l’ora, at any and all of their times of need.