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Adviceline: Second Thoughts

Bassi Gruen

As my husband and I embark on the “parshah” of shidduchim for our children, I am confused to find that what I had thought to be a good and stable marriage is actually rather flimsy. It is becoming evident that we have many deeply held differing beliefs. Apparently, we have gotten along all these years because both of us were reasonable enough to give in when something was important to the other. Now, however, we are faced with making vital decisions for our children, and things have become tense.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

advice

As my husband and I embark on the “parshah” of shidduchim for our children, I am confused to find that what I had thought to be a good and stable marriage is actually rather flimsy. It is becoming evident that we have many deeply held differing beliefs. Apparently, we have gotten along all these years because both of us were reasonable enough to give in when something was important to the other. Now, however, we are faced with making vital and far-reaching decisions for our children, and things have become very tense. Baruch Hashem, we have a rav, who we have been visiting with increasing frequency whenever we hit yet another nonnegotiable point. I feel, however, that this is a stopgap measure; it answers the immediate problem, but leaves me floundering in our inability to manage. Can you give us some guidance on how to navigate this turbulent time?

 

Rebbetzin Lea Feldman

From your brief description, it’s unclear to me what issues you and your husband disagree on. However, whatever those issues may be, when it comes to your children’s shidduchim, the focus should not be what I want or what he wants, but what your child needs.

When dealing with shidduchim, it’s crucial to put aside your differences — and even your own opinions — and work together to find your child a spouse who would be perfectly suited for him or her. You may disagree over whether young men should stay in long-term learning. But if this is what your daughter wants and it’s what will make her happy, then you should look for a long-term learner. Conversely, if you always hoped for a son-in-law in learning, but your daughter doesn’t want to be the breadwinner, seek a husband who will support her.

Specifically in this realm, you don’t need to be in agreement over the issues that arise — you just need to be in agreement that you want the best thing for your child. It seems like the two of you have a great deal of wisdom and flexibility, and this has allowed you to live together peacefully all these years. Now it’s time to use that wisdom to join forces and find your children spouses who will make them happy and fulfilled.

What do you do about your own marriage once you marry off your children? Just like you made it work all these years, you can continue to do so. Just as you didn’t focus on your differences, and did whatever you needed to do to make sure that your marriage flourished, do that now — and then take it further. It’s never too late to build your marriage. Go for counseling; a therapist can help you see what the differences actually are, and find ways to bridge those differences. This will need work, time, and money — but it is the most worthwhile of investments.

It’s important to realize that even a couple who has serious hashkafic differences can have a wonderful marriage as long as they appreciate each other. In such cases, it’s important to figure out guidelines that will work. For example, in issues that affect both of you, the spouse who is more lenient should respect the wishes of the more stringent, while in issues that are personal, each spouse should give the other one space to do what they feel is best.

Coming up with concrete guidelines will also minimize your visits to the rav. Rather than discussing every specific problem with him, ask him to help you establish ground rules for how to negotiate different issues which may come up. Then you’ll be able to work things out on your own.

You can revitalize your marriage at any age; Hashem never gives up on us and we shouldn’t give up on each other. Hatzlachah rabbah.

Rebbetzin Lea Feldman is the wife of Rav Aharon Feldman, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Ner Israel. She served as the resident shadchan of Neve Yerushalyim for close to thirty years, making more than one hundred shidduchim. She continues to counsel many on the topics of shidduchim and marriage.

 

Mr. Shaya Ostrov

To present a helpful answer to this question I’d like to present two scenarios. The first is my meeting with Rabbi and Mrs. Klein as they struggled to resolve their strong differences over whether their son should proceed with a shidduch. The disagreements between them were many: yichus, appearance, money, hashkafah. Suddenly, all the relatively contained feelings of the past thirty years of marriage were bubbling to the surface. Each of them seemed to have a valid position. Yet beneath the differences there was a tension and a frustration that not only threatened to unhinge a shidduch, it was causing serious shalom bayis issues.

The reason for their mutual stridency is that shidduchim touch us to the core. They represent the sum total of all our efforts as parents, as well as our deepest and most cherished dreams. It’s easy to see why a couple, able to subdue their differences over many years for the well-being of the family, are thrown into painful and dangerous conflict over their priorities when navigating their children’s shidduchim.

The second scenario is my meeting with Yossie and Suri, a young couple married for just six months. After just a few days of marriage a number of “issues” had emerged. Speaking to parents and rebbeim had not helped the couple feel safe with each other and the negative feelings continued to grow. Now, half a year into their shanah rishonah, I listened to how neither felt they could trust each other. They were on a collision course with tragedy. To complicate things even more, Suri was in her third month of pregnancy.

While, baruch Hashem, the couple was able to stabilize their marriage, I am mentioning them because on the surface they appeared to be a “model kollel couple.” When both sets of parents were looking into the shidduch the couple fit the description of what the young people and their parents were looking for. Both families achieved the shidduch they had dreamed of. But the results after the wedding were not what anyone had expected.

The difficulty we face today is that this galus we are living in thrives on illusion. Surface appearances easily mask deeper issues that will emerge only after a couple is married. When they do emerge, it is the parents who serve as the single most important factor in helping the young couple move past the initial challenges they may meet as early as the first sheva brachos.

When young marriages spin out of control, the couple’s parents need to be on the same page so they can help them navigate these frequently rocky beginnings. However, when parents were and still are in a conflict over priorities, they are no longer a team and can not help the young couple any more than they can help themselves. The parents’ marriage is usually not at risk and can absorb the conflict. However this is not true for the young couple.

In my own experience with such differences I can suggest two courses of action. The first is to seek out and accept the guidance of an adam godol. The second approach is to utilize and cultivate the personal middos that bring you closer to menuchas hanefesh, individually and as a couple. This is a dimension of our thoughts and feelings that has been taught by Chazal for millennia and became prominent in the yeshivos of Kelm, Ponovezh, and Mir, and every other makom concerned with the relationship between each of us and to Hashem. I would like to offer a number of concepts that I believe would contribute to this state of mind.

The first is to appreciate that over the years you have both been successful in quieting negative emotions that could have easily played a destructive role in your marriage. It is because you were successful that you have been able to bring your child to this stage in life. Realize that during this period of shidduchim the difficulty in quieting the differences is increasingly challenging. This is because every decision seems so compelling and insistent. We tend to get caught up in the high voltage of priorities. It is therefore important to remember that the same strengths that enabled us to get beyond differences in the past are still within us. Even more important, their value is of even greater importance at this moment.

A second suggestion is to remember two words: “just as ...” Find all the things that you and your spouse have in common. “Just as the well-being of our child is important for me, it is equally important to you.”

A third concept is to remember an important principle: It is not the decision we make, but how we made it. Once a couple enters marriage, it is not the conditions, finances, what they do, or where they live that will determine their future. What will be essential is how this young couple takes what they have learned from you, their parents, and brings it into this new phase of life. Each day will bring new challenges. At the core of their growth is their need for loving and wise guidance that can only come from you, their parents. You will find that as you will learn to cultivate your own states of menuchas hanefesh, you will feel more empowered to guide the children you so dearly love to build a life together that you and Hashem can have nachas from.

Mr. Shaya Ostrov, LCSW, is a family therapist practicing in New York. He is the author of the recently published The Menuchah Principle in Marriage (Judaica Press).

 

Mrs. Yitti Bisk

Pat yourself on the back. If you thought you had a good marriage, then you can rest assured, you do! The fact that you both are “reasonable enough” to be mevater for one another is a sign of mutual respect, a very important component in a healthy relationship.

But relationships, no matter how long you are married, need nurturing. At this stage in your life you are both probably very busy with, well, life. It’s common for couples to be so caught up in the many necessities of life that they forget to put time or focus into each other’s emotional needs; and the relationship suffers from “emotional malnourishment.”

Every marriage, to some degree, has growing pains. With each twist and turn that life brings us, we are forced to reassess our lives, our actions, and our beliefs. And it’s surprising, and sometimes painful, when we discover that our spouse holds a totally different viewpoint from our own. In fact, though, it’s these differences that can ultimately help build your marriage! Grappling through an issue together, constructively and respectfully — looking for the common truth — should bring the two of you closer together, with newly shared perspectives and values. This is the quintessential growth and grappling of marriage that expands you, and builds stronger bonds.

Now, how are you going to get there?

First, you need to communicate to each other that you are committed to working this through to your mutual satisfaction. This forms a safety net, allowing the two of you to go out on a limb for each other, without worrying about “losing” the fight.

Second, really, really, listen to each other! NOT the form of “listening” where you are only listening partially, whilst forming a rebuttal in your mind. Truly listening in order to understand what the other person is saying is an art that all couples must work on acquiring! When you listen to understand, you convey to your spouse that what he says is important to you, and he feels validated and understood. Once he feels that way, he’s less defensive, and will be open to hearing what you have to say. Realize that listening is a step in itself. It should be done without working on a solution. That will come after you have both digested what the other is trying to say.

In every dispute there are always two subjective realities — and both are right! Two people studying a sculpture from opposite sides, will both “see” the same object, but their description of the sculpture will be completely different. Similarly, both of you are viewing the same issue from different vantage points, hence, your realities differ. Your job is to find your spouse’s subjective reality and validate it. How? By trying to find a part of your spouse’s point of view that just might make sense, and telling him, “Yes, considering where you are coming from, I can see how you would feel ____.” You are not necessarily agreeing, but you are expanding yourself to include your spouse — and that’s a key ingredient to a healthy marriage.

Often within our tightly clenched fist of struggle lies a dream, or deeply held belief that we are not willing to relinquish. Ask yourself: “What is my dream within this struggle? Why is this so important to me?” Ask your spouse the same question: “Why is this so important to you?” It may take some digging, but when you find it, you may find out that your ideals and goals are a lot closer than you thought! For example, the parents of a young lady in twelfth grade were arguing over whether to send their daughter to seminary in Israel. When the husband asked his wife, “Why is this so important to you?” she replied, “It’s my dream for my daughter to absorb the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael and grow in ruchniyus, the same way I was able to twenty years ago, giving me the strength all these years to encourage you to learn Torah.” It became clear to him that their argument wasn’t about an expensive year abroad, but about a shared life goal.

Listening is a skill that takes time and patience. You may find it helpful to work with a marriage counselor or therapist who will guide you both in your journey toward better understanding each other.

Once you have really heard and understood each other, you can work on finding mutually agreeable solutions. You may not agree on every issue. Seeking the advice of your rav, mentor, or marriage counselor is laudable. However, when you go, it should not be to see who is “right” and who is “wrong,,” rather as a single unit seeking the emes — together.

Mrs. Yitti Bisk is a certified marriage educator who gives relationship skills workshops to women. She is also a skilled kallah teacher. Mrs. Bisk lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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MM217
 
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