Three ingredients of a successful marriage
(Continued from last week)
When it comes to the topic of marriage, many people wonder: Why bother? I'll just have the relationship without the marriage.
Let’s understand the Jewish idea of marriage.
In describing Adam, the first human, the Torah says, "Male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). We learn from here that originally Man was created as male and female in one complete entity. They were then separated, and brought together again as a couple. Marriage is the unification of two halves into one complete entity, described as "one flesh.”
It's not just poetics.
What is my commitment to my hand?
I am not committed to my hand. I am my hand. My commitment to my hand is one I'd reconsider if it became gangrenous, and I was left with no choice but amputation.
But I wouldn't reconsider my commitment to my hand if it were broken, or ugly, or if I met someone with a nicer hand. If your hand is killing you – then you get rid of it. The commitment of marriage is until it's killing you.
Divorce is appropriate when the marriage has become an abusive, destructive relationship that can't be cured. Amputation is never casual. Often people get divorced because they simply get bored with each other. The marriage goes stale and flat. "We don’t laugh like we used to anymore."
If someone told you that he was amputating his hand because "The fun went out of it" you'd say he's nuts. Marriage is exactly the same.
If that sounds a bit extreme, it’s because we have a faulty definition of comfort and pleasure.
Comfort is not pleasure. Comfort is the absence of pain. Lying on the beach, a cold drink, falling asleep – this is nice and comfortable.
Pleasure, on the other hand, requires effort and work. In fact, all meaningful accomplishments and deeper pleasures necessitate the struggle to achieve them: Raising kids, mastering a sport or an instrument, getting ahead in your career. If it doesn’t require pain, if it comes easily without challenge, then it's not as pleasurable. It doesn't mean as much to you.
Make no mistake about it: Marriage is not comfortable. Marriage demands a lot of work and pain. You can't continue avoiding your weaknesses, living in your tailor-made world of illusions. Marriage requires confronting yourself and that is hard.
Marriage doesn't decrease demands and responsibilities – it adds to them in heaps and bounds. There isn't only “me” to think about anymore – there is a whole other person, who is surprisingly different than you. Marriage forces you to get out of your self-centeredness. It demands an emotional intimacy that for many of us is new and frightening.
Squeezing two people together to form one flesh is bound to create some tension. And there will come a point in the middle of a fight when you're ready to throw up your arms, thinking "This person is nuts – I can't take it any longer!” At that point the future of your marriage hangs in the balance. Take a deep breath and resolve to work it out. Then you're on the road to building a great marriage. If you feel like taking the easy way out, then it’s only a matter of time – maybe six months or six years – but eventually things will get too tough and the relationship will crumble.
Marriage requires work and the commitment to make it work. Without that commitment, do not get married! It's only a matter of time before it gets too difficult, and you'll be out the door.
So maybe you’ll ask (and many people are asking today): Why bother getting married? What makes the effort worth it?
Marriage makes a person into a full human being.
By oneself, a person is destined to remain a self-centered egocentric being, his main concerns in life being the fulfillment of his need for power, prestige and gratification. Marriage gives him the chance to overcome all that and become, instead, a giver – one who is concerned about another person's needs.
Marriage is the way to build a family and a home, share your life with someone you love, deepen your emotional capacities, and open yourself up to another like you never have before.
Those who ask, "Can't I have all this without marriage?" are really saying: "Do I really have to make the level of commitment that requires me to stick it out when the going gets tough?"
Without that commitment, you're roommates. It's not the same as marriage. Whatever you build together is built on quicksand. Because as long as there’s an exit, that exit, at some point in the relationship, will be taken.
Commitment is the backbone of marriage. Of course, if you want the other person’s total commitment, you have to make the same level of commitment yourself.
Love and Infatuation
So where does love fit into all this? How can we talk about marriage without talking about love?
When we talk about love we have to make a distinction between “love” and “infatuation.” Infatuation is: We met on the beach, I was struck by her beauty, it was so wonderful being with her, with the sunset shimmering through her golden hair. I knew this was forever."
Do you think this relationship is going to last?
Because it stems from desire, infatuation rarely lasts. Love, on the other hand, comes from a genuine appreciation of who the other person is. Infatuation is blind, love is a magnifying glass. If you think she's perfect, then chances are you're head over heels in infatuation. If you can't stand the way she says hello, then you're in love.
Love comes from really knowing a person and seeing his/her beauty, strength of character and what he/she is really made of. You can't love someone until you know them. It's like saying you love a book you haven't read. All you got to know was the outer jacket.
Which brings us to a shocker: True love comes after marriage. The Torah says that Isaac took Rebecca into his tent and he loved her (Genesis 24:67). Love should grow continuously as your appreciation of your spouse grows.
A friend of mine was sitting with his father and said to him, "Dad, after five years of marriage, I think I finally understand what love is."
The father said, "Wait till you're married 25 years, then you'll understand what love is."
The grandfather was also in the room and overheard this exchange. He told them: "Wait till you're married 50 years. Then you'll reallyunderstand what love is."
Putting It All Together
Of course, you need to be attracted. Intimacy is a foundation of marriage, the true “binding of one flesh” described in genesis. You can't develop a loving relationship with someone who repulses you. But the goal is not to win a beauty contest. What is important is that you have a basic attraction. This will grow as your appreciation of their inner beauty grows. The intimacy becomes an expression of the emotional closeness that you’ve built.
Of course, if you're seriously looking for a lifelong partner, it’s important to get to know the person while remaining as objective as possible. Now is not the time to get swept off your feet; now is the time to take a really honest look at who this person truly is. It's not enough that she's nice and attractive.
So remember: Look for a marriage partner with:
Same destination – life goals
Affinity and attraction
Define your goals, and then commit to marriage as the vehicle to get you there together. It is life’s most precious journey.
Rabbi Dan Silverman