A relationship, whether with a good friend, a sibling, a parent or especially a spouse, is alive only as long as life is breathed into it. Whether married, or yet to be, as individuals or partners, men and women are alone, estranged on an island of their own, until the actual living out of a relationship bridges their lives, one to the other.
For the married couple, 'relationship' takes on a deeper meaning. My husband and I began our relationship when we first met, sanctifying it under the chuppah, where together we entered into a partnership with G-d, creating a brand new, wondrous creation ? the union of two souls. This union is a many-faceted, living entity. It is an intangible spark that was not there before. And G-d commanded it to us to nurture, enrich and enjoy.
Sholom Bayis (marital harmony) is not a quiet, peaceful place that
only Tzaddikim live in. Sholom Bayis is the harmony reached between
husband and wife. Sholom Bayis is not the pot of gold at the end of the
rainbow. It is the rainbow. It's all the sweat, the work, the love and the pain
that brings peace to the place.
Marriages made in heaven are not made with built-in harmony. Anybody who tells me, "We have a perfect marriage", is telling me "We have a life of status quo; we don't rock the boat. We're happy to be swimming through our lives in wet suits, never feeling the water on our skin." By the same token, those who tell me "Our marriage is doomed. He's selfish, uncaring and indifferent; she's unreasonable and nagging" are telling me that they have just abandoned ship, are giving up and forgetting the goodness that brought them to the chuppah in the first place. In both cases, the couples made a decision not to work on their rainbow. They either forgot, or never knew, that the marriage could never live if they didn't breathe life into it. Somewhere between these two couples is the one who is really "OK" most of the time; but he's sometimes out of the house too long with his work, and she seems to always be on the phone when he needs her. This couple, too, needs to polish the apple every day and change the diet their marriage is on.
In the media today, and even in families that we know, the absence of Sholom Bayis is highlighted by divorce and division. Even though, as the song goes, breaking up is hard to do, it seems to be the thing to do. Dr. Joyce Brothers has reported that the legendary seven-year itch has recently shrunk down to about three-and-a-half. No one has time anymore to devote to the age-old tradition of staying married. It is our job to deny the media's hype. It's not fitting for the observant Jew, who has all the tools G-d willed him, to allow the trend of failure to continue. By the same token, I would like to make it clear that, although I am a marriage advocate, I am not unaware that our Torah provides for a release from marriage. In some cases, Sholom Bayis can only be achieved through dissolution. But what I urge us all to fight for is the time before the final curtain, before the word "get" (divorce) is ever pronounced.
Before the fatal ending, there must be sincere and hard work.
In an article I read recently, a man wrote that after some years of marriage, he and his wife found they had nothing in common. She accused him of being non-communicative, and since their marriage just wasn't working, they divorced. Soon he was fortunate to marry again. This time, he said, when his new wife also found him to be non-communicative, they sought a means of help. They worked on their relationship and it flourished. The painful postscript to this article was his firm belief that if he and his first wife had taken the time to till the soil, they too would have flourished as a couple.
I heard a story that bears retelling. One Succos, a very poor but righteous husband sold his ancient family heirloom tefillin in order to buy the most beautiful and only esrog in his town. When his wife found out, she went into a rage. "How could you sell our one and only possession of value? Without the tefillin we have nothing!" She was so livid that she grabbed his most precious esrog, and bit off the pitom (stem), making it posul, not kosher or fit for use in his mitzvah. The pain they both felt was so great that it penetrated the air around them. The husband spoke: "My dear wife, we no longer have the treasured tefillin. Our succah will not be blessed with the waving of the lulav and esrog. All we have left is our Sholom Bayis. Don't let us destroy that too."
It's time for us to take primary responsibility for putting our marriage relationships in first place, because without the firm footing, the achdus (unity) between husband and wife, the rest of the house will fall. In taking charge of our lives and the Sholom Bayis in our homes, it essential that we understand we have some very powerful tools to work with. Talk is cheap, as they say, but our positive actions can move mountains. One tiny change in the script that hasn't worked in our relationship until now will move a mountain of discord out of our house. By simply adding a new inflection to an old word we can turn the tables. The simplest, and most difficult truth is: If I change myself, I can change my world!
Every relationship in the entire world starts with our own relationship with ourselves and, of course, for me, that includes G-d. If I can't change myself, or won't, how do I ever hope to change my marriage, and how do I dare even suggest that I change my man! The very first step toward finding peace in the home is to find peace within myself. Who am I? What is my role? Why did G-d create me as I am: a Jew who just happens to be a woman? It is not a coincidence.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe describes the Jewish marriage in terms of a human body with the man depicted as the head and the woman as the heart. Each has its role to play - different but similar, and equally essential to life. In a body, one organ vying for the position of the other is nonsense, and one without the other is death.
In our modern times, women have tried to do precisely that: to step out of their G-d-given role and re-create His intentions. Just as any disclaimer from a simple toy manufacturer states that "this product's guarantee is void if tampered with," G-d has shown us that tampering with His instructions creates confusion, unhappiness and one-parent families.
Our resolve must begin with learning the Torah way for a man and a woman in marriage. Originally, G-d created the first man and woman in one body, revising His plan when He created Chava from Adam's rib. On second thought, Hashem wanted two in His garden: Adam, designed to do the "work" in the garden, and Chava " in charge of guarding" it. His original intention, however, never changed. He always meant to have them act as one.
Although by nature a woman stands by her man, she does not stand by idly. Just as the captain of a ship relies solely on his navigator to steer his vessel, a man depends on his wife to guide him in her role of his aizer k'negdo, his helpmate.
The "women's lib" movement has stirred up feelings of inferiority in women that the Torah never put there. The word ozer or aizer in Hebrew has a connotation of strength, not weakness. Rather than conjure up the picture of a servant to a king, Torah describes the helpmate in Bereishis (Genesis) in terms of an anesthetist to a surgeon, or a navigator to a pilot.
The Rambam teaches us a very simple formula to attain our ideal in his Seven Principles of Matrimonial Law. If the husband fulfills his seven responsibilities, he will gain the most ideal aizer, if she fulfills her seven, she will gain the most devoted husband.
Once we have come to understand G-d's plan for us, we need to refine ourselves to fulfill the very feminine nature that a woman possesses. We should want to polish up our character traits to portray someone who is: soft, gentle, loving, tender, fragile.
Don't mistake softness for "wimpy" or fragile for "weak". Think of these images, all evoking descriptions of strong forces in the world: the softness of a lion's mane, the gentleness of the wind, the loving tenderness of a nurse's hand, the fragility of love.
Let's continue with a list of concrete ways to set our dreams in motion. The following simple basics are strong enough to move mountains, and they are within our very own control.
Every day, spend an amount of time thinking of your husband. It can be a note in his lunch, a telephone call, something special he likes for dessert. Take a minute; close your eyes and picture him in your mind's eye if that's all the time you have that day. The awareness alone is the electricity in your relationship. It keeps the airwaves open, ready for making a connection, and it's up to you alone to do it; there's no help needed.
Spend time together. Read that twice! Take ten minutes a day together; the telephone answering machine can take the calls, the children can set the table. As him questions. Listen. (Read that twice, too!) Set larger amounts of time aside from time to time. Take 24 hours and hit the road. If you don't have 24 hours, take two. Go for dinner, take a drive or a walk. Be a couple.
I heard a story about the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his Rebbetzin, of blessed memory, that was very powerful. No matter when he came home - and it was usually in the wee hours of the morning - she was always awake and waiting for him. He, in turn, would then spend half an hour with her over a cup of tea, telling her about his day. His schedule was never too busy, and his sleep was never as important as their devotion to each other and their Sholom Bayis. The world can spin all around us - children, jobs, telephones - yet we must spend time with each other.
not giving in. When both spouses are predisposed to the age-old Torah value of giving 100% each, there is usually little need for giving in or giving up. When we get all of everything we need, we don't have to worry about "what's in it for me?" And there are generally no losers. What happens though, when we perceive that the giving on our part far outweighs the giving on his? Be patient - another earth-shaker. Patience is one of the most passive actions, but it's a woman's strongest virtue. As we persist in our giving we find that, just as the most ferocious of the species will continue to come close to the hand that feeds it, a man will warm to love constantly flowing in his direction. And at the same time, the giver is warmed by her own act of loving.
Lower them. Ultimate love is selfless, with no strings attached.
Be willing to change them. Look at situations from a positive stance. Changing an attitude turns the tables on negative feelings.
Every single creation in the world contains a portion of good and bad. We have the power to draw out one or the other. Find the funniest, most handsome, kindest person within your husband and embellish that quality in every thought of him.
Processing a hurt produces anger, discontent, vengefulness - all poison in a marital diet, causing discord, even hatefulness. One learns how to process forgiveness by giving the benefit of the doubt, choosing peace not power, and making a conscious decision to love. This helps to create a calm household - the well balanced diet - where resolutions and peace can reign.
The longest journey begins with just one step. We can't demand of ourselves any more, but certainly can accept no less. To change the pathway of our journey, we redirect our steps; to change the pattern of the world, we change our own. The recognize Moshiach in the universe, we must first glimpse him in our homes.