A MARRIAGE proposal..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For a nation like Israel, confronting a myriad of internal political and social conflicts, the challenges represented by marital strife and divorce might not be recognized as a national crisis. Yet in a country that prides itself on being inspired by Jewish values that promote strong familial relationships, we would be wise to recognize that failing marriages is both a national problem and one whose incidence can be largely mitigated.
In the Western world, led by efforts of a dedicated team of educators and family therapists in the United States, increasing attention is being paid to the concept of marriage education as a means to promote healthier marriages.
For those not yet familiar with the idea of marriage education – and I am wholly aware that most people are not – the concept can best be described as preventative. Essentially, it aims to give a couple the tools to confront the rigors and stresses of institutional couplehood before they take the walk down the aisle.
In the Jewish world, and in particular the observant Jewish community, the approach to marriage education is largely technical – or halachic if you prefer. Brides undergo a rudimentary course in the laws of family purity – an institution which is certainly designed to protect the sanctity of marriage. But largely absent from these courses is any focus on the challenges that every couple will confront after the wedding presents are unwrapped and the honeymoon pictures framed on the wall. Grooms experience an even more cursory examination of the laws and are therefore even less prepared for the realities of years of living under the same roof with the same spouse.
Marriage education is predicated upon the understanding that the joy and common bonds and adoring love which most often exist upon entrance into marriage won’t necessarily define that relationship 20, 10 or even two years into the future. The erroneous notion that the feelings we have for each other under the huppa are the same ones which will define our relationships until 120 is the very notion which arguably causes us to stray from one another.
The reality of life-long couplehood is that further down the road we will encounter obstacles and challenges that are very different from the courtship and dating periods. The traditional ones are parenting, financial struggles, illness, relationships with other friends and family members and of course the commitment to monogamy. But the potential pitfalls that make up the list of reasons that spouses give for why their marriage has failed is simply endless.
Marriage education therefore isn’t intended to give you the tools to have a perfect marriage because by its nature it’s not a perfect institution. To think that two people from different parents and different backgrounds with individual opinions and perspectives should all of a sudden become one in heart and mind is a notion to be left for fairy tales.
The concept rather is to be up-front from day one that those challenges will occur, and become informed on how to best address them. This is a process that involves educating on how and when to communicate, how conflicts should be resolved, and to identify problems that are insurmountable to the extent that dissolution of the relationship is the appropriate option for the good of both parties.
On this last point, it is critical to recognize that sometimes the objective of marriage education is to avoid the marriage altogether. Indeed, if we were to begin to employ this tactic more often, we would be on the road to tackling the high divorce rates. We need to remember and educate couples to ask the right questions before they make that ultimate commitment to one another. For as strange as it might sound, sometimes the best way to show love for one another is to avoid the pitfalls of falling in love with one another.
In a society as complex as Israel’s where there is such a strong intersection between religion and society, marriage is an institution that is even more sacred than in other areas of Western society. And sacred it should be.
It is for that very reason that we need to amplify our efforts to make marriage more successful in our society. This understanding has motivated the introduction of legislation to provide governmental financial support for marriage education as part of the marriage licensing process.
It is no secret that divorce is a costly institution from both the financial and familial aspects. Every year hundreds of millions of shekel are spent on legal proceedings and therapy sessions for divorcing couples and their children. The emotional toll it takes on both parents and families cannot be measured in any quantitative form – but suffice it to say that countless lives are ruined by failed marriages.
Israel has been the light unto the nations in so many ways. By placing marriage education on the national agenda, we can ensure that the ancient concept of the sacred Jewish marriage will become a further note of pride for the Jewish state.The author is the founder and executive director of Together in Happiness. On November 8, the organization will host a Knesset meeting dedicated to promoting awareness of marriage education in Israel. For more information visit www.together-in-happiness.com.