When marriages become messy

In my work as a journalist I’ve interviewed many women victims of spousal abuse: physical, emotional and anything in between.

Illustrative (photo credit: TNS)
(photo credit: TNS)
I’m a secular, middle-aged woman, and I’ve been married for nearly three decades. I’m marrying off my daughter in a month but I’m feeling worried and disenchanted with the institution of marriage as a whole. Too many of my friends have been hurt by their husbands’ infidelity; I myself can well relate to the disappearance of intimacy after some years of living as a couple. Has marriage gone bankrupt only in the secular world, or is this the same across the religious spectrum?
Name withheld
Petah Tikva
Tzippi Sha-ked:
“People are people,” as Pam is fond of saying, though she usually adds that religious men are no different and perhaps even worse. Yet, deceiving a spouse is hardly exclusive to men. “Since 1990,” writes Esther Perel in The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, “the rate of married women reporting unfaithfulness has increased by 40%.” To further disturb us, she adds that “monogamy is a spectrum.”
Erstwhile beliefs that Jewish husbands are less likely to cheat no longer hold credence – thanks to the likes of Harvey Weinstein, former representative Anthony Weiner, former governor Eliot Spitzer, etc. Religious men are hardly less “tempted” than others. Our only leg up (though that might be an unfortunate metaphor) over secular society’s mores is that modern Orthodoxy’s strictures prohibit extramarital affairs while few (if any) secular institutions decry them. In addition, the laws of nidda (separation during menstrual impurity) safeguard marital intimacy.
Judaism, knowing human nature, has implemented safeguards that secular Hollywood culture is only now noting: minimizing gratuitous contact with the opposite sex reduces opportunities for harassment and/or extra marital romance. Of course, this isn’t to suggest one need go Taliban-crazy when separating genders, but rather to strike a balance. Implementing concepts like not being alone in a room with someone of the opposite sex without leaving a door open, nor sharing a private meal could go a long way in curbing office romances.
Without an ultimate authority governing our actions, even marital therapy can’t help couples if the advice dished out mirrors the current flavor of the month solutions for fidelity. No sector is immune from cheating, but which group is more likely to adopt a binding moral compass as it navigates the “mine”-field of marriage?
Danit Shemesh:
Rabbis give a good tip to married people: see your wife/husband as the only woman/man on earth – like Adam and Eve in the garden. Your spouse and the garden are the gifts of your life, albeit difficult gifts to open sometimes.
The Torah says, “It is not good for man to be by himself.” Marriage is the best platform from which to work on one’s personhood. One cannot evolve beyond one’s perceived limitation without a spouse, who will ensure one does the character work. This includes loyalty, perseverance, and the skill of giving; self-constraint and the ability to expand one’s radius of conscience beyond oneself. In a word, marriage teaches how to be relational beings.
Marriage presumes a maturity that is less accessible today. In our circle, marriage comes from an external point of perspective; in other words, because G-d said marriage is good. If the ‘exit’ sign is less readily available, we must look inward and find true intimacy through the relational skills to do this thing called marriage.
However, if we marry for the wrong reasons – like not being alone, having children, or belonging – the union will not have staying power. Children grow up, the feeling of belonging sours and loneliness within a marriage is much worse than without. If the reason for marrying is all about “me,” then indeed it is doomed.
If Hashem [God] is in the picture, marriage, like wine, only gets better as we discover our best selves.
Be happy with the potential your daughter is enjoying.
Pam Peled:
Once, in a memorable Feminism class, a young student of mine proclaimed she was happy to be put to death if she cheated on her husband. She declared that community honor laws maintained the sanctity of marriage, and it was good that they did. She agreed that in a perfect world, cheating husbands should also be shot at dawn; that was harder to enforce.
I suppose that’s one way of safeguarding wedded bliss.
In my work as a journalist I’ve interviewed many women victims of spousal abuse: physical, emotional and anything in between. It seems to me that religion has less than nothing to do with happy- ever-after. The stringent laws of nidda can spice up stale sheets, but they can also cause frustration and dismay. Religious men can belt out a sweet “Women of Worth” on Shabbat eve, and when the guests are gone, kick you in the stomach to try to abort yet another unwelcome baby. Secular and religious men can be crazy and mean – or they can be your skin, protecting your heart and soul.
The Talmud has a lovely saying: “I’ve never called my wife ‘wife,’ but ‘home.’” I personally am all for marriage; I believe with luck and love it’s so fabulous to always be “at home.” Religious affiliations are pretty meaningless, I’d imagine, when betting on which marriages will work. I suspect, though, that God is not crash-hot on a surfeit of joy. I fear He looks down and sighs, “Uh-oh. Bliss … strike one dead now!” … but that’s a different issue.
Comments and questions: 3ladies3lattes@gmail.com www.facebook.com/3ladies3lattes