Marriage and divorce in Judaism

Disclaimer: Sheesh, how did this happen that I wrote a piece about marriage? I always feel like I don’t have the right considering the fact that I’m not married but I’ll be brave here and post it, since I do believe that what I wrote makes sense. Please feel free to give your two cents (or as mTp says, 7 cents with inflation). Thanks

My friend just told me that at Friday night dinner, someone asked the rabbi how you know if you’re married to the right person. He said that you need to always realize that you don’t only marry Rachel but you also marry Leah. The idea being that you marry the whole package. The good the bad the ugly the beautiful the part you connect to the part that you don’t the part you love the part you try to put up with the part you respect the part you wish would change the part you are crazy about the part you can’t stand…

I must say it seems a bit simplistic. I do think it’s very true. If you don’t realize that there are things about your spouse that will be difficult for you, you’re setting yourself up for failure. To go into it knowing you’re marrying a human being, flaws, beauty and all, is a great start. But it’s not the only thing needed for a great start and marriage.

We also need to be extremely honest with ourselves. See the person standing before you. Truly see them. Is this the person that’s good for me? Are there possibly things that bother me on the most important level that I’m ignoring, pretending I don’t actually care about or assuming, consciously or subconsciously, that it’ll change and then it’ll be OK?

STOP IT!!! We must must MUST be as honest with ourselves as possible about what we’re getting ourselves into.

Also, sometimes things happen before we’ve fully committed that make us feel like now we have to commit – get engaged and married. But it’s important to realize that there is almost nothing that can make a person get married to someone else. Even if, to you, sleeping with the person means you have to marry them, it’s absolutely not true. It is better to back out of a not good relationship at any point rather than go forwards just because you feel you have to. I cannot think of any scenario where you really have to.

I have heard the idea that most people whose marriages don’t work out, if afterwards you ask them if they had a bad feeling to begin with, they did. Yikes. Be honest with yourself.

So we don’t want to marry the wrong person. But we also don’t want to not marry the right person! One thing my mom just said to me recently that her friend said to her was that we need to make sure that we aren’t full of ourselves. Someone might find that they don’t want to be with someone who is otherwise really great for them, because they are… and I HATE this word… picky.

I hate the word because it’s so absolutely, positively, unbelievably important to be picky when choosing – or picking, shall we say – the person with whom we’ll spend the rest of our lives. But it still is possible to be too picky. And as my mother explained it to me, if you think you’re God’s ultimate gift to the world – more than other human beings – you might turn down someone less than perfect because they just aren’t perfect enough for you. But you need to remind yourself that you ain’t no perfect ride either. You can be annoying or not nice sometimes, just like everyone else. It is a wonderful thing that someone sees past your flaws and wants to be with you in the ultimate way. You need to find someone who is great for you with their imperfections.

A friend told me that when she met her beshert (soulmate) she saw that she was compromising on things that she thought she needed in her husband but she was getting so much more than she’d imagined.

As for what the rabbi said, I think it is important in both directions. You are marrying a full person, for good (symbolized by Rachel) and for bad (symbolized by Leah). Sadly and thankfully, divorce is part of Jewish law for a reason. Sometimes it isn’t good enough and if it is bad enough, it’s important to get divorced. So you need to carefully look at what you’ve got and if it’s really not good for you, you need to move on. (I am obviously NO expert. This is just my feeling and of course you MUST talk to a professional, and hopefully your spouse, to figure these things out.) If there’s too much Leah and not enough Rachel, it’s time to take a good look at what’s going on. Are you guys not working hard enough at the relationship or is there something that is beyond work?

Finally, as I started mentioning above, don’t you dare think that things will stay good if you don’t constantly keep working on them. Both partners must be committed to putting constant effort into the relationship and into the other person in order to make sure that the relationship stays strong and loving for ever and ever.

What work? That’s for another post.


13 thoughts on “Marriage and divorce in Judaism

Add yours

  1. Dee,
    I must say that it is very well put…

    Now good luck to us all!!!

    A lot of davening helps along the way…in all the stages of relationships.


  2. you don’t only marry Rachel but you also marry Leah.
    Huh. That’s nicely put. Rabbis aren’t, er, so subtle.

    I must say it seems a bit simplistic.

    That’s because it is. What actually happens, is that we marry a projection of what we wish the person to be (the projection being a compilation of the things we didn’t receive in our family of origins), and only find out, years later, who the person really is. This is a simplification of Family System Theory. If you’re interested in finding out more i.e. about why we choose the partners we choose, google “differentiation”, “marriage”.

    See the person standing before you. Truly see them.
    Deena – 97% of us can barely make out the person staring back at us in the mirror. How are people supposed to make these judgment about other people? One of the most elequent aspects of Family Systems Theory is that you don’t have to sweat the process vis-a-vis partner choice. You are only going to be emotionally compatible with certain people, and that’s it. In a sense, the choosing – somewhat of an unconscious process – takes care of itself.

    We must must MUST be as honest with ourselves as possible about what we’re getting ourselves into.
    Should an individual want to be more honest about this process, I’d recommend therapy. Friends and family can sometime help, but often are a liability. Why? Because friends and family project their own hopes/wishes onto others, leading to prejudiced advice.

    It is better to back out of a not good relationship at any point rather than go forwards just because you feel you have to

    What is a “not good relationship”? What isn’t good for you, might be necessary for someone else. There are many external factors – peer pressure, age, practical scenarios, that get people to the chuppah, Hell, most of my male friends would still be single if it weren’t for “feeling like they have to” get married. And this is even more important for people who struggle with intimacy. The one-size-fits-all romantic notion of how people meet/get married, is an ideal that causes more harm than good.

    I have heard the idea that most people whose marriages don’t work out, if afterwards you ask them if they had a bad feeling to begin with, they did.

    Actually, no. This is called biased perception and cognitive dissonance. We all rationalize the choices we make to make ourselves look good. To inspire hope. The poor prognosis of 2nd, 3rd, and 4th marriages should stand as a warning to those who believe “good feelings” prior to marriage lead to good marriages. In general, we tend to marry the same person (emotionally speaking) as we did previously. This is a universal and clinical fact. We only change this process by doing hard, hard inner work. And this almost always happens in therapy.

    we need to make sure that we aren’t full of ourselves.
    People… just… are. And then you go from there. In other words, don’t sweat your personality, nor your disposition. Develop hobbies. Exercise. Try and figure out what your core values are. And then open yourself up to meeting new people. The fact that you are emotionally compatible with certain folks is inspiring. It takes the guess work out of it. In other words, there is a clinical basis for “beshert” :)

    Stepping off my soap box now…

    Actually, my wife and I are creating a blog/podcast entitled: “How to find the love of your life in 416 grueling steps”. It will be a hodge podge of tongue-in-cheek info, personal vignettes and clinical psychoanalytic and family systems theory.

  3. I, too, dislike the word “picky”. What’s “picky”? You fall in love with whoever you fall in love with. Yes, you do need to be “picky” about who you spend the rest of your life with, as Deena said, but also to echo Avrum, much of it is a subconscious process. How good are we at forcing ourselves to love or not love someone?
    We can be logical and try to figure out “what the person is really like” but I think at some level we have to accept that many times it is out of our hands.

  4. Avrum, thanks so much for sharing your ideas on this topic. I was hoping you’d read and comment on this one especially since I was worried I’m out of my league with it. It’s a little upsetting how you sort of make it seem that there’s so much subconscious going on when choosing a partner that we’re screwed and have very little control over the process.

    Jenny, it’s hard for me to believe that it’s out of our hands. I often hear about people who are in not very healthy relationships but yet they decide to get married. I do not get that. And Avrum, I do think there is such a thing as a not good enough relationship and as much as possible people should try to avoid them.

  5. Deena – before we discuss the validity of the theory, ask yourself this: Why is it that most couples, a few years into their marriage, find repulsive the very thing they were once attracted to in their mates? If u disagree that this occurs, have a chat with any marital therapist.

    1. Avrum, assuming this is true, it’s easy to explain. They dated with their head in the clouds, disregarding the fact that who the person really is, their moral values, where they want to go in life, how they see their home and family, etc. etc., actually matters. If they had good sex and basically pretty good times, they got married. And then over time the good sex and pretty good times just don’t cut it once the really important things start mattering more and more.

      And once the two people aren’t meshing well on the most important things, they slowly lose the physical attraction too.

      They also don’t realize that they need to be working on their relationship. So even if they do have similar goals/values, if they’re just letting their relationship slip, it’ll slip. Including attraction, of course.

      OK. Next? :)

      1. assuming this is true
        Like I said, ask any martial therapist.

        it’s easy to explain. They dated with their head in the clouds

        We all do… to varying degrees. And the degree to which our heads are “in the coulds” has to do with:
        a) our family of origin
        b) our inner work
        Though this is a simplification – there are biological and socio-cultural factors at work as well.

        One of the reasons this phenomenon i.e. attraction leading to revulsion, takes place is that we tend to choose partners who we hope/wish will provide us with the things our families of origin could/would not. In time, we have trouble maintaining self respect while borrowing a “sense of self” from our partners. If we’re courageous and curious, we can use this “negative” energy and grow into the people we were meant to be. In other words, marriage is a “people growing machine” as eloquently stated by Dr. David Schnarch –

  6. Re: little control. We have control. But it has more to do with how we take of ourselves vs. choosing ideal mates according to some external criteria.

      1. Anything that is within the sphere of your control:

        working on yourself
        And these things help create the spaciousness to allow someone into our lives.

  7. This makes me smile.
    On the topic of picky, I would ask yourself how much is picky and how much are excuses because of something within you. When I have seen picky people it usually was because some issue they had that came out as being picky about their choice.
    On the topic of picking the “right” one, I am not sure that the one-on-one method is very efficient or effective. I think the Indian or modern day compatibility tests may be better. If you are not interested in these methods then you need to focus on how you work and interact with the person not the details or the worrying about the head in the clouds. The head in the clouds part is the exciting part of meeting someone new.
    For me, I found my partner, we dated for 6 years before we got married and have beend together for 15 years. There is give and take. The first years without children in the marriage were easiest. Work and hangout was basically how it went. When the kids come all the worlds need to align and a lot of give and take occurs. The marriage part works because we work at it.

    I have a question, do you want a person who loves you or a person who respects you. I look for the mutual respect – much love can come from that but it does not work in reverse.
    My little advice is look for someone you respect and who respects you. Look for someone who shows respect for all other around him. How does he treat others in his most awkward or stressful moments?

    And do not be to picky about the details ;>

    My 7 cents,

    1. I would ask yourself how much is picky and how much are excuses because of something within you.

      Ouch, touche ;)

      The marriage part works because we work at it.

      Another excellent point. However it is important to state that the “work”, though universal, will be qualitatively different to everyone. For me… the months leading up to marriage were very, very difficult. You can’t imagine. And the first couple of months (marriage) were difficult as well. Thank God, like mTp states, the work continues to pay off. I truly feel blessed in my marriage. Pain, pleasure, all of it.

      My little advice is look for someone you respect and who respects you

      Another gem. Though it is my experience that people with similar levels of respect tend to find, and be attracted to, each other. Another Family System truism.

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