When to Get Divorced
I think I have fallen out of love with my husband. We don’t share many of the same interests, and we don’t even keep the same “waking hours.” I feel lonely and am ready to find someone else. What do you suggest?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Let's take one step back and ask: What is the Jewish understanding of marriage?
The act of marriage is more than just a man and woman sharing a house, or having a joint bank account, or raising children together. Marriage actually binds two souls together to create one complete soul. As the Torah says, a married couple "becomes one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).
“One flesh” means that the commitment of marriage is like the commitment one has to his hand. As one rabbi explained:
What is my commitment to my hand? I "am" my hand! I wouldn't reconsider my commitment to my hand if it were broken, ugly, scarred, or if I met someone with nicer hands. I'd reconsider my commitment to my hand only if it had gangrene and was killing me.
The commitment of marriage is until it's killing you.
The alarming rate of divorce means there is a fundamental problem in how many people approach marriage and relationships. As Rabbi Avram Rothman observes, the media has geared people to become a society of “takers.” "You deserve a break today," "Just do it," and other catchy slogans entice people to take what they want, do what they want, and think only of themselves. If there is one overriding factor causing the many failed and troubled marriages, it is that we have learned to be "takers."
When two people are focused on taking, they are pulling in opposite directions. It’s a constant tug of war to see how much the other person “can satisfy me.” By contrast, the Jewish idea of marriage is to be a “giver.” In this way, the dynamic between husband and wife is a loving, caring flow in both directions. (Interestingly, one way that Jewish law facilitates this is through the Ketubah wedding contract, where the man commits to providing his wife’s needs – food, clothes, intimacy, etc.)
Of course, there are times when marriages fall into a destructive cycle of abuse, and in these situations, divorce is appropriate. Even more, divorce is a mitzvah – a chance to try again, to find happiness.
In reality, however, this is often not why most people get divorced. They usually just get tired of each other. The excitement goes out of the relationship, or "we don't laugh like we used to." If someone told you they were amputating their hand because "the fun has gone out of it," you'd think they were crazy.
It is for this reason that prior to facilitating a Get, a Jewish court (Beit Din) will sometimes encourage the couple to seek reconciliation. In fact, one of the reasons the Jewish divorce process involves so many technicalities is to avoid a situation where people get divorced without having fully explored the options.
Throughout history, Jews have sought an ideal standard for family life that is captured in the term Shalom Bayit – literally, “peace in the home.” When marital harmony exists, God's presence dwells in the home. When marital harmony is absent, and divorce becomes the only option, it is an undeniable tragedy. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 22a) says that when a divorce occurs, the Temple altar – the symbol of Jewish unity and holiness – metaphorically “weeps," as if to mourn the loss of this failed union.
According to the Gaon of Vilna, the Hebrew letters gimmel and tet (spelling “Get”) do not otherwise appear together in any word – symbolizing the disharmony which precipitates divorce.