Dear Emuna,

I heard that Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan signed a "relationship contract." Zuckerberg agreed to spend at least 100 minutes of private time each week with Chan, and take her on at least one date. They also agreed to vacation for two weeks every year overseas.

I imagine there are many aspects of a relationship that could be part of a pact. Sharing of household chores, time spent with the in-laws, budgetary limits, even intimacy issues.

It may seem unromantic to mandate rules, but having a clear set of expectations ensures that needs are being met.

What do you think of all this?

-- Engaged and Planning My Marriage

Dear Planner,

Aside from the issue of intermarriage, the idea of a relationship contract is on the minds of many these days. Does it demonstrate something healthy about the relationship or does it suggest something is missing? And shouldn’t it all be more spontaneous?

I happen to think it’s a great idea. (Despite being called a contract, I don’t believe it’s actually enforceable in a court of law!) Expectations, or, shall I say, unmet expectations, definitely shape our level of marital satisfaction. If we want a spouse who is a real family man, available at dinner time and bath time and Sunday barbecue time but our husband-to-be is consumed with building or maintaining his career, we will be frustrated and disappointed.

While I don’t think all expectations need to be spelled out in a contract, I do think they should be discussed. Many years ago, I read a book called Smart Women, Foolish Choices. One of the common, and usually unexpressed, expectations of the women profiled seemed to be that they would stop working either when they got married or when they had a family. This came as a surprise to many of their husbands who were counting on the extra income, and significant marital tensions ensued.

In Jewish life, there are certain unwritten rules about dividing holiday times between in-laws and certain written ones about intimacy that, while beyond the scope of this letter, certainly enhance rather than diminish a marriage. There is also the Ketubah, a legally binding marriage contract (yes, we thought of it first!) that outlines some of a man’s responsibility to his wife.

And I can think of many a relationship that would have been saved had budgetary limits been discussed in advance.

The major complaint against such an idea seems to be the lack of spontaneity and the destructive romantic notion often voiced as “He should have just wanted to spend time with me; I shouldn’t have to make him.”

There are many things we want to do, many good, important and productive things. That doesn’t mean we don’t get distracted, tired, preoccupied. One of the reasons we have commandments is because the Almighty recognized that, in order to do what we want (as opposed to what we feel like), we need a little push, a little structure, a little regulation. We are commanded to pray every day, whether we are in the mood or not. We give 10% of our income to charity, whether we feel generous or not. The list goes on and on. Because these are the things we truly want to do – whatever our lazy and selfish body may be telling us in the moment.

We all want our marriages to work. We all want to spent time with our spouses, live within our means, be giving to each other. But since we’re not always in the mood, we need commandments. And perhaps a contract.

It could be the wave of the future. After all, Mr. Zuckerberg seems to know a thing or two about what works!

– Emuna

Other Pretty Women

Dear Emuna,

I am engaged to a terrific guy and thank God, we are so happy and excited to build a new life and grow together. But I've noticed that I am often very insecure. I'm constantly jealous of any woman who comes in contact with my fiancé (including female friends of his from his college days). I would never have to worry about anything inappropriate happening with my future husband and other women; it's just my own crazy insecurity.

For some reason, whenever he mentions that a woman is pretty or cute (just as an observation), it cuts me to the quick and I don't feel good enough. But it's natural for people to think of other people as being pretty and attractive – it'd be weird if he only found me and no one else attractive. Do you have any tips on how I can feel more confident in myself, and less upset by other pretty women? How should I feel about this kind of thing?


Envious Worrier

Dear Worrier,

I think it’s normal and appropriate for you to feel insecure. It shows you have a strong grasp of reality. I certainly don’t want to make you crazier and more insecure, but I really don’t think you can say, “I would never have to worry about anything inappropriate happening with my future husband and other women.” In the Talmud (Avot 2:4), we are told that to never trust ourselves until the day we die. The proof frequently cited is a reference to Yochanan the High Priest. He served in the Temple for 80 years and then betrayed his faith. If it could happen to him, the message is, it could certainly happen to any of us.

Our baser inclinations are very strong and we should never discount them or believe we are immune. That’s why Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller titled one of her books, Battle Plans – we need to be in a constant state of preparedness to wage war against our lower selves.

I wish your husband had written to me instead of you, but you will need to find a way to gently and tactfully have this conversation with him. He should not be mentioning that another woman is attractive. In fact he really shouldn’t even be looking at them. And he would be better off not maintaining a relationship with female friends from his college days. Maybe that sounds too strong ,but we just need to look around the world (John Edwards being one sordid example) to see the potential and actual destruction.

In Jewish life, a man has to repent on Yom Kippur for having looked at other women. That’s not because we are antiquated and repressive. We are in fact very modern and recognize all too well where it could lead.

The challenges to relationships these days are so great that we want to try to remove at least some of them from the table. And our marriages are so precious that we want to do everything in our power to preserve them.

The Torah perspective is that there is no such thing as a strictly platonic relationship between men and women. There are always undercurrents. Building a solid future together requires limiting relationships with the members of the opposite sex.

Our goal is a relationship like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. There were the only two people in the world and they only had eyes for each other. Please ask your fiancé to read my response and to contact me if he disagrees or has any questions.

– Emuna

Food, Glorious Food

Dear Emuna,

I grew up in a stereotypical Jewish home where we got a lot of mixed messages about food. If I took a piece of cake after school, my mother would say, “That cake is very fattening; you should be eating an apple instead.” If I took an apple, she would wonder aloud, “Why isn’t anybody eating the cake I made?” We talked about food and weight at every meal – and frequently in-between. I was the only girl in my sixth-grade class who brought salad for lunch instead of sandwich, and I memorized the Weight Watcher’s point system at a very early age.

As an adult, I struggle against this constant obsession but I vowed not to impose this  shtick on my kids. Yet I still hear them talking about it, still see them checking themselves in the mirror and, despite my best efforts to ban the word from my home, they are constantly discussing their diets and how much weight they need to lose. I’m so frustrated. Where did I go wrong and how can I right it?

– Calorie Counter

Dear CC,

Take a deep breath and stop blaming yourself. We live in a weight-obsessed world. Every magazine cover has the latest “fool-proof!” “no-fail!” “eat all you want!” diet. All the glamorous people in Hollywood seem to be the thin ones. And if they don’t get it from that side, then there is the obesity problem and this country’s focus on dealing with it. (As an aside, even though we don’t like or drink sodas in my family, I resent laws like Mayor Bloomberg’s that attempt to restrict the size of drink purchased.)

In every school lunch room across the country, calorie counts dominate the conversation. Even boys are obsessed with their weight, their abs, their six-packs. No matter how much we avoid the topic at home, our kids are surrounded by it.

Since we can’t spare them the conversation, we need to figure out how to approach the issue. One strategy is to encourage “healthy” eating – as opposed to dieting. This is a better approach to life and it will lead to a lifestyle that they can reasonably maintain. I’m a big believer in “everything in moderation” and personally don’t advocate a total ban on any food (it just makes them more appealing!).

The other crucial strategy is to give our children enough sense of self-worth that they will neither diet to feel good about themselves nor eat to mask their pain and insecurity. (And when you figure out how to do this, let me know!) This requires a very positive style of parenting – lots of praise of accomplishments, balanced by occasional constructive help when mistakes are made.

We need to be realistic and teach our children to dress in ways that are flattering and to take care of themselves. But whatever the external messages, we want our children to appreciate that true beauty is the inner beauty of the soul and not the external one of the body.

– Emuna