"I don't know about you", my wife told me last week, "but I am celebrating. We've been married twenty years and the study in the paper today says that we are past the hump, only 4% of us will get divorced."
"Not only that," she added, "but we really should celebrate, because 25% of all couples get divorced in the first four years of marriage and we have been married five times that! Looks like we made it!"
According to the recent Canadian Family Law Association Study of Divorce, 25% of all marriages will end in divorce during the first four years of marriage. Does that number shock us? It means that for every four weddings I go to, one will end in divorce. All those excited, happy faces, the couple standing seriously under the huppah, watching as all of their friends, all of their families come together to participate in the start of a new family -- one fourth of them will not make it.
The numbers seem to be almost the same among Jews as among non-Jews. It doesn't seem to matter. Rich, poor, Jewish, gentile the study says one fourth of all marriages dissolve within four years.
Funny though. I remember my mother telling me when I was a teenager in the late sixties, "Jews don't get divorced." She was right; in the small town I lived in I only knew two Jewish families who had divorced parents. What happened in that quarter century? What proved my mother wrong? To quote Mr. Dylan, "the times they are a changing."
What has caused such a drastic and sweeping change in one of the most important undertakings of our life?
There are many reasons. However, in my 15 years of marriage counselling I would say that there is one overriding factor that is found in many of these failed and troubled marriages. I believe that we have learned to be "takers."
TV, commercials, billboards, magazines all entice us to take. "You deserve it," "Just do it," "Take a break," "Do what you want" and other catchy slogans enticing one to take what they want, do what they want, think of themselves.
Too bad the Torah doesn't have its own billboards. It teaches us to give, not to take. It tells us that if everyone gives, everyone receives. The difference between physical intimacy and love, I told my son before his wedding, is all in your head. If your intimacy is an act of giving to your spouse, then it is love. If you only think of yourself, then it is just a self-serving physical act. Intimacy can be holy when it becomes an act of supreme giving and love within marriage.
When two people take, they are not a couple; they are two individuals -- each alone even when they're together.
If our life becomes one act of taking after another we lose our connection to each other. If we both give, our connection is solid. When two people give, both receive. When two people take, they are not a couple; they are two individuals -- each alone even when they're together.
Giving to one another creates and nurtures a real connection.
Giver and takers, that is what it boils down to. Simple to understand, but not simple to do. There is no magic pill for a troubled marriage. But the effort is incredibly worthwhile.
Perhaps our lack of shock at the high percentage of divorce is due to the fact that we have become used to how society teaches us to take.
Sometimes even with the best people with the best intentions, the marriage doesn't work and then divorce is a blessing. A chance to try again, to find happiness. But the alarming rate of divorce means there is a fundamental problem in how many of us approach marriage and relationships.
We can do something about it. We can start with ourselves. We can become givers. "Just as the Almighty does, so shall you do," quotes the Talmud. "As the Almighty gives, so shall we give". Let us think about what someone else deserves. Let us think about "Just do It" and give to our spouse. Let us think about how they feel.
Each act of giving is like a strand in a rope. They give, we give and together we build the bond that lasts, a rope that binds two individuals into a couple.
Today we consider it pretty good when 75% of all marriages make it for four years. Let's not settle for these figures. If we learn to become givers, in a few years we can once again prove Mother Rothman's law that "Jews, well Jews, they don't get divorced."