We all know that marriage is difficult. Almost 50 percent of married couples in North America get divorced, which means that one in two couples must be so miserable, they give up. Of the couples that do stay together, how many of them are truly happy? Why would people subject themselves to this institution; what makes it all worthwhile?
I posed this collection of questions to a group of students I was lecturing to at University of Toronto. They were frustrated because they intuited that marriage is worth the effort, but they could not adequately articulate why. Family, companionship, stability and love were some of the responses they gave. While these are all valid benefits of marriage, they do not effectively explain what specifically about marriage makes it worthwhile. There are many couples that love each other but get divorced, as do those that have children, stability and companionship. A successful marriage must be dependant on other intangibles.
My rabbi taught me that to begin to understand a concept, you must first define it. The technical definition of Jewish marriage is, of course, the giving of the ring under the chuppah with the expressed intent of marriage, validated by two witnesses. This definition describes the lifetime commitment the couple makes to each other before man and God.
But what exactly is the couple committing to? A lifetime together -- for what purpose?
There is another, more philosophical definition of marriage: A lifetime commitment to constantly provide emotional intimacy to your spouse, thereby uncovering your true self and, ultimately, your unique purpose for being created.
Each clause of this definition reveals the foundation of a successful marriage.
A lifetime commitment:
Marriage is meant to last forever. You are committed for the long haul; therefore figure out whatever you need to make it work. When you argue, are frustrated, tired or bored, say to each other: "We are in this together, forever. Let us get through this, because on the other side lies the happiness we both want, the happiness a successful marriage provides."
Marriage takes constant work. A great marriage does not just passively unfold after marrying your soul-mate. Instead, the commitment of marriage is a lifetime of proactive "everydays:"
Everyday I will recommit myself to this person.
Everyday I will make my spouse happy.
Everyday I will communicate with my spouse.
Everyday I will make my spouse feel special.
Everyday I will make my spouse feel that I am the most blessed person in the world to be married to him/her.
Everyday I will unload his/her burden.
(Gratitude + Love) x Communication = Emotional Intimacy.
For a marriage to be successful, it must be the top priority in your life. You must work harder and smarter on your marriage than you do at work, parenting or other relationships, but you will find that the success of this relationship will aid you in all other pursuits. Ignoring your marriage to focus on other things will ultimately create chaos in all areas of your life, not just your marriage.
Provide emotional intimacy to your spouse:
The definition of emotional intimacy is to constantly make your spouse feel that he/she is the most important aspect of your life; it is the key to a happy marriage.
A marriage is a bank account whose currency is feelings and making your spouse feel fulfilled, happy, loved, cherished, desired and respected are deposits in the account. The emotions of distance, discontent, apathy, feeling secondary, disrespect and being critical are all withdrawals from the account. A happy marriage is one with an abundant emotional bank.
How you make your spouse feel is more important than the reality of the situation. If there is an issue that needs to be taken care of within the marriage, first deal with the feelings and then, once they have been resolved, address the issue itself.
How do you create emotional intimacy? There is an Emotional Intimacy Quotient (EIQ): (G + L) x C = EI, which is (Gratitude + Love) x Communication = Emotional Intimacy.
Gratitude is the awareness of all the kindness your spouse does for you, of which you must recognize. A daily gratitude diary is a great way to get in the habit of noticing. Everyday, add five new things your spouse has done for you and then communicate your appreciation of these kindnesses; this is true gratitude.
Love is the feeling you get when you focus on and appreciate your spouse's virtues, positive attributes and character traits. Your daily gratitude diary can double as a daily love journal. Everyday, list five of your spouse's virtues and communicate them. Express each virtue with the words, "You are… (virtue x)," while making deliberate eye contact. Each day that you communicate gratitude and love will be one in which you experience emotional intimacy.
Thereby uncovering your true self:
Emotional intimacy demands honesty and growth. You cannot be dishonest about yourself with your spouse and be truly intimate at the same time. Emotional intimacy is a growth process, where you are always working to connect at deeper and deeper levels. You need to uncover any hidden layers within you that block the emotional connections to your soul mate. You will begin a journey to places inside yourself that you have never before been challenged to reach; there you will find fears, insecurities and anxieties concealed in the crevices of your subconscious that you will have to work through to achieve greater intimacy with your spouse. Each layer that you remove uncovers more of your true self and character; an intimate marriage is the one place where you cannot hide from yourself.
And ultimately, your unique purpose for being created:
Once your true self is unleashed, your relationship to the outside world begins to change. You will discover deeper meanings in other pursuits. You will transform your environment to reflect, and be in harmony with, your inner self. Honesty and integrity will define you, as love and meaning pursue you. Personal growth will be your determining measure of success. An unbridled passion for life will radiate from you. You will find a gentle peace and begin to understand your special place in the universe. Slowly, your relationship with your Creator will begin to mirror the thriving relationship you have with your spouse.
REACHING THE DIVINE
In teaching the commandment to love God, Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher and scholar, writes that one's love for God should parallel one's love for a spouse, though the former should be even more intense. One should be "love sick," thinking of your spouse "whether you are sitting or standing, eating or drinking." The connection to your spouse should be so intense that he/she is with you in every aspect -- in your heart, your mind and your soul.
Once you experience this passion through the physical realm of marriage, you have acquired the tools to connect to the spiritual equivalent and create a loving connection with your Creator. Your intimacy with the Divine will be determined by the very depth and intensity of passion you share with your spouse.
Through marriage, you have the potential to uncover who you really are and the unique qualities you possess to share with the world. You have the potential to sincerely connect with another human being without barriers, apprehensions or inhibitions. And emotional portals to connect with the Almighty with boundless passion will await you.
Reprinted with permission from Sasson magazine.
Visit Aryeh Pamensky at www.pamenskylive.com