It's the latest rage. John Gottman's popular book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, has spawned a whole genre of new approaches to marital success.
Basing their opinion on scientific studies, some recommend conflict resolution styles. Others say that such techniques are irrelevant and what matters is the amount of pleasure you take in your spouse. And still others report that the proper combination of personality types is the surefire key to success.
Judaism has resolved this question in a different way a few thousand years ago, without benefit of surveys, experiments or control groups. The solution is simple to state and difficult to apply. But it's a solution that's guaranteed to ensure a lasting marriage.
The key is commitment.
Accepting Each Other
As my husband is fond of saying "There comes a point in every marriage when you look at your partner and think 'she's/he's nuts.'" (He must have learned this from the couples he's counseled; surely not from personal experience!) This is a defining moment in your marriage. This is the point where those with commitment take a deep breath and move forward. And those without...
And these moments may occur more than once (or so I've heard!) There are a lot of frustrating times. Your spouse can be truly infuriating (it's amazing how they can be so flawed when we are so unblemished) and it takes a large dose of self-control and maturity not to gather up all your jewelry (priorities!) and walk out the door.
It takes a large dose of self- control and maturity not to walk out the door.
Susie is feeling trapped. Her husband isn't perfect. He's loyal and devoted but he's not living up to her expectations. He's a nice guy; he's loyal and dependable. But he has no flair. They have three children; she has no time to pursue her career and she's not getting any younger. Is this really what she signed up for? Her marriage doesn't coincide with her fantasy. She wants out.
What Susie needs to recognize (or she will leave devastation in her wake and just recreate the same problems in her next relationship) is that her feelings are normal. Many women (and men) experience them. But being an adult means that you don't act on every feeling. Commitment means digging in your heels even when the going seems tough. Maturity means coping with reality, not descending into fantasy. And not just coping, but looking for ways to rise above the negativity.
Maybe you need more time with each other. Maybe you need more time alone. Maybe you need a new job. Maybe some volunteer work. Maybe a good book. Maybe a good class. Most of all, you need practical answers, not illusions fed by movies and romance novels.
On a deeper level, you may need some individual counseling, or some couples counseling, or a support group. Have lunch with some married girlfriends. I guarantee they can all relate.
No one's denying that there are extreme situations that require drastic measures. But that's not true for the majority of us.
The majority of us have short fuses. The majority of us are self-centered. The majority of us want the easy way out.
Working It Out
Fred and Martha had been married a very short time. But while Fred's daily routine had remained pretty much unchanged, Martha's changed dramatically. She had moved to a new neighborhood and took a leave of absence from her job to set up home. As much as she enjoyed this task, and as much as she cared about her husband, the change overwhelmed her. She wanted to leave – and not just for a few hours.
Fred decided to take charge of the situation. He sat her down, looked her straight in the eye, and said "I'm not letting you go anywhere! We'll work this out together."
It was a case of saying "I'm committed to you and we'll find a solution that works."
No, this wasn't a control issue. It was a case of one party saying "I'm committed to you and to us and we'll find a solution that works." And it was very freeing – for both of them. Secure in Fred's commitment to her and their marriage, Martha was able to see the light beyond her immediate despair. She went back to work part-time; Fred adjusted his schedule to spend more time with her and they have a thriving marriage. This happened because Fred knew the meaning of commitment, and because Martha experienced the power of commitment.
What is commitment?
Choosing to Stay
Commitment means there's no choice. I'm in for the duration. I will finish what I've started.
Commitment is not reflected in the pages of People magazine. It's not seen on TV or in movies. It's represented in very few novels. And it's frequently mocked. But commitment (the old "til death do us part") is the key not just to a successful marriage but a productive life in general.
We live in a world where everything is disposable – from the trivial (razors and diapers) to the profound (unwanted pregnancies, the terminally ill) It takes a dramatic shift in gears to understand and internalize the meaning of commitment.
Raised on fairytales, we've created a dream of serenely waltzing through life together.
When our children are frustrating or difficult, we don't abandon them. We should apply the same principle to our spouses and our marriages. If we work through the rocky periods we'll emerge wiser and with a more profound sense of our own selves, and a deeper experience of unity.
Raised on fairytales, we've created a storybook dream of serenely waltzing through life together, preferably with a prince on our arm. Marriage can be a great dance but you have to constantly watch your step and adjust your tempo.
Every Jewish couple is given a blessing that they should build a faithful home in Israel -– a trustworthy home. This is a basic tenet of Jewish belief. There is no home without trust. There is no home without commitment. Beauty is nice. Pleasure is a good thing. Conflict resolution techniques are helpful. But they're not the foundation of a home.
Being able to adhere to commitment in your marriage begins with self-respect. What kind of person do you want to be – someone who confronts his or her problems or runs from them? Someone who perseveres or is a quitter? Do you want to able to hold your head up at the end of your days and say "I tried my best! I gave it my all!"? Do you want to pass on this legacy of determination of commitment to your children? You know you do.
It won't always be easy. You might have your hand on the doorknob. But take that deep breath, say a little prayer and walk back smiling.
Your surprised spouse will smile too. And as the years go by, and you deepen your commitment, and you survive greater challenges, it will be better than a fairy tale. It's a promise.