Ben Affleck's Oscar speech described the need for ‘work’ when it comes to marriage. His wife, Jennifer Garner, smiled through her tears and we thought that this couple really ‘got it’. They seemed to be the Hollywood couple who understood that there are no myths of ‘happily ever after’. They told us that we need to put effort into our relationships. Every marriage has its ups and downs – even (especially?) if you are Hollywood celebrities who seem to have it all. Ben acknowledged this to millions from the podium that night in 2013 as he addressed his wife: “I want to thank you…it is work but the best kind of work and there’s none I’d rather work with.” And Garner responded as she told reporters afterwards “I think he was saying, ‘Look, what we have is real and I value it above all and I’m in it with you and I know you are in it with me.’”

And now they announced they are getting divorced after 10 years of marriage.

No matter who you are or how many years you've been married, divorce is painful. If children are involved your lives are forever intertwined.

Divorce is sometimes the necessary choice to make. Some difficulties are insurmountable. One need not be a celebrity to grapple with addictions, abuse, and ugly altercations that create flames of dissension which consume both husband and wife. At times a man or woman reaches the breaking point feeling disrespected. When a couple realizes that they cannot continue to live together in peace, the Torah provides us with divorce as an option.

But we must never come to this decision lightly. Rabbi Elazar taught that the altar in the Temple sheds tears when a couple divorces. It is specifically the altar that is mentioned because these stones help us re-establish peace between man and His Maker and bring us close once again. Now that harmony has been lost, the altar itself weeps for the pain this couple has suffered. The Shechinah, presence of God, departs from a home where there is strife. The blessing of shalom bayis, peace in the home, is gone. This precious blessing in a home should never be taken for granted.

It is possible to breathe new life into a marriage, despite some stormy seasons. Of course, this is not an easy path. Creating a marriage that endures is a humbling experience. Sacrifice, intense efforts, internal character growth, commitment, and a true desire to make this marriage work all help the quest for rebuilding the spiritual sanctuary we call ‘home’. This journey is not for those who simply give up.

5 Stages of Marriage

In my last article ‘Ben Affleck on Marriage’, I spoke about the ways we can work on our marriage and help it grow stronger through the years. Keep updated, make your marriage your priority, show respect, do small acts of daily kindness, and be positive were the 5 labors of love.

Recognizing that marriage has its stages gives us the wisdom to keep laboring and not give up hope when times are tough.

1. The Passion

Intense feelings of desire and love, seeing your spouse as ‘The One’, and anticipating spending time together helps you commit to one another. Little irritations don’t bother you. Excitement and discovery of this new person in your life brings you positive energy and attitude.

2. Letting Go of the Fantasy

Difficulty sets in when you realize that (s)he is only human. Your spouse can get you nervous with his nightly snoring or her too loud laugh. You bicker. She seems too sensitive, while he seems indifferent. Disappointment sneaks in. You wonder if you made the right decision. Children may add to the equation as you argue about childcare, household chores and finances.

Jennifer Garner herself said last year, “When we had our first child we were babies. It happened so fast, I hardly remember what we were like before the kids got here.”

You are now at a crucial crossroads in your marriage. Are you able to let go of the fantasy? The journey starts here. Once you comprehend that for marriage to endure you need to set aside your Disney-like dreams and deal with reality you are ready to live as husband and wife. Getting married is not the destination point, it is only the beginning. The challenge is making it work.

3. Getting to Work

The labor of love begins. Working on a relationship means that you will be using spiritual muscles that you have hardly used before. Forgiveness, understanding, sensitivity, compassion, patience, expressing gratitude, humility are all character traits that help you reignite that spark of love. Each day you work another muscle-even if you are tired you don’t give up.

4. Finding Calm

You have discovered that it is okay to disagree as long as respect remains part of the equation. Communication grows as you refrain from put downs, snide remarks and hurtful gestures. You decide to put a positive attitude into the relationship by developing your ‘ayin tov’, your ‘positive eye’. Work on blaming less and listening to the other side more. Attend workshops and Torah classes, read articles and surround yourself with friends who encourage harmony.

Some insightful questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I always need to win? Can I ever be wrong?
  • Do I raise my voice, insult, degrade or walk away?
  • Am I overly sensitive to criticism? Do I hear another point of view?
  • Am I self-centered? Arrogant? Impatient?

5. Peace

You have resolved to stop trying to makeover your spouse. You have come to a place of appreciation for the joy that love brings. As years pass, you enjoy each other’s company more. Instead of growing apart, you have discovered your best friend. You share memories and dreams for the future. You have stopped struggling with your differences and instead focus on the treasure of having this other person in your life. Trust fills your heart. Acceptance grows along with a love that is mature yet tender. Even tough times frighten you less because your partner is at your side. You know that you will endure.

Sadly, many couples never allow themselves to reach the stage of peace. Crisis or disappointment arrives and we throw in the towel. Let’s remember that marriage is our greatest source of blessing. Homes filled with harmony becomes a resting place for God’s presence. Yes, it does take work. But the joy endures forever.