Who is mighty? The one who conquers his evil inclination (Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1)
Whether or not we are following the drama of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s admission of infidelity and the breakup of his 25-year marriage, we can learn a few lessons about protecting the sanctity of our relationship.
Lesson #1: Protect yourself
Those who scoff at Jewish law as being archaic or out of touch with modern times will surely see the wisdom of our Sages in setting up protective measures.
The laws of yichud (seclusion) prohibit a man and woman who are not married to be secluded with each other in a private area. This is to prevent them from being tempted to engage in promiscuous acts. The Sages realized that there is a slippery slope when it comes to these matters and that by preventing the possibility of committing such acts, greatly decreases the temptation and likelihood of their occurrence.
These safeguards are not a judgment on our capacity for self-control or a call to distrust ourselves; rather they are a realistic assessment of human desire and a way to protect the sanctity of our relationships.
Lesson #2: Make your marriage holy
When a couple gets married under the chuppah, the husband proclaims to his wife, harei at mekudeshes li, “behold you are betrothed to me,” as he places the ring on her finger. It is with these words and his action that he accomplishes what is called kiddushin (betrothal), which comes from the Hebrew word that means holy and separate. Marriage sanctifies the relationship by making it exclusive. You are no longer “available;” you are mine and I am yours.
When couples are able to honor this commitment seriously, they can build a strong relationship full of trust and joy. Unfortunately, our society does not always honor that. We live in a time when the lines of “appropriate” behavior between sexes are increasingly blurred. It is quite common for married men and women to flirt with members of the opposite sex. While this may seem innocuous, it detracts from the exclusivity we have to our spouse. What appears to be a cute comment or glance can easily become something more serious. When statistics show that 60% of men will cheat on their wife and 50% of women will cheat on their husband, we cannot dismiss the slippery slope effect.
Lesson #3: Finding fulfillment in your marriage
We need to focus on finding fulfillment in our own marriage. In order for a marriage to be a vibrant, living entity, energy must be invested in the relationship. When we are satisfied with our marriage, we will not be tempted to look elsewhere. When we feel unloved, ignored, or unappreciated we go everywhere but to our spouse to get those needs met. We find other people and activities to feel those needs, feeling hopeless about ever getting what we want.
Without the proper communication skills, it is often too threatening to share our frustrations about these unmet needs with our spouse. It is a lot safer to call a friend and complain or just withdraw and move further away from your spouse.
When we make our relationship a priority and we learn how to work on our marriage, making it the best it can possibly be, we can refocus our energy where it needs to be. Otherwise, if you are experiencing stress in your marriage and feel ignored by your spouse, a little attention from another man or woman can turn into emotional and physical intimacy.
Although we may feel our marriage is invincible, if we don’t consciously make an effort to honor our relationship, protect its sanctity, and nurture it with love and care, we run the risk of it being terminated.