I am becoming an observant Jew. I am loving it and it’s giving me new meaning in my life. I want to be become strictly observant but my wife is angry about this and an unwilling participant. She refuses to consult with my rabbi because one time she spoke to him and she felt he wasn’t sensitive to her. The more religious I get the more irreligious she gets. I really do love her, but I don’t want to live a non-observant lifestyle because she won’t consider becoming religious. What do I do? I told her I was writing to you and she agreed to try whatever you’d suggest.
The pressure is on. Of course I am a big fan of a religious lifestyle, but I’m also a fan of a happy marriage and it’s a wonderful moment when spirituality and marital love exist together and help each other. Your question highlights the general issue of how do we change in our personal lives when we are married and expected to keep in step with that relationship.
Any union that’ll make it to the 50-year mark and beyond is going to have significant changes because we will change as people. Those changes are often not the same for both mates so it presents a major challenge to the marital concept of growing together.
You may have to slow down certain changes at this point and give her time to join you on this journey.
The answer lies in a loving spirit of cooperation on both spouses’ parts. First, the spouse who seeks change, wanting to become more religious, has the responsibility to include his spouse in his desire to change. This means that you offer her a say in how to proceed. The fact that she did meet with your mentor and is willing to listen to my suggestion means she isn’t closed to the process but rather, hasn’t found a comfortable way to become a part of it.
Visit different synagogues with her to find one that both of you relate to and she can feel she has a say in the process. You’re desire to lead a more religious lifestyle is admirable but it’ll be a far richer experience with the love of your life along for the ride. Toward that end you may have to slow down certain changes at this point and give her time to join you on this journey so that your couplehood is taking the lead.
This doesn’t mean that you each won’t bring your individual thoughts, feelings and strengths. In fact, each of you will relate to different parts of what religious living offers because you are different people. This is wonderful because you will teach each other things you wouldn’t have related to on your own. But at the core, you will both become closer through the experience and agree with how to proceed.
The second part of cooperation I referred to above is your wife’s job. Too many people discount any changes desired by their spouses claiming that wasn’t the deal when they married. Of course not. How can we stay exactly the same throughout our lifetime?
Others will think they’re wonderful spouses because they tell their spouse to do whatever they want as long as they’re left out of it. This is an ingredient for disaster. What do you think happens when one spouse commits to personal changes and chases his passion without the involvement of his mate? Nothing good, that’s for sure. Either there is a mote of distance that quickly builds or the changed spouse finds someone else who loves these changes and gets on board (or both).
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that a spouse can’t have some personal interests that are untouched by their mate but it does dictate that there shouldn’t be too many and primary passions are best shared.
If you’re child becomes a violinist, you’re going to learn more about Mozart than you ever cared to.
When your spouse feels compelled to discover new things, get in on it from the start. It may not be your choice or something you’d ever think of doing but isn’t that what marriage and life is all about? We develop into a complicated quilt of life experiences that come our way because of the people we love. If you’re child becomes a violinist, you’re going to learn more about Mozart than you ever cared to. Likewise, if your child is hearing impaired, did you ever think you’d be an expert in sign language? The beautiful Yiddish expression, “Man plans and God laughs,” tells us that we’re ever changing and love is the best way to go where you have never gone before.
I hope you and your wife take your responsibilities to each other seriously and search out a new collective way of living your best marriage centered lifestyle.
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