I just had the most wonderful evening the other day. Five couples got together for dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It was so much fun connecting with some friends I have not seen for a while. What I noticed is that collectively we have been married for over 180 years!!! Yes! Some of us only married for 22 years and others for over 46 years. Can you imagine that? As my husband tells me, “You have been married to me 2/3 of your life!” So, naturally it got me thinking what makes some marriages last and others to break down. Not only that, but in the last month I have spoken with several people, men and women, who told me that their marriage is “on the rocks.” My heart ached for them and I hugged them and tried to give them my support for the daily struggles they are going through…so—back to my million-dollar question—what keeps a marriage happy and strong?
It’s not even yet the month of Elul, but I am deep in reflection and in action. And I came up with a few ideas that are connected to my Jewish identity, values and thoughts that are instilled in me because of my background. And naturally, I am happy to share it with you!
- When I got married, I attended a synagogue that has a Jewish phrase right by the ark in which the Torah is placed. The phrase is, ”Know before whom you stand.” When I saw this phrase for the first time, I was a newlywed and it made an impression on me. Knowing before whom we stand, knowing God, invites us to ponder, knowing who we are דע את עצמך, know yourself! I think when we begin a life with a partner, we also need to continue to get to know ourselves. And that means to really really know ourselves. If we don’t, how would we expect our partner to know us, to know our desires, to know our wishes? It is easy to put the blame on others…but do we have a part in it??
- “Love your neighbor as yourself”. ואהבת לרעך כמוך. I want us to focus for a second on the second part. As yourself. The basic requirement, the way I view it, is: in order to be in a good and healthy relationship, we’ve got a love ourselves first! I don’t mean it in a narcissistic way, but I do mean it with truly deep intention. Loving ourselves does not mean that everything we do is amazing, or, for that matter, right. We can and will make mistakes; we are human being living and functioning in this universe with other beings! By loving ourselves, we value ourselves. We believe we should have a seat at the table. At the same time, we believe that our partners have a seat at the table.
- “If I’m not for myself, who will be for me.” אם אין אני לי מי לי? Ultimately, it is up to you, up to each one of us to take care of ourselves. We can’t and shouldn’t expect other people to make us happy, to make us loved. Only we have the power to internalize this feeling. This power belongs only in our court. Our strength as well as challenge is to convey that feeling and that sense of security in a relationship. I believe a good marriage brings out the love and acceptance so both partners feel loved. And when both feel loved, it is so much easier to give love. That is where heaven meets earth- the feeling of giving and receiving, of acceptance and harmony, of love and forgiveness, going back and forth between the couple.
So, as I sat and dined with my friends and remembered other friends who are going through the pain of separation, I ask and beg for myself to never lose a sight of who I am, my wishes, wants and desires, and also understanding that my partners needs that as well. I cried with my friends who are not sure about the future of their marriage. I cried with them, and for them; For lost time, for a missed opportunity to put their own stake in the ground and be able to say “this is me, this relationship if for me, after all — the world was created for me.“
But that is the ultimate journey of life. To be able to see where we veered off, to correct course, and to move forward. And moving forward kadima קדימה always mean to take what was ancient קדום kadum with you. Remembering what brought us to a tough situation, learn from it, and grow from it and with it.
May we all have a clearer path ahead.