Why do you want to get married? This is a question I have posed to thousands of young men and women over the years who are of marriageable age. The answers I have received have been many and varied.
“I want to have children” said one young woman. “I want to be with someone I love” said another. “I don’t want to grow old alone” said a young man dating the same young lady he had been seeing for three years. “Getting married is an economical choice, I get to save money on my rent and taxes!” Yes, somebody actually said that.
These answers and many others like them are quite honest. Let’s face it though, you don’t need to be married in order to have kids, be in love or have companionship in your old age. And as for saving money, well the bills will only increase once you have kids.
Add to this that marriage for most people is failing. That doesn’t mean it’s not working for everyone, but according to statistics over fifty percent of marriages here in the United States will end in divorce. Of the eighty or so weddings I have performed, I have never had anyone express to me that they expect their marriage to last for a couple of years. We all get married expecting to remain married for a lifetime.
My original question still needs to be answered. Why would anyone get married? Why would you date that guy/girl, until you are convinced he/she is The One, then ruin it all by getting married and moving in together. Why would you begin sharing a bedroom, bathroom sink, family occasions, bills, vacations and pretty much everything else, for the rest of your life? And just when your marriage begins to work out, you introduce a baby into the equation, who costs money, time and all of your sleeping hours for the foreseeable future. Are you nuts?
I want to share with you a new paradigm. One which I tell all the couples I am about to marry, and many more during my classes on dating and marriage. Interestingly, it’s not my idea, the Torah describes the reason for us to get married, and according to many of our sages, list it as the first of the 613 mitzvot.
In the book of Genesis 2:18 we find the following words “And God said: It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him an ezer kenegdo“. I didn’t translate the words ‘ezer kenegdo‘ because they are inherently contradictory and need to be explained. An ‘ezer‘ is a helper, but ‘kenegdo‘ means opposite you, or opposing you. How can you be helping me, if you are opposing me? The answer is that our marriage partners help us, by opposing us, and that’s what we should be looking for in a marriage partner and why we should be getting married; to be with someone who helps us become a better person.
Just as building muscle can only come through lifting a weight with the proper resistance, so too your character can only be improved with emotional opposition against your natural psychological, emotional and even spiritual state. Marriage offers you plenty of resistance!
Maimonides explains: “The reason for all the mitzvot, is to direct us in improving our character traits”. That means whether we are keeping Shabbat, eating matzah, giving charity or shaking a lulav, the mitzvot should be helping us improve our personalities and making us better people. The mitzvah to get married is no exception. The purpose of getting married, is to create an environment whereby you can become a kinder, more generous and loving human being.
What about love, romance, or friendship? They are wonderful and important, but they come to help you reach your goal, they aren’t the reason for it. You want to find someone who will be your life companion. Someone with similar values you can build your family with.
The move from ‘dating’ to ‘marriage’ I have found, can be a very difficult transition for most people. The reason for this, is that dating for most people is a fairly selfish enterprise. We date because we want fun. We go out to have a good time, whether to a good restaurant, bar, movie, walk in the park or whatever. Marriage is the exact opposite, you are expected to turn the ‘I’ into ‘us’ and the ‘me’ into ‘we’. The way most people date today, contradicts everything marriage is about. I’m not saying you should neglect your own needs, but your goal in marriage is to be concerned with your partner first and foremost.
One of the possible reasons for the high divorce rate (I know there are plenty of possible causes) could be that people are dating way longer than they used to. It’s not unusual to see couples dating nowadays for anywhere from one to six years before they finally make it down to the chuppah (if they even do). That’s a long time to be thinking primarily about yourself.
With this view of marriage, maybe the dating experience, which many people are suffering through, can become a little more palatable. You date in order to find someone with good character, (who you are of course attracted to) who brings out the best in you by opposing the parts of your personality, that really need improvement. How long do you really need to date to figure out whether the person you are with can fulfill that? I believe 6-12 months is plenty of time.
Marriage is primarily about self improvement. With this in mind, maybe the divorce rates will decrease as we focus on what’s really important in life, making the best out of ourselves together with the partner we have chosen to spend the rest of our lives with.