What makes a great marriage?
Forget it, I am not about to tell you all the psychological secrets, answers, insight and research that professionals have access to teach people what helps make a marriage strong and vital. I am not going to tell you about how choosing a good mate and learning to communicate and listen better and to argue fairly all contribute to satisfaction with a spouse. I am certainly not going to tell you, as Rabbi Shmuly does, that religious sex rules like keeping away from your wife for about two weeks every month helps keep the passion strong.
Well, sure, some of these do help, even help a lot. I also won’t tell you that having a strong sense of shared purpose, not necessarily specific goals, and a desire to do things to make your partner happy are all essential. Nor will I tell you about the importance of developing a family narrative that you can share with your children, when they come, will enshroud your marriage in a protective coating. Nor will I tell you how having your own hobbies and interests helps you to share new ideas with your spouse.
What I do want to tell you about is something I only recently attended to. This could be perhaps one of the strongest initial bonding steps a newly married couple could take with one another and something many take for granted. Let me start with an observation. At several of the weddings I attended recently the couple standing underneath the chuppah were so far apart you could drive an 18 wheeler between them. They stood and acted like they were complete strangers. Not only that, they appeared frightened of one another. On the recessional following the ceremony they were danced out together but still stood far apart. At least they were smiling – not at one another – just smiling. This observation was true not just for Yeshivish affairs but also at some Modern Orthodox ones. The couple, following a few minutes in the Yichud room head out for pictures and still stand so far apart that they seem to be recreating the animosity of the Montague’s and the Capulet’s. If it were not for the magic of computer graphics that allow the photographer to bring the couple closer together after the pictures are taken you might believe that they have no desire to share any physical space. A total lack of desire, or is it fear of, intimacy. This seems to be a new trend – distance from your spouse. Perhaps it is a new shidduch rule or some misinterpretation of a tzniut boundary. Whatever it is though makes little sense.
Remember how the Beatle’s broke into the worldwide music scene. One of their very first Number one tunes (the first in America) was a simple repetitive song about holding hands. One of the stanzas of I Want to Hold Your Hand said in part – “And when I touch you I feel happy inside”. That line may have been prophetic or simply very astute. Research shows that other than kissing the most intimate thing two people can do is to hold hands. Handholding offers comfort, protection and a sense of affection. It also offers a sense of love and connectedness and not just for those holding hands but for others, family members and friends who are aware of it.
I was a bit disturbed to see handholding fading from the wedding ceremony that is until I recalled being at a wedding where a very well-known Rosh Yeshiva held hands with his wife. I asked about that and was told that even though the men sit apart from the women at these functions when the time to leave arrives the Rosh Yeshiva goes to the women’s side, gets his wife, holds her hand and they wish mazel tov to the bride and groom and depart all the while holding each other’s hands. It is an apparent statement on the part of this Rav and his wife of the importance of their connection, the sanctity of the relationship and the importance of teaching his students to be there for their spouses.
I was also informed that at Satmar weddings the couple immediately upon completion of the ceremony are instructed to hold hands! Building a connection and showing affection is not a sin but a part of being human.
There is some hope that in the name of tzniut, modesty and Halachic over interpretation we do not deliberately force all sense of warmth and humanity from our lives. So, husbands and wives Hold Hands (at the right time) and start creating a great marriage.