The statistics today on the rate of divorce are staggering. But instead of trying to explain why this is so, let us try to give some advice as to how to prevent the termination of a marriage. I will attempt to share the advice that I have been giving couples for many years that seems to be helpful in maintaining a strong healthy relationship.
Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twersky, who is both a rabbi and psychiatrist believes that a prerequisite to this sacred union is common goals shared by both partners. This will give couples the endurance to help one another through the difficult periods they might be faced with. If the relationship is simply based on each partner having something that the other partner needs, when that something is no longer there, the marriage will fall apart. However, if the cement is shared goals, they will overcome and manage to stay together.
Once the common goals are established, there are three other points that need to be emphasized from the outset. The couple needs to clarify their religious position before the marriage. There should be a great deal of discussion and understanding that they are on the same page in terms of religious observance. If one partner is more extreme than the other, it will create problems later.
A second prerequisite is the absolute determination to do everything possible to make this marriage work. Once the decision is made to marry, there is no more turning back and regretting the one that got away. This may be the most valuable bit of marriage advice of all. Years ago, an American student of mine married an Ethiopian girl and was given this advice. Four years later I bumped into this student who thanked me for “the best advice ever”. It carried him through the adjustment period of getting used to someone of a totally different culture.
And the third prerequisite is to learn to change attitudes regarding intimacy. If a young couple follows the laws of Family Purity meticulously with no physical contact until after Mikva (ritual bath) immersion, their union is blessed by G-d and is holy. This change of attitude is essential so that the woman not feel like an object. It also allows the couple other ways to express their affection for one another.
If the marriage is entered into with this knowledge, the couple is starting their lives together on the right foot. They are, in essence, making a declaration of their desire to make this union special. They will be able to start with communication and determination, and they will allow holiness to enter their home.
Once married, there are numerous tips for keeping the relationship strong. Every couple can use some help and guidance regardless of the number of years they are married. A couple should believe that things can continue to get better if the desire is there. Having a mutually acceptable mentor to go to when there are disagreements, can prove invaluable. This is far superior to where one spouse tries to force his will on the other spouse. If they agree to take advice from this mentor, rather than quarrel, it will avoid a great deal of grief.
Another important point is the subject of anger. It is pointless and futile to ever try to reason with someone when they are visibly upset. Anything said at this point, will be counterproductive. The best thing to do is remain silent rather than respond, even if an insult was given or any other inappropriate speech. Wait for a few days when both sides are calm and there is a much better chance that things can be resolved amicably. An apology for bad behavior is much more likely to come in this scenario.
Criticism can be very damaging to a relationship. If one spouse speaks in a degrading and insulting tone, it cannot possibly bring positive results. In Chassidic teachings, there is a term called, “VATRANUT”, which means learning how to give in and compromise for the sake of peace. VATRANUT would apply when a spouse learns to give his partner the benefit of the doubt. VATRANUT also implies that one has faith in his spouse that they will come around and realize on their own that they haven’t been being nice. NEVER should one spouse raise his voice in disapproval of the other spouse. This, too, is VATRANUT.
Still another important piece of advice is that couples should try and designate a few hours a week that they spend alone together. Whether it’s going out for a walk or having a bite to eat, this special time tells each spouse that they are important to one another. It gives them a chance to talk and communicate with one another. A breakdown in communication is what creates distance between a couple.
The final piece of advice comes from John Grey and his book, Men are from Mars. Women are from Venus. Men and women have different needs. A woman feels secure in a relationship when she feels that her feelings matter. She will feel this way when her husband learns to put her first and really tries to be in touch with her feelings. The husband needs validation and appreciation for his efforts in the marriage. John Grey simply says that men want solutions and women want understanding. Ninety per cent of the arguments that I have tried to settle all come down to this point.
Obviously, in one article not all of the marital problems will be solved. However, it would do everyone good to take this advice to heart. It makes no difference how long one is married. These points are tested and are primarily based on the teachings of our sages. And who wouldn’t want to improve his relationship and strengthen his bond in the holy institution of marriage!