Time to Change the Sheets: Rethinking Marital Education

A young religious couple just got married. Mazal Tov!

As students in high school they were taught that by getting married they are adding another stone to the complete building of the people of Israel. Their relationship is not private. It is national.

Whether they get married at a young age (early 20s) or what is considered “old” in religious circles (mid-30s), religious couples face the same dilemmas after the wedding. Two different people come together to create one home. Each comes from different families and backgrounds which creates a gap between them. Into this gap falls all their dreams and hopes, fears and expectations. It contains their religious beliefs, customs and how they identify themselves on the spectrum of religious identity. It is the point of divergence between habits they each learned at home such as: From where do you squeeze the toothpaste? How often do you change the sheets?

As if this is not enough, they are a man and a woman with different communication styles. Add to this the stress before their private intimate moments, and society’s expectation that they should start raising a family almost immediately.

The Torah tells us in Bereshit that a couple becomes one flesh. But nobody teaches them how to unite their two voices in a way that preserves their individuality within their relationship.

As a woman and a marriage counselor, I have encountered many couples in a relationship in which the male voice is much more dominant than the female voice. This happens even in a generation as modern as ours which has an awareness of feminism.

When looking at these couples, one must always remember, that marriage means a totally new creation, taking both voices and crafting a new voice. This is what being a couple is all about. It is a relationship. It is a partnership.

Many couples experience hardship from the beginning, while trying to overcome the gap between their voices. Some of them think that the relationship was supposed to be born naturally, intuitively. If they love each other, it will all work out. But it does not always work this way.

The guidance given to Jewish brides and grooms before their wedding, is not enough. It focuses mainly on halakha (Jewish law) and only sometimes on gender differences in communication styles. It doesn’t guide them in how to build a marriage, a relationship. It doesn’t focus on questions such as: Why do you need a life partner? What do you expect from your life partner? How can you argue with each other and still be happy and in love at the end of the day?

We don’t teach young people to ask these questions, and they usually won’t ask them. But we, as Modern Orthodox Jews, who aspire for balance between tradition and modern life, owe it to our youth to consider how to improve marital education in our communities and schools. At Kolech, we are working to raise awareness and improve education about this important issue.

So it’s time to talk about it all. About partnership and marriage, family and children, as a religious couple living in the modern world. I will be giving a TED talk on this subject at Jerusalem’s First Station, this Wednesday, April 6 at 20:00. Hope to see you there.

About the Author
Keren is the coordinator of the Women's Leadership Center at Kolech, the Orthodox Feminist organization. She is a certified marriage counselor, focusing on marriage relationship education and a member of the Advot group: "Women talking about the mikveh."
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