I view marriage within the context of our modern spiritual world: we don’t currently have our Temple and Torah learning is fantastic but it’s mostly theoretical (without the aforementioned Temple).
Moving from spiritual to physical realities: children are ours for a brief span of time — before we know it they’ll pack up their emotional baggage and move out.
We will all (if we are super-duper-lucky and blessed) be left ALONE with our spouses.
It’s only in this space between us that the Shechina (G-d’s essence) might consider dwelling.
A quorum of men certainly have power, a yeshiva full of young men too, but I doubt there is a greater source or rather, a greater power to actualize G-d’s presence in this world than marital harmony.
That’s truly what we lose if we don’t know how to stay in love with the stranger we bound ourselves to under a wedding canopy, in the presence of witnesses and G-d.
After twenty-two years together I believe my husband and I are truly living with the Shechina.
We’ve had our difficulties; he’s even gone twice to file divorce papers with the beis din in Jerusalem, but we recovered, we moved on and (I think) we are happier and more in love than ever before.
My husband is my closest friend and my most favorite person (after myself) in the world.
Neither of us grew up in homes with peace and harmony between two healthy adults — this is the emotional damage we unconsciously brought with us.
We had two choices: either work on ourselves and our relationship or allow parts of ourselves to shrivel up and die. If my husband and I are able to successfully navigate our childhood wounds then almost everyone else can too.
I’m not speaking for my husband (because it’s rude, not because he disagrees) but in my grateful opinion we arrived at this blessed and sanctified place via hard work and skills learned in an Imago workshop.
In addition to attending the first Imago seminar ever hosted by Mimi and Moshe Dickman, I have the honor to assist with the on-going Imago “B’or HaTorah” (Imago “in light of the Torah”) marital seminars the Dickmans run throughout the year. I’m not a therapist so when I meet participants they often ask, “Who are you?”
After five years I’ve come to think of myself as the “eim bayit” (house mother). During the week preceding a workshop and throughout the three days of the actual seminar I answer questions (sometimes for hours at a time), I listen and reflect, I validate feelings, I fix malfunctioning telephones; I set up dinner and clean up too.
Before the most recent workshop I posted on several e-mailing lists about how the most important things in life require effort: children, Torah, living in Eretz Yisrael and . . . . marriage.
For over five years I have done my best to cajole and inspire other frum Jews to spend 72 hours on their marriage.
It continually amazes me how many never-ending courses women attend on child-rearing, most of their husbands have daily chavruta sessions and all of us expats willingly give up a myriad of simple comforts in order to live in the Holy Land; yet it doesn’t seem (to me) like many people think about developing their marriage for three minutes a day.
People moan and groan; they seem resolved to stay in “less-than” what they dreamed and hoped for but no one seems to consider the possibility of more!
And I’m not talking about having “more” with someone else (that’s fantasy based on avid imaginations fueled by fiction novels and movies); I’m loudly proclaiming: you can have “more” with the person you married.
A 72 hour investment?!?
On one hand 72 hours sounds impossibly small and on the other it sounds impossibly grand.
How does anyone with five to nine children find three whole days to focus on how they met and married?
How does anyone with five to nine children find time to question why socks on the floor cause World War III every week? (Clearly she/he is mentally ill and no one should ever, ever, ever leave socks on the floor OR no one should ever, ever, ever get upset over a few fistfuls of cotton.)
Here’s my favorite fictional explanation of Imago:
(But before I start, it’s important to know that the human brain and body are the most finely developed recording devices ever created. In the midst of highly emotional experiences we record everything — absolutely everything. If birds are singing, that gets recorded in association with any drama. Freesias scent the air? That gets recorded too. I will now demonstrate my skills as an author of fiction.)
A man who hates apple pie will marry a woman who LOVES apple pie. She’s skinny, an exercise freak and bakes with whole wheat/reduced sugar so we can’t accuse her of eating poorly; she simply loves apple pie and must bake it 4-6 times a week. The house perpetually smells of baking apples, crispy crusts and cinnamon.
She and her husband will fight about apple pie for YEARS. Truly — they will fight about APPLE PIE, FOR YEARS!!!!
He will accuse her of being cruel while she will accuse him of being a child.
Anyone married for more than two years can grasp how this scenario applies to most topics: money, socks, money, employment, children, money, intimacy, money, etc.
Ready to call it quits, this young couple (Sally and Bob) find themselves at an Imago seminar. They are introduced to the concept of a “safe place,” and they learn about how we take the best and worst of our formative experiences and hold them before our eyes; filtering almost every single interaction we have with every other human being on the planet.
Finally Sally and Bob sit down to have their first Imago dialogue and Bob starts talking about Apple Pie.
Inwardly Sally groans, “This again?!?” She can’t believe they are going to discuss apple pie, again; APPLE PIE!!! What a waste of this opportunity to save their marriage! But heeding the instructions, Sally suspends her own beliefs, experiences and judgements and she tunes into her husband.
For the first time in ten years she’s listening to Bob and Bob blossoms. He starts talking about things completely unrelated to apple pie: his childhood home, his mother, his grandmother and so on.
In the middle of this “conversation,” (really a strictly structured dialogue) Bob remembers his mother once loved baking APPLE PIE.
Sally feels a little thrill. See!! See!! Her mother-in-law also loved baking apple pie so why can’t Bob just let me bake apple pie too?!? Yet Sally keeps these thoughts to herself and continues to actively listen to what her husband is saying.
Feeling safe and comfortable (for the first time in years) Bob continues to describe how he once felt happy when baking apples and cinnamon filled his childhood home.
Sally is smiling now — she’s thinking, “Finally! I’ll get to bake my apple pie in peace!” But, again, she keeps these thoughts to herself and continues to be fully attentive to Bob’s story.
Suddenly Bob remembers the last time his mother ever baked apple pie. He was fifteen. Within minutes of pulling a fresh pie from the oven, his mother answered the phone and learned her mother died.
Now there’s a ringing silence, both between Sally and Bob and within Sally’s head too.
Bob loved his grandmother. His best friend was his grandmother. Bob once loved apple pie. Bob’s mother just finished baking apple pie when she learned her mother suddenly died.
Bob and his mother have never eaten another apple pie and Bob detests all reminders of baking apples.
At this point I explain to interested couples that Sally and Bob do not ride off into the sunset to live happily-ever-after; rather at this point both Sally and Bob take ownership of their part of the never-ending pie-fight.
Bob comprehends: Sally never baked a pie intending to hurt his feelings. Bob owns that the queasiness and revulsion he feels originate from one of his most traumatic experiences.
Sally comprehends: the smell of apple pie recreates all of the pain Bob felt when he lost his beloved grandmother.
They might continue to fight about apple pie but changes will trickle down, albeit slowly. Sally might bake pie less often and she might consider baking by a neighbor. Bob will KNOW Sally is not maliciously baking pie. Bob will see that apple pie reminds him of his grandmother. Perhaps Bob will finish mourning this loss and baking apples will no longer cause him stress.
From my own experience of learning and implementing Imago skills, there are three all-consuming difficulties: 1. Owning my own experiences and hurts (I entered marriage with faulty programming), 2. Trusting my spouse (he never once woke up and said to himself, “How can I hurt my wife today?”) and 3. Trusting my spouse’s experiences (if he says the sky is purple with fuchsia polka-dots then, in his experience, the sky really is purple with fuchsia polka-dots).
He might accuse me of washing his clothing in mud and I know I didn’t wash his clothing in mud but my job is to validate his reality. I need to suspend my recollection in order to concentrate on his experience.
The act of validating and acknowledging DOES NOT imply I agree with him. It does not mean my perception of reality is false. Rather, listening and reflecting (even empathizing) simply mean I put aside my understanding in order to immerse myself in HIS world, HIS perceptions, and HIS reality. It doesn’t imply I’m wrong and he’s right — it just says I grew up enough to visit Robert in “Robert Land.”