Save this Marriage

One Spouse More Religious

February 24, 2008

SCENARIO: Lisa and Moshe have been married for 15 years. They have 3 children, ages 13, 10 and 8. Lisa has progressively wanted to become more observant of Jewish ritual, while Moshe has no desire to change the way he was brought up (more traditional than observant.) This has caused great tension in the marriage, especially now that the children are growing up and "taking sides" when it comes to religious issues. The parents cannot even decide on taking their problem to a rabbi, as that, itself, will create yet another conflict – which rabbi should they talk to?

RESPONSE: The question of religious observance is, surprisingly, a common problem within even the best of marriages. As people grow and mature, their expectations, interests and perspectives will also take on new and different directions. Based on personality, genetics, home-of-origin environment, social pressures, habit, etc., almost anything can become a source of struggle if a healthy foundation has not been established.

The most important priority and the greatest challenge is to maintain respect and peace in the home. Recognizing that marriage is always a "work in progress" – both partners will need ongoing education, skill building and communication. When there are feelings of loss, frustration, grief and betrayal, they need to be expressed and dealt with. Sometimes it is necessary to seek the guidance of an objective third party who can help keep the couple moving towards "wholeness" rather than division.

In the case of Lisa and Moshe, I counseled the couple to first understand personality differences. Briefly, Lisa is a serious type who has always been drawn to "meaning" and "profundity" in her life. She loves to study and has great satisfaction in internalizing what she learns. She enjoys community life and wants to "fit in."

Moshe, on the other hand, is more easy-going personality. He is very independent, and although he appreciates Judaism as a wholesome way of life, he sees religious observance as sometimes restrictive and stifling. He finds satisfaction in providing for his family and having "fun" – family trips, sports, etc. (A helpful resource is the book, "Awareness," by Miriam Adahan in which nine different personality types are discussed - and how, through appreciating those differences, we can come to greater acceptance, non-judgment, and compassion for ourselves and others).

Secondly, Lisa and Moshe were helped to communicate their feelings about the situation; to hear one another non-defensively, and to give the greatest gift of all in any human relationship – that of just listening. No advice, solutions or analysis at this point. Just listening; letting the other know that you do, indeed, hear what they have to say, that you are interested in their pain.

Once the emotionality surrounding the struggle had been calmed down to a "safer" level, they both expressed a deep affection and commitment to each other and truly wanted the marriage to grow and be strengthened. They were ready to focus on realistic solutions to the challenges which their differences produced.

Lisa understood Moshe's need for greater flexibility in terms of how he wanted to spend time with the children outside school and the home: i.e. taking them to baseball games, camping trips, and giving them music lessons. She also saw how her "unspoken judgments" made him feel uneasy and disrespected, and how her own fear of not "fitting in" created stress for everyone.

With his wife's acknowledgement and support, Moshe, was then able to express appreciation for what he saw as the "healthy structure" of Jewish life – at home, at school, and on Shabbat and holidays. He admitted that he himself was confused: at times wanting greater input, and at times, less involvement, especially when he felt overwhelmed.

Discovering true feelings was actually a surprise and a relief to both husband and wife! Encouraged by these discoveries, they felt it was necessary to talk to the children openly, to reassure them of the family's stability. At a family meeting, they were successful in letting the children know that this family was broad enough to recognize and respect differences, and to focus on incorporating and including, rather than rejecting and excluding. Everyone understood that their "work" together would be an ongoing process – but one which they now welcomed with love, not fear.

No Time Together

February 14, 2008

QUESTION:

My husband works all the time. It really feels as if we spend no time together. I understand that in order for me not to work he has to work harder and longer hours. This was a decision we both made, but I feel so lonely. Is there anything that we can do?

Lonely

Dear Lonely,

There are two points that I would like to share with you. Firstly, it is imperative that you show your husband how much you appreciate how hard he is working for the family. He needs to feel that his efforts are appreciated. When we are engrossed in our own negative thinking, we tend not to see any of the positive that is actually happening. The changes in the relationship will only happen when you are both working towards a positive outcome and not just running away from a negative one. This sincere praise will allow your husband to "hear" point number two without feeling criticized and he will be open to making changes.

Secondly, it does not necessarily take a long time to feel connected to each other. Before you begin changing your schedules, evaluate how much time you really do have together now. Are you using this time to bond and connect? Do you share intimate connections on a daily basis? Do you feel close to each other everyday?

Your marriage has to be your number one priority. Everything else has to flow outward from this inner relationship chamber. We forget that if your marriage is suffering, then you tend to carry that into every other facet of you life: parenting, work, community service and fun. Our busy lives and the urgent appeals on our time push our marriage maintenance further and further down our priority list. We can ignore our spouse's emotional needs for days or sometimes even weeks.

A practical tool for combating this mistake is to schedule your marriage first. On your weekly schedule, make sure that your time together is penciled in at the beginning of the week and then you build the rest of your schedule around these times. These must be the most important appointments of your week. Nothing short of a crisis should interfere with these entries.

Once you have had a few weeks of connecting with the time you already have, begin adding a few more calendar entries. Always praise your husband for his efforts and you will begin to feel much more connected to him in a short period of time. This strategy has been very successful for many, many couples in your situation.

Still Thinking about Former Girlfriend

February 10, 2008

QUESTION:

My wife is a very nice person, and we are basically happy together. Yet even after five years of marriage, I still find myself thinking about my old girlfriend, wondering where she is today, and what life would have been like had I married her instead. When I think about my girlfriend, I feel that maybe we would have had a much more passionate connection than my wife and I share, and that maybe somehow, I missed out, and married the wrong person. I want to be loyal to my wife, but this feeling that I might be married to the wrong woman is tearing me apart.

Confused

Dear Confused,

It must have taken a lot of courage to write this letter, and admit these feelings even to yourself. I respect that decision, because it is important to confront this issue, and not let it fester in the recesses of your heart. In my work as a marital therapist, I frequently hear both men and women voice this type of concern. How do we know that the person we married is truly the right person for us?

My advice is to respect yourself, respect the thought and consideration you put into the decision of who to marry. Respect the relationship that you have built together, which has stood the test of time. It sounds like your relationship with your wife is a successful one, and your attraction to your old girlfriend is a fantasy.

Married life requires a lot of maturity and commitment, and sometimes, a part of us wishes to escape from that reality. At this time, we escape into fantasy. Yet it is important to realize that a fantasy is just a fantasy, and not a window into an alternative and possible reality. Furthermore, if your fantasy is causing you to doubt the worth of your relationship with your wife, it is a dangerous fantasy.

How can you cure yourself of this fantasy? Tell yourself that the girlfriend you remember was not a wife. The excitement that a couple experiences while dating is different than the daily familiarity of marriage.

Then ask yourself, is your fantasy covering up a real issue that needs to be addressed? Is there an area of your marriage that needs to be developed? Is there an area of your personal or professional life that is not living up to your expectations? Where can you find more satisfaction and fulfillment in your real life so you won't need to rely on a fantasy?

The basis of a good marriage is friendship and respect. It sounds like you already share that with your wife. Try to plan some special times together to reconnect, and enjoy each other's company. It's up to you to make sure you don't let a fantasy eat away at your real relationship.

Feeling lonely in your marriage? Constant fighting, arguing and bickering? Money problems keeping your apart? Or is jealousy ruining your intimacy?

Even the best of marriages experience times of trial, while some marriages seem doomed to constant ugly conflict.

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