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.