Dear Tzippora,

My husband and I were Shabbat guests in the home of a couple who are both teachers in our community, and who are known for their hospitality. Being guests in their home was a special experience, and we both enjoyed ourselves very much. Therefore we were astonished to learn several weeks later that this special couple had decided to get a divorce. We are still in shock over the news, and can't reconcile the warm and friendly atmosphere we experienced in their home with a couple on the verge of divorce. Please help us to understand how this could happen.

Heartbroken Outsiders

Dear Heartbroken Outsiders,

It is always painful to learn that friends have decided to get a divorce. It is painful to watch a home be dismantled. In fact the Talmud says that when a couple gets divorced, the altar itself weeps. A marriage deserves to be given every possible chance to be saved before it is discarded.

However, your story illuminates an important point. The illusion of a stable home is not the same thing as the reality of a stable home, and it sounds like you witnessed a finely crafted illusion. It is possible that the warm atmosphere you witnessed only existed when guests were present.

True kindness begins at home, and our marriage partner is the person most worthy of our attention. Therefore it is appropriate that our spouse should receive the lion's share of our kindness and benevolent acts. For instance, many people wouldn't dream of saying no to a friend who asks for a favor. Yet the same request by a spouse might be met with an open refusal or a grudging agreement, such as, "You always get me to do your errands. Why can't you do these things for yourself?!"

It is important to realize that family comes first. If we would do that favor for a friend, we should be willing to do the same action for the sake of our spouse. Everyday, we should try to show our spouse in some small way how much they mean to us. A kind word, a small note, a mid-day phone call, a favorite treat picked up from the shop. It doesn't take a lot of time or money to let them know that we have been thinking about them, and that our relationship matters.

People who become involved in community activism sometimes lose sight of this essential point. Perhaps this explanation may help you understand the disparity you witnessed.

It is necessary for those heavily involved in communal work to be extra careful to reserve time for their families to bond. For instance, many families who are known for their hospitality nevertheless choose to reserve one meal for their family members alone.

If you feel close enough to your hosts to say something, it would be appropriate to consider sharing with them the special feeling you experienced in their home, and encouraging them to explore every means of preserving the bond capable of creating such a special atmosphere. I would assume that a couple capable of creating such a warm atmosphere for guests in their home, could learn with guidance how to create a special atmosphere for themselves as well.

I am a big advocate for marriage, and I believe that most marriages can be saved if a couple is sufficiently motivated to address their marital issues in therapy. The Jewish religion has always recognized the option of divorce, but only as a last resort.