The statistics speak for themselves: relationships in America are in trouble and as a society we are experiencing more divorce and dysfunction than ever before.

The good news is that most marriages can work. Often all they need is a little guidance and direction, and when necessary, a bit of emotional first aid.

Take Yossi, 25, and Deborah, 22, a young couple who came to talk with me about their fears of marriage and their inability to build a meaningful relationship. When they first walked into my office I was struck by how well they appeared – at least on the outside. They were in the prime of their lives: well dressed, soft spoken and well educated. Yossi was a systems analyst for a software company, and Deborah was a graduate student who had just started her first year in a master's degree program in psychology.

Yossi, it turned out, was having difficulty deciding whether to get married and when. Deborah was scared that Yossi couldn't make up his mind and that he was unable to commit to a stable relationship.

Yossi had other concerns about marrying Deborah. He was uneasy about the negative vibes he was receiving from what he described as Deborah's "well-to-do" family. He was sensing that they would be unwilling to support the two of them while Deborah was still in graduate school, and he was worried that he couldn't carry the financial burden alone.

Yossi and Deborah were unsure of their future and didn't know if this was going to be a successful marriage. Like other young couples, they wanted to know if there was some kind of "crystal ball" that I could gaze into to tell them if their marriage would work. I told them that I wasn't a magician, but I could offer them some sound advice about relationships. I explained that the key to marriage is something that has been known from time immemorial. In fact, it is so simple and profound that most couples (barring serious emotional illness or domestic abuse) could utilize it to greatly enhance their chances of staying happily married.

No doubt, Yossi and Deborah would be challenged by financial concerns, work-related stress, childrearing, and difficult in-law relationships. Amidst the ups and downs of everything waiting for them — happy or disappointing moments, quality times enjoyed together or stressful late nights at work, watching their children take their first steps or struggling at school— the "secret," that could hold their marriage together and bring them the most happiness and stability in their lives, would be to focus on the primal importance of their relationship.

I call this simple yet revolutionary idea Relationship Theory, which states that for a marriage to work, both husband and wife need to make their relationship the main goal of their lives.

Another way of stating this is:


Where, Happiness (H) is directly proportional to the Quality of Relationship (QR) one develops with one's spouse. The more that a couple works on deepening both the quality and quantity of their relationship, the greater likelihood they have for success.

A quality relationship allows two people to feel that they are appreciated by one another; that someone else exists in the lives who will listen to their pain without being judgmental; that there is someone whom they can rely upon in times of need; that life doesn't have to be lived alone, it can be lived in company with someone who loves and cares about them.

Above all, a good relationship allows a person to bond with another human being and experience the benefits of emotional closeness and companionship.

The idea of focusing on the relationship is based upon timeless Torah principles. In Shir HaShirim, The Song of Songs, King Solomon alludes to relationship-centered love at least seven times. By studying these terms we see how the Torah describes a complete love relationship. The seven terms are:

1. kalosi – my bride

2. achosi - my sister

3. rayosi - my friend

4. yonosi –my dove

5. tomosi - my perfection

6. yafosi - my beauty

7. dodi - my beloved

"My bride" clearly connotes the male/female role aspect of marriage, as well as the romantic and even physical side—all of which are basic to marriage.

"My sister" connotes a close, deep familial bond that is free from the confusion that may arise out of the emotions of the romantic level. The bond is that of your flesh and blood. It provides the unconditional, non-physical and constant element of love-relationship that a romantic-only relationship lacks, which the family relationship has.

"My friend" implies that a spouse should first and foremost be viewed as a friend. We know that with friends we strive to treat them in a kind manner and are always careful to avoid insulting them or belittling them in any way. We also maintain a healthy amount of respect and never overstep boundaries. Of course there are different dimensions of marriage that go far beyond friendship, but friendship enables a deeper and more intimate relationship to emerge.

"My dove" - the dove is a member of the animal kingdom that chooses one mate and remains loyal to that mate for a lifetime. The use of the term "dove" in Shir HaShirim teaches us that our commitment to our spouse should be for a lifetime—with this same person, with each loyal to the other. The Midrash says that the dove turns its head to look back at its nest longingly when it flies away from the nest. This teaches us that the dove knows that its support, its strength and the center of its life is the nest that it shares with its mate. Likewise, one's home and mate are the support, strength and center of one's life.

"My perfection" We know no one who is pure and faultless. Be we can accept our spouse and be satisfied as if the person is pure and perfect—by accepting faults, hang-ups, shortcomings, quirks and habits; and by appreciating wholeheartedly the qualities, attributes and strengths that make your mate special, precious, beautiful and unique. This is as if to say, "With all your faults, I love you no less than if you would be perfect."

"My beauty" One must be attracted to one's mate. Your mate should be one or more of: beautiful, handsome, adorable, pretty, pleasant, cute, appealing, your eyes.

"My beloved" There must be endearment for there to be a bond. Your mate should be heartwarming to you. Through endearment, the couple has the love and affection that brings them to true oneness for a lifetime. The essence of building this is through each giving for the good and happiness of the other.

Out of all these levels alluded to in the Torah, I believe that focusing on "rayosi" or friendship is the first line of emotional first aid and healing.

That's why when couples like Yossi and Deborah come to speak with me about their fears of marriage, I begin by asking them if they are willing to make their relationship a priority in their lives. If they don't make it the number one priority, then it's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for them to succeed.