One day, when I was walking down the street with one of my teachers, we were approached by a young couple. The wife said to my teacher, “Isn’t it true that stirring the soup while it’s on the stove would violate the Sabbath? Tell my husband—he doesn’t know!”

My teacher looked thoughtful for a minute and said, “I’ll have to look it up and get back to you.” The couple went on.

Then, noticing my puzzled expression, my teacher explained, “You’re surprised at my answer, because the wife’s question was such a simple one. You and I both know that she was correct. But for me to have known the answer without so much as a glance at the Code of Jewish Law would have made her husband appear foolish.”

My teacher had wisely chosen to allow himself to appear foolish, rather than diminish a husband in his wife’s eyes. Why? Because marriage is sacred. To do anything that diminishes it, discourages it or dulls it is wrong. To say something discouraging or disparaging about a husband to a wife, about a wife to a husband, is an unpardonable sin.

Marriage is a holy institution, as holy as a congregation at prayer. Because of this, husband and wife are capable of a unique and wondrous unity.

If we walk into a room where people are praying, we acknowledge that something holy is taking place. We wait in reverence, careful not to distract them from their prayers. We should feel a similar reverence in the presence of a husband and wife. Acknowledging the sanctity of marriage, we should be careful not to distract them from each other, or in any way dampen their enthusiasm for each other.

One of the more serious sins—on a par with idol worship and blasphemy—is the sin of discouraging another person from his or her relationship with G‑d (Deut. 13:7–19; Talmud, Ethics of the Fathers 5:18). One who attempts to dampen another’s enthusiasm for G‑d is deserving of the worst punishment. We’re not supposed to have compassion for this person, or go out of our way to find extenuating circumstances, as we would do in the case of any other sin.

Likewise, we’re not allowed to disparage other people before G‑d, even while disparaging ourselves. One of the prophets, in an attempt to humble himself before G‑d, said, “How can I be worthy of prophecy when I am unclean of lips, and I live among a people who are unclean of lips,” a reference to his fellow Jews. G‑d chastised him, saying, “You may call yourself unclean, but don’t you dare say that about My children” (Isa. 6:5–7).

This is because our relationship with G‑d is like a marriage. To come to a wife and say derogatory things about her husband is unconscionable; by the same token, to come to the husband and say nasty things about his wife is intolerable. But, unknowingly, we often find ourselves doing just that.

At a party or family gathering, for example, we may be so charming and witty that everyone else pales by comparison. In this way, although it is unintentional, we may make a husband look bad in the presence of his wife, or make a wife look bad in the presence of her husband. We must be aware of this possibility.

One of the holiest acts is to bring peace between a husband and wife. This doesn’t mean that if the husband and wife are fighting, we ought to referee the fight. That would bring a ceasefire, but it wouldn’t bring peace.

Bringing peace to a husband and wife means that on every occasion, whenever we have the chance, we should enhance the husband’s opinion of his wife and the wife’s opinion of her husband. Help the husband appreciate his wife, and the wife respect her husband—before there’s a problem, as my teacher did. That helps to prevent the problem. That’s what is meant by promoting peace, not a ceasefire between husband and wife.

Since marriage is a holy institution, that holiness has to be treated with the respect it deserves. The way to do that is by helping one appreciate the other, certainly not by criticizing one to the other.

How should you react when someone criticizes your spouse? You’re not supposed to be objective. We used to hear people say, “Well, what do you expect? She’s his wife, so he’ll never see anything wrong with her.” That’s the way you’re supposed to be.

A wife shouldn’t have to be superwoman for her husband to feel loyal to her, and a husband shouldn’t have to be superman for his wife to feel loyal to him. Loyalty comes from the fact that you realize that this other person is so central to your life that it is this relationship that gives your life meaning.

When you find yourselves on opposite sides of the fence because one of you made a mistake, that’s disloyalty. It’s like getting divorced. Suddenly, you aren’t married anymore; you’re wishing you were outside the marriage. This often occurs in ways that are subtle, but real and serious.

For example, before getting married, he brings her home for his mother’s approval, which is as it should be. But long after they’re married, he still needs his mother to approve of his wife.

Every time they go to his parents’ house, although they arrive as a couple, he soon becomes his mother’s son. His wife gets the feeling that she has once again become a stranger to him. This is especially true if his mother is actually critical of his wife.

Against your spouse, the outsider is never right. If your husband’s boss is telling him that he’s no good, then the boss is wrong. Always. Against anybody else, whether it’s at home or outside the home, you have to be loyal to your spouse.

But too often, that isn’t the case. A man goes out to work but tells his wife not to call him because it bothers him. Is that being loyal? Is that being the man in her life? No, that’s being the man in her evenings—if he gets home from work before she goes to bed. When he does go out with her, if she doesn’t look the way he wants her to look, he pretends he doesn’t know her. He spends his time talking to other people, and forgets that he’s with her.

While they’re at a party, he knocks over the drinks, messing up the tablecloth and himself. His wife makes a face, turns to the person next to her, and says, “He’s such a klutz.” The person sitting next to her is a stranger; the person with the wet shirt is her husband. Yet she turns from him to this stranger, and says, “He’s such a klutz.” She has cut herself off from him emotionally, severed her relationship, and—for the moment—divorced herself from him.

Then the two of them go to a marriage counselor, and the husband says, “Can you figure her out?” He’s saying to the therapist, “You and I—we’re smart; we’re okay. Let’s figure her out.” He’s not on her side; he wants to be on the therapist’s side. It’s easy to understand why the two of them are having problems. Because he doesn’t identify with her, and she doesn’t identify with him.

Once a child was sitting at the window, looking out wistfully. His father passed by and said, “You know, if you’re going to be wistful, it’s better to be on the outside looking in than on the inside looking out.”

That’s the way we ought to feel about our marriages. Given a choice, it’s better to be unmarried but thinking, “I wish I was,” than to be inside a marriage feeling like an outsider. All too often, people who are married to one another feel like outsiders. At the slightest provocation, and for the silliest reason, they step out of the relationship. It’s a terrible thing to do, but we all do it, and for the silliest reasons.

For example, a husband and wife go shopping and arrive at the cash register with their purchases. The clerk, whom they don’t know, says, “That’ll be seventeen dollars.” The wife then takes out a ten-dollar bill and puts it down. The clerk repeats, “It’s seventeen dollars.” The wife says, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said seven.” Then the husband looks at the clerk, shakes his head in exasperation, and says, “She does this all the time.”

As soon as something feels slightly uncomfortable, the husband backs out of his relationship with his wife, as if she’s the stranger. He sides with anyone who happens to be there, even if it’s just the clerk behind the counter. This is someone he never met before and might never see again, yet he wants to be on the clerk’s side, against his wife. That’s disloyalty; that’s stepping out of the relationship.

A carload of seminary students was driving from New York to Boston to attend a wedding when their car was struck by a truck. The gas tank ignited and the station wagon, with the nine boys in it, went up in flames. Miraculously, they were left with nothing worse than a few scars. When their teacher in New York learned of the accident, and of the boys’ survival, he reported the news to the dean of the seminary.

The dean asked, “Who gave them permission to go?” Without batting an eyelash, the teacher said, “I did.”

It wasn’t true. He had not given them permission. He had, in fact, told them not to go. But his devotion and commitment to his students was such that he instinctively defended them, even though it meant being chastised himself. That’s being loyal; that’s being inside a relationship.

You need that kind of reflex in marriage. Once you come out from under that marriage canopy, the world should be forever different. Never again can you take an outsider’s perspective.

The fairytales and storybooks that begin, “Once upon a time,” always end, “and they lived happily ever after.” Why did they live happily ever after? Didn’t they have arguments? Didn’t they have bills to pay? Didn’t they have uncooperative children? Of course they did. But “once upon a time” they were loyal to each other.

“Happily ever after” means that two people find wholeness in each other. The loyalty they feel for one another comes from the fact that, primarily, they exist for each other.

According to Jewish mysticism, Adam and Eve were once one person. G‑d divided them, and turned each half into a separate person. Therefore a man goes searching for a wife, and a woman goes searching for a husband. If we lose something we once had, we search for it.

Alone, each one of us feels like only half a being. That’s why we are so uncomfortable being alone. The feeling of halfness begins as soon as a child is born, when the umbilical cord is severed. As long as a child is attached to the cord, its mother is the other half.

When adolescents begin to separate from their parents, the sensation of halfness becomes intense. Adolescent infatuations don’t come from a need to be popular, but from a more basic need: a need to feel whole. Being half is so unpleasant that any promise of wholeness, any interest from another “half,” is irresistible—sometimes more irresistible than an adolescent can handle.

Each of us needs to experience the pain of halfness in order to get married. Without feeling our own halfness, we aren’t able to let someone else into our lives. We need to feel that we really are half and not whole; and that by remaining alone, we’ll never be whole.

Experiencing our own halfness, tasting it and admitting it, prepares us for marriage. When we are married to another person, we no longer feel like a half; without marriage, the feeling of halfness would be intolerable for most people.

Mrs. Anatoly Sharansky traveled around the world for nine years trying to secure the release of her husband from a Russian prison. During all that time, she was Mrs. Sharansky.

You could say, “He was arrested right after the wedding. All they had was a ceremony. They didn’t even get to know each other as husband and wife. Was there ever a Mrs. Sharansky? There may have been a wedding, but there really wasn’t much of a marriage. So nine years later, why is she still calling herself Mrs. Sharansky?

“What made her so devoted to this man in Russia? Just because, nine years earlier, they stood before an official who performed their wedding ceremony?”

She was devoted because he was her husband, she was his wife, and their marriage was sacred. She was loyal to him because nine years earlier, she ceased being half a being; she was a whole being, and her other half, her husband, was now in jail.

So what does “happily ever after” really mean? It means that you never step out of the relationship and look into the marriage, at your wife or your husband, like an outsider. It means that you accept that this person is your purpose in life, and that it’s a sacred responsibility to make him or her happy. If your husband or wife happens to have a problem, and you have to take care of that problem, that’s not an interference in your life. That is your life. He is your life. She is your life.

If the two of you wholeheartedly believe that this is what your lives are all about, and acknowledge the sanctity of your marriage, the result will be loyalty and reverence to one another. That doesn’t mean there won’t be problems. But when a marriage accomplishes what it’s supposed to accomplish, the half becomes a sacred whole. A sacred whole, a unique and wondrous unity, can take care of problems. That’s when it’s “happily ever after.”