I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I think it may go something like this: Just before sending us down to earth, G‑d says to each of us, “I will be giving you joy and challenge in every area of your life. I want you to take advantage of both in order to become the best person you can be.” This is, as far as I can tell, the only logical explanation for why marriage is the way it is. I mean, as much as we like to “fall in love” and enjoy a “happily-ever-after” lifestyle, all of us encounter times of frustration and disappointment in our marital relationships. We don’t like to blame ourselves for this, so we naturally point to our spouse and all of his or her faults and foibles.

Nails on the Chalkboard

Now, it’s no accident that our spouse has these exact faults and foibles. In fact, G‑d makes a very precise calculation, titrating our spouse’s flaws to our unique vulnerabilities. For instance, if we have an intense need for control and orderliness, G‑d will see to it that our spouse turns out to be a free-spirited person who abhors cleaning. Or, if we cannot stand the feeling of deprivation, our spouse may very well be averse to spending a cent on anything other than the bare necessities of life. In all cases, what might seem like a minor personal failing to an outsider will actually be an excruciating thorn in our own side, since our spouse is specifically designed to help us overcome our own intolerances, judgments and other rough edges. It’s truly a match made in heaven. It’s just not exactly what we imagined it would be.

Be Strong and Carry On

Despite the difficulties, the Torah urges us to be strong and carry on with our marriages. The difficulties are all part of the package and are certainly no accident. In rare cases of abuse and addiction, the objective is to do whatever is necessary to actually extricate ourselves from the relationship. However, in most cases, the objective is to change ourselves enough to be able to live comfortably with our spouse. The goal of marriage is not to change our spouse—although we will certainly impact his or her own process of change, for better or worse. Rather, the goal is to learn how to love an imperfect human being, just the way G‑d loves us with all of our own imperfections.

Choose Six

Assuming then, that our spouse must have imperfections, the question is, what will they be? Imagine that G‑d gives us a large shoebox containing dozens of folded slips of papers. Written on each paper is a specific personal failing. We are told that we must close our eyes, reach into the box and pull out at least six of these slips. (G‑d may ask individuals to pull out even more than six.) These are the flaws our spouse will possess. Some of the flaws will present enormous challenges, while some will be comparatively easy for us to deal with. G‑d will guide our hand to pick whatever is right for the development of our soul.

On the lid of the shoebox are the words: “Your spouse will be . . .”

And here is a sampling of what is written on the slips of paper:

  • physically aggressive (throws objects, slams doors, punches walls)
  • violent (pushes, hits)
  • verbally abusive (swears, shouts, insults)
  • controlling and/or intimidating
  • addicted to Internet porn
  • inclined to stare at other women
  • flirtatious with other women
  • guilty of adultery
  • overly attached to his family of origin or his mother
  • a negligent parent (not involved, frequently absent)
  • an abusive parent (overly harsh and punitive)
  • an absent, negligent or inattentive spouse (tends to the kids but not to you)
  • a smoker
  • a gambler
  • an alcoholic
  • a soft-drug addict (needs daily dose of weed)
  • a hard-drug addict (street drugs)
  • a shopaholic (spends more than appropriate)
  • a hoarder
  • a liar and/or dishonest in business or other matters
  • severely mentally ill (e.g. psychotic disorders, bipolar I, severe depression, personality disorders, health-threatening eating disorders)
  • moderately mentally ill (e.g., depression/anxiety disorders, bipolar II, OCD, PTSD, habit disorders)
  • mildly mentally ill (e.g. ADD/ADHD, tic disorders, mild autistic spectrum disorders)
  • critical and/or negative
  • unable to earn a living
  • irresponsible (stays up too late, spends too much, doesn’t do necessary paperwork, etc.)
  • unable to get up in the morning by himself
  • careless with hygiene (doesn’t shower often enough, brush teeth, clean nails, etc.)
  • inconsiderate or selfish
  • a poor dresser or otherwise unattractive (appearance impaired)
  • unromantic
  • too quiet (doesn’t like to talk, share ideas)
  • insensitive (doesn’t understand, fails to listen, not empathic)
  • uninterested in the things you are interested in
  • unaffectionate physically (not the cuddly type)
  • unaffectionate verbally (doesn’t convey affection in writing or speech)
  • unaffectionate in action (short on gifts and/or thoughtful acts)
  • forgetful, unreliable (doesn’t carry through on commitments or promises, is often late)
  • careless, accident-prone and/or impulsive (makes poor decisions)
  • not as great a parent as you are
  • uncouth (chews loudly or makes other unpleasant noises)
  • not social enough (doesn’t like to go out with people or have guests)
  • a homebody (doesn’t want to go on vacations)
  • boring
  • immature or socially inappropriate (makes inappropriate comments, awkward, etc.)

This is not a comprehensive list of possible flaws, but there are enough to give you an idea about what is out there. Think about your spouse for a moment and look at this list again. Which slips of paper did you pick out of that box? Keep in mind that everyone must pick a minimum of six papers from the box—everyone is living with a flawed human being. You will notice that some people get dealt a difficult hand and others get off relatively easy. How would you describe your own situation? Keep in mind, too, that everyone must struggle to cope well with the hand they are dealt. Some people will have to learn how to set boundaries (including the act of divorcing when necessary), while others may have to give up trying to control another person or being so intolerant. Either way, there will be challenge and, hopefully, change—for that is the purpose of the struggle.

And fortunately, there is also another shoebox with another set of papers for us to choose from—the list of blessings that our spouse will bring into our lives: “Your spouse will be . . . funny, caring, thoughtful, helpful, generous . . .” And, of course, your spouse also dipped into the shoeboxes to pull out the mixture that is you. What did your spouse get?