Dear Rachel,

The man I am thinking of marrying can be very sweet and kind. But just when we are getting along well, he suddenly changes. No matter what happens in his life, he starts saying that I am doing something to him. He stops talking to me for a few days then becomes very kind again. When I asked him what happened, he always has a good reason like stress on the job or other things. I don't like the way it makes me feel at all. I never know how I am going to be treated although he has been very kind other times.

My parents say he is successful and would make a good husband. I am having doubts. I think they are thinking about money. While I like him when he is kind, I don't like him when he blames me for something that I have never done. My parents say this is "normal" but I am not sure. What should I do?


Dear Y.M.,

I think it is a sign of strength and emotional maturity to be asking the question that you are asking. Although painful and difficult, this is a decision that requires deep thought and clarity before you proceed. You should be lauded for taking the time now to sort your feelings out, before the wedding.

Jewish marriage is the binding of two souls. When our soul was “born” as it were, it was whole and complete, and then G‑d made a split. He created two halves from this whole, and the work of marriage is the reunion of these two halves. Finding our soul mate, the one who completes us, is a colossal endeavor. It is one that is often characterized by doubt. Doubt, in all its heaviness and confusion, can be a driving force for achieving true clarity and peace… it can actually help you to make good decisions.

When we marry we must know that we are marrying what we see, but we are also marrying what we don't see. It is obvious that one cannot understand and know the totality of a person before marriage, but there is quite a bit we can learn from what we do see. You have described a pattern of behavior that is cause for concern.

It is important to understand that during the courting period, before marriage, a man (and woman) is on his best behavior; he wants to marry the girl. So, he should be showing you the best he’s got; he should be trying to impress you, and prove that he is worthy of you. The behavior that you describe, and of equal importance, your feelings about his behavior, seems to imply a lack of harmony between who he is and who he wants you to see him as. I would strongly encourage you to speak openly with him about your concerns.

If in fact he is really “stressed out form work,” how will he behave when more stressful situations arise? For example, work pressure combined with the birth of a new baby and in-laws coming to visit. There are no shortages of stressful situations that arise in our daily lives; the question is how do we handle the pressure? You have expressed doubt and discomfort with his coping mechanisms. I think that this situation is begging for deeper exploration.

Being stressed out, having a bad day, something going wrong, is never an excuse for mistreating another. If he is acting out during the courting period, I think you should be very concerned about how he will treat you and children when he no longer needs to impress anyone and it is behind closed doors. It appears that you are being given a glimpse into a behavioral pattern that is not healthy and something that needs to be seriously worked on.

In traditional Jewish dating, there is a tremendous amount of background checking that happens, prior to even the first date. Seemingly invasive and extremely personal questions are asked, like for example, “do you take any medications,” “is there a history of disease in the family.”

References are given so that the potential suitor can have a wide range of input and perspective from a variety of sources; rabbis, teachers, friends, colleagues. This is all done to protect both parties from unnecessary emotional pain. I think it would be wise, if you have not done so already to speak with some of his peers about their impression of his moods, maybe there is a pattern or maybe this behavior is new.

Please understand that this is not spying, or even inappropriate, you are on the verge of one of the biggest decisions in your life – you deserve to know quite a bit about your husband. The unknowns such as what he will look like when he is holding a new baby, or how will he teach your child to ride a bike – those things will remain unknown until their time comes. But the things that you can know, I would encourage you to explore thoroughly, especially because of the reservations you have expressed.

It could be that he needs to develop new tools in stress management, or it could be that something else is going on that he has not yet shared with you, or it could be that you are over-reacting... I can’t tell you for sure. But, what I can tell you is that not speaking for several days at a time with your fiancé, and erratic mood swings, and placing blame where there is none is not “normal.” And it is not the kind of behavior one would expect from someone who is courting a young woman for marriage.

I do hope you take the time to look into these issues and please do not allow anyone to push you into a marriage that you have solid reason to feel unsure about.


P.S.: I think that you should also consider finding someone that the two of you can openly talk to. Ideally someone you both respect or even a therapist. Pre-marriage counseling can be essential in helping a marriage start off healthy.