When I was working for a Chabad House on campus, I decided to sign up for a month-long detox program to jump-start some of my health goals. I have always been into natural foods and I really enjoy cooking. If someone had asked me in that moment of my life the classic question—”What do you do?”—I would have to think for a second. Considering what I actually did with my time, it felt like I had two part-time jobs. One was running a Jewish Women’s Center on campus; the other job was prepping, juicing and cooking food for my intensive detox!

All of my “free” time was consumed by the strict regime of the program. It is the center and foundation of my lifeIt was a hard month juggling both of my commitments, but at the end I had lost a few pounds, learned some new skills, and shifted my perspective on food and nutrition. It was definitely worth the investment.

Now, I am raising a toddler while working towards my Ph.D. in Religious Studies. But those are not the only two “jobs” on my plate. I am also married to a wonderful husband. (See How I Got Engaged in 10 Days for how we met.) We just celebrated our third wedding anniversary, thank G‑d, and it has been some of the most joyous, challenging and rewarding years of my life.

When friends call to catch up or ask what’s going on, sometimes what I’d really like to talk about is how much work I am putting into my marriage. It is definitely one of my part-time jobs! But in truth, marriage is a private matter, an intimate relationship and an exclusive commitment. There are reasons in the religious community why we do not just publicly talk about the ups and downs of our relationships. Still, it can also feel lonely at times, like you are the only one without a fairy-tale romance. Well, I am here to tell you that you are not alone, and, in fact, there is a benefit to the times of struggle or disagreement within a committed relationship.

The relationship between G‑d and the Jewish people is actually the key into understanding what a marriage is supposed to look like. The epic narrative of G‑d taking us out of Egypt with signs and wonders, our receiving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, the subsequent sin of worshiping the Golden Calf and our ultimate reunion at the giving of the second commandments is the macro-story of the miniature roller-coaster of a marriage.

Meeting and getting engaged to your spouse is like leaving Egypt. When you are single, the future is concealed from you: Who will you marry? Where will you live? What will your life look like when you meet the right one? Meeting your future spouse can feel like your eyes have suddenly opened. Often, people look back fondly on those heady days of engagement and preparing for a wedding. While they have their own stressors, it’s a time of excitement and closeness. The wedding itself is the first of the tablets—the original marriage contract. You make a promise and covenant with your spouse to give to them and receive, to weather the challenges and share the joys and sorrows.

But then comes the sin of the Golden CalfWhy are we putting this trivial matter before our deep connection?—an argument, a disagreement, even a full-out, terrible fight! Your head starts spinning. How could this be that I don’t see eye to eye with my spouse, my best friend, my soulmate? Why are we putting this trivial matter before our deep connection? How will we ever repair what was said or how we acted? Especially in light of the beauty and wonders of our engagement and wedding, how could we reach this low place? The Talmud actually says of the Jewish People that they were not capable of committing such an act of worshipping the Golden Calf. In fact, the Talmud says, “The whole affair was G‑d’s decree, in order to set a precedent for the penitent.”[1]

Sometimes, I wonder how an argument with my husband even happened at all. Everything was going great. We were chatting or enjoying a calm Sunday morning and then out of nowhere some comment offends me or a topic comes up that we disagree about, and all of a sudden, it feels tense and frustrations rise. How incredible is it to realize that G‑d gives us the gift of this “sin” in order to repent, to make teshuvah, to return to our relationship in a deeper way! G‑d created the situation of the Golden Calf in order for there to be this precedent in the world that one can sin and then repent. A downfall does not define you or cast you out of G‑d’s favor forever—quite the opposite. A downfall is a springboard for greater closeness with the Almighty.

So what are the mechanics of this springboard in a marriage? When a couple has a fight over something, the two must discover the place inside themselves where their bond, their relationship means more to them than the thing that infringed upon it. Recently, my husband and I were discussing our home-goods budget and I wanted to buy two new tablecloths. He thought we should buy one. Oh boy, that did not go down well with me. Twenty minutes later, I stepped back and felt shocked that I could turn such a silly thing into a whole issue. Isn’t my relationship more important than a tablecloth? (OK, it’s not really about the tablecloth; it’s the fact that we want to spend money on different things or that he should respect my desires and so on. These “debates” are all the same as the tablecloth and far less important than my marriage.)

Each fight, each moment of tension brings you face to face with a deeper level of your commitment to your spouse. Marriage is a private matterEach return, each making up, each good resolution brings you to a higher stage of your relationship—one that has overcome this challenge and formed a new and stronger awareness of what your connection means to you both. The sooner you internalize this message, the shorter and less frequent these battles will be. As tensions rise, you can say to yourself, “My marriage, the peace in my home, is more important than this ‘thing’ that is coming in the way.” Sure, things need to be discussed and worked out, and emotions are real and strong, but the faster you can reconnect to your spouse, the less intense the downfall will be.

All this being said, my marriage is actually not a part-time job. It is the center and foundation of my life. I have to invest in its future; in fact, more than any professional growth demanded of me. It is something I never clock out of or go one vacation from (just like motherhood). It takes time to plan and go on dates, to carve out one-on-one time and to share in the daily responsibilities of life. But in the moments of challenge, that is where the real work lies. That is where the relationship is tested and grows. Sometimes, these moments might feel like the end of the world, but really, it is the sign of a new beginning.

[1] Avodah Zarah 4b from the Overview of Parshas Tisa in the Kehot Chumash Shemos.