Summer ’12: Responses
For every divorcing couple that finds their way to my office and then through the court system, there are tens of marriages that are on life support. So the question is not just why the divorce rate in the frum community is skyrocketing, but why are so many relationships suffering? For one thing, our entire lives are now lived on fast forward. With no patience to deal with any discomfort, couples simply don’t make the effort to make marriage work.
To prepare our children for marriage, we must provide them with premarital education that offers a set of communication and relationship skills and basic financial management tools that have been shown to enhance marital satisfaction and longevity. The S.H.A.L.O.M. Workshop, which has been presented to over 1,000 couples, is an evidence-based, scientifically-validated program designed to teach core relationship skills focusing on the centrality of bonding and to develop a unique understanding of the logic of love and emotions.
The concept of a chosson shmuz – a premarital talk from a rebbe or mentor about marriage and intimacy – has become widely recognized as a vital component of marriage preparation. There is evidence, however, that some chosson teachers (and kallah teachers, as well) have not adapted their instruction to today’s reality, and are failing to educate their students sufficiently in the realm of intimacy. New couples must also be coached in the area of interpersonal relationships, as marriage introduces many new challenges for which many young people are ill-prepared.
In the recent Aleinu Marital Satisfaction Survey sponsored by the Orthodox Union, respondents consistently identified several common challenges to their relationships. The five most cited were marital intimacy, relationships with in-laws, managing financial struggles, making time for each other and inadequate communication skills. Recognizing and preparing for these challenges through premarital and post-marital education programs can help newlywed couples deal with the issues they are likely to encounter.
Married life is less predictable and less stable than it ever was. To meet these challenges, couples require an enhanced appreciation of the principles and necessary skills involved in commitment, communication, conflict management, and intimacy. Fortunately, to aid the community in addressing these challenges, there is increased empirical research about the attitudes and practices that contribute to marital satisfaction and on the effectiveness of various forms of pre-marriage education in preparing couples for married life.
One of the most important resources that should be available to a chosson and kallah is a strong connection to a teacher or mentor. Mentoring from an experienced person during dating and engagement can go a long way to preventing unsuitable marriages and allowing essentially positive relationships to flourish. They can also be helpful in beginning the process of establishing stable marriages.
The marital core and its attendant challenges are among the most pressing issues facing the community, as a stressed and under-performing marriage can be the cause of many family and community ills. Furthermore, the goal of successful marriage is itself linked inextricably to the array of complex, nuanced, and pernicious systems issues facing the community that have yet to be solved. This essay offers an approach to some of these broader issues and an extensive outline of programming recommendations targeting children, young adults, the recently married, their parents and the general community.
Preparation of couples for intimate contact after marriage generally falls upon chosson and kallah teachers, who typically focus on the halachic aspects of their relationship with minimal discussion of its practical and psychological dimensions. This essay explores the preparation needed for marital intimacy in the Orthodox community, reviews some of the common issues for which couples who have not been sufficiently prepared eventually seek professional help and offers suggestions for enhancing the training of chosson and kallah teachers, as well as rabbonim, who prepare and guide young couples for marriage.
One of the options available to couples who seek to prepare for marriage is pre-marital counseling with a certified marriage counselor. This essay opens the curtain on the counseling experience, presenting one approach to premarital counseling, along with the essential issues worthy of the attention of every newly engaged couple.
Marital & Family Guidance
Marriage is fundamentally about growing beyond one’s self, and though the circumstances may change from one generation or locale to another, the struggle involves the same natural qualities and midos with which men and women were created. This essay first reviews some of the complicating factors in contemporary life that obscure the Torah’s path to successful marriage, and then presents some of the most vital steps along that path.
The process of choosing when, whom and how to marry can easily be hijacked by external and superficial considerations. This is exacerbated by the pressured and celebratory atmosphere that surrounds the whole shidduch-to-wedding process, which is not conducive to contemplative decisions. This guide identifies six stages during the dating and marriage process in which preparation and thought – especially with the help of parents – can make a significant difference.
The growing phenomenon of broken engagements and early divorces is the direct result of our immersion in the culture of contemporary, Western society, which severely undermines a couple’s ability to develop a mutual commitment of love and closeness, which is so essential to the marital relationship. Nevertheless, the teaching and cultivation of menuchas hanefesh can guide couples through the overwhelming confusion and turbulence they experience throughout the process of engagement and marriage.
Financial tension is a leading cause of marital discord, and, while few young couples divorce over money, per se, such struggles have the potential to create or magnify many other problems. The Mesila organization provides a variety of educational initiatives – including curricula for schools as well as Seminary programs and seminars – to train participants to best utilize their God-given assortment of gifts and talents to achieve financial stability and a peaceful home.
Although marital discord can be attributed to lack of preparation, insufficient effort, or inappropriate expectations, marriages often fail because the couple is simply not a match. While the dating approach in most segments of the frum community is intended to ensure a thorough assessment of suitability between two people, there are important areas of compatibility that tend to be overlooked.
Today’s children are too often being marched to the chupah with inadequately formed identities, poorly defined goals and values, undeveloped people skills and minds afflicted with complacency and confusion. Brief, pre-marital programs – though sometimes helpful – are insufficient. The community must reconsider its approach to raising children and implement a comprehensive initiative to properly prepare our youth for their adult lives.
Marital preparation must begin many years before children reach marriageable age. Several skill sets that are especially important for marriage that parents should ideally be teaching their children from a young age are: Independence in problem-solving, “self-regulating” their emotions, resilience and emotional giving. Parents must also take responsibility early for the mental health of their children, as failure to do so needlessly increases the risks of serious marital difficulties.