Celebrating SUKKOT 5780

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By: Mozelle Forman, Lcsw

Wealth building is a growing industry with bankers, financial advisors, and wealth managers offering advice on how to reach financial success. Although studies show that having lots of money doesn’t guarantee having lots of happiness, people do spend much of their time dedicated to building wealth. If only people would invest as much effort towards the success of their marriages!

Developing a strong marriage takes a lot of work. After the glass is broken under the chuppah, marriages should not go on automatic pilot. Like anything fragile and precious, a marriage needs to be lovingly tended. When we neglect our marriage, every other aspect of our life seems more stressful.

When we choose our partner, we base that choice on shared values and a shared vision of our relationship. At the beginning of any relationship we feel that the possibilities are endless. We dream of reaching the true potential for happiness and satisfaction. We put our best efforts into creating a loving, caring, environment in which each one can have their needs met. Each of us perceives the other as someone who loves us, cares about us, protects us, and fulfills our needs. This is, after all, why we marry, to begin a life of mutually fulfilled needs. Each partner ideally feels, “I will do for my partner and he/she will do for me. We will work together to build a family. We are partners; we are a team.”

From the outset, though, we are not taught how to be a couple and how to negotiate the differences and achieve our goals. Since each husband and wife grew up in different homes and witnessed different styles of communication, they are bound to come into the marriage with different expectations about how issues get resolved. Perhaps while growing up one partner witnessed Dad making all the major decisions and Mom deferring to him. But in the other partner’s family, although Dad was quite loud, everyone knew that Mom called the shots. When we become a couple each of us will assume the role we witnessed while growing up, which may be contradictory to that of our partner. We are going to have differences of opinion.

It is only natural that there will be disagreements about both practical and emotional issues. How do these issues get resolved? How do two people negotiate to become a couple? In order to develop a plan, couples first need to acknowledge that what works for one couple may not necessarily work for others. Every couple develops their own set of roles and rules for the marriage. For instance, although it may never be discussed, one spousemay become responsible for making social and travel plans, while the other books airline tickets and hotel reservations. If your set up isn’t working well, then a discussion with your spouse is necessary.

Rules and roles evolve over time. The first few years of marriage are characterized as a time of negotiation. Secondly, spouses must recognize that each of them has a personal style of communication. One partner may be very verbal while the other may not be as comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. One cannot assume that their spouse can read their mind; each must voice their needs and desires. Negative communications such as criticism and putdowns do harm to the integrity of the marital relationship. While conflicts will arise even in the best of marriages, the way that conflict is negotiated and resolved is the key to marital stability and satisfaction. When marriage partners use effective communication skills, whereby each partner is able to express their feelings in a non-threatening, non-blaming manner, couples continue to envision each other as kind, protective, and loving. There is a greater willingness to compromise and negotiate when one feels respected, loved, and understood.

Marriage is a lifelong process of learning about one another, and we should expect that there will be differences that need to be resolved. Too often couples abandon their marriages because they were not able to resolve simple conflicts. They question whether they have made a mistake or married the wrong person. In most cases (barring serious addictions or psychological or physical abuse) the relationship between spouses can, with the proper investment, be a fulfilling one. Commitment to working on resolving differences, respecting each other individually, and learning how to communicate with each other will yield shalom bayitand will help to sustain your happy marriage and will aid you in keeping your family intact.