Sharon sits on the couch, impatiently expecting Robert home from work
at any moment. Yet as its gets later, she begins to realize that he has
probably forgotten about the lecture they had planned on attending
together that evening, a seminar on marital enhancement. Of course
he forgot, she concludes bitterly. He doesn’t value our relationship at all. All he cares about is his stupid job. Disappointed, she decides to take a
shower and start getting ready for bed. As she rises from the couch, her eyes fall on the wedding photo of the two of them holding hands, and so
obviously in love, with their whole future stretched out before them. Who would have expected that within just two years from their wedding day, their relationship, once so passionate and loving, would have already grown
Falling in love is easy. Yet maintaining that same love- bond over time, and
nurturing its development
from an immature and idealistic infatuation, into a mature and committed relationship capable of
providing a secure base for their children is not easy. Our culture of disposable attachments and
serial divorces reveals clearly what we have lost. We have lost touch with how to transform new relationships into relationships that are capable
of regenerating themselves. To fall in love does not require great wisdom. Yet the act of staying in love, rather than surrendering to the natural
process of falling out of love as easily as we fell into it, requires wisdom. This is why in Hebrew, the word chadash (new) and chiddush (renew)
share a core root. The exact same letters, pronounced differently, reveal an entirely transformed reality.
The Torah commands us on two occasions to love others: “To Love Your Neighbor” like we love ourselves, and “To Love G‑d.” The commentators
ask how it is possible that we can be commanded to love. Isn’t love an emotion over which we have
no control? Yet we are taught that if something is commanded of us, it must be within our grasp.
Therefore the very fact that we are commanded in who (Our Neighbor & Our Creator) and how (like ourselves) we love, testifies that despite the
difficulty, it is possible to choose how we love. These commandments teach us both the importance of being master over our emotions,
as well as the possibility of directing our emotions towards a pre determined, intellectually-reasoned
goal. In all relationships, marriage included, Torah tells us that we must assume responsibility for the
direction and expression of our love.
Torah teaches us that it is not enough to love, or even to love passionately. What love requires is the ability to master ourselves, and the emotional
susceptibility of our own natures in order to love with a pure and focused commitment.
Let’s look at why, from a psychological
perspective, long-lasting love within the context of
a committed marriage seems to be such a rare and hard to achieve phenomenon. The daily
reality of marriage, especially marriage with children, is composed of thousands of non-
romantic and often stressful interactions.
Together the couple must navigate the emotional minefield of who will make dinner, who will wash
the dishes, who will stop at the grocery store on the way home even though they are already exhausted, who will miss work to take the toddler
to the doctor, and who will get up for the fifth time that night to comfort the teething baby.
The potential for hurt and feeling overwhelmed or taken advantage of is enormous. Over time, if such feelings are allowed to build, they can begin
to taint even the couple’s most benign
interactions with an aspect of negativity.
So even from a psychological standpoint alone, the challenge of creating and maintaining a
positive relationship is considerable. Yet Torah helps us understand the enormity of the challenge from a much deeper perspective. During the dating and engagement period that
preceded the actual marital ceremony, both partners retain their intrinsic
separateness from each other. It is only after the marriage ceremony that they come to be completely united. Therefore before marriage,
their giving to each other is considered a voluntary action rather than a compulsory one.
However, marriage removes the remaining boundaries between the couple and places them
in a shared landscape of mutual obligation whose borders are comprised of the couples’ limited
time, limited money, and limited energy levels.
The act of giving is then transformed from a lo metzuveh ve’oseh (one who is not commanded and fulfills) into a meitzuveh ve’oseh (one who is
commanded). This is further compounded by the new reality of the constant, and at times intrusive,
awareness of the other partner and their needs. Since the marital landscape is one of limited
resources, it is inevitable that at some point the partners will find themselves in direct competition
over using their resources towards getting their own needs fulfilled versus using the same limited
resource to fulfill their partners needs.
It is at these moments of collision that the marital challenge is most clear. Do we see the act of forgoing our need-gratification as a negation of
our own self-interest, i.e. I am not getting what I want, or as an act of giving, an opportunity to
momentarily transcend the boundary of self in
order to give a gift to our partner and to
strengthen our relationship as a whole?
True shalom bayit, peace within our home,
requires recognizing that our partner is as equally
entitled to utilize our shared resources as we are
ourselves. And in those moments of collision,
when we confront the reality that our means are
only sufficient to fulfill the desire of one partner
in this present moment, we must recognize that it
is the nature of marriage itself that has brought
us to this moment, and not the exceptionally
demanding nature of our spouse. At these
moments we have a choice to make. We can
either make an assertive claim on the resource in
question, negotiate a compromise, or choose to
forego our claim in order to increase our overall
In a healthy marriage, both partners utilize the
full range of these possibilities on different
occasions, and the responsibility of using the
marital relationship as an arena for psychological
and spiritual growth is a responsibility that is
shared equally between them. True peace is not
achievable for the couple whose relationship is
based on one partner continually putting him or
herself aside for the sake of the other, but rather
for the couple who together decides how to
appropriate each of their limited resources in the
balanced way that is acceptable to both of them,
and in tune with their short and long term goals.
True and lasting marital harmony is a spiritual as
well as a psychological achievement. It is for this
reason that blessing given to each newly engaged
couple is that they merit to build a bayit ne’eman
– an eternal house, a house capable of
withstanding the challenges of both the spiritual
and the emotional realms.
BY TZIPPORA PRICE