A Harmonious Marriage - What are the Odds?
It seems that the odds are heavily stacked against a serene and harmonious relationship between a husband and wife. However, shortly after mentioning the eizer kenegdo - the contrast, the Torah goes on to describe this attainable goal
After G-d created all the creatures in the world, there was still one missing component. In order for the world to be complete, there was one creature which still needed to be brought into existence. For the creation to be perfect, there had to be a woman.
G-d declares, "Lo tov heyos ha’adam levado, e’eseh lo eizer kenegdo — It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helpmate opposing him” (Bereishis 2:18). We see in this very first mention of the husband-wife relationship that there is an element of contrariness. This same woman who is created as a helpmate is also kenegdo; she is an opposing force. The Torah is telling us very clearly that a man and a woman, by their natures, are set against each other. Nevertheless, and despite this, every Jewish man is commanded to find his own "contrary helpmate” and to marry her.
With this in mind, if we are to objectively analyze the chances of a marriage being successful, a dismal picture arises. Instead of a magic tale of living happily ever after, we see that this kenegdo element is multifaceted. Physiologically, and emotionally, men and women are vastly different. In fact, it is hard to imagine how they could possibly live together without constant discord.
Furthermore, by the time a bride and groom come to the chuppah, the wedding canopy, their personalities are formed. Each one has had completely unique life experiences. The differences in their upbringings have etched out character traits, habits, and attitudes which have become an integral part of their personalities. Our Sages have likened these formative experiences, the girsa d’yankusa, to indelible ink written onto a clean slate. With the inherent gender-related dissimilarities and the two distinctive personalities involved in a marriage, it seems unreasonable to expect two young newlyweds to share every aspect of their lives together without conflict.
It says in Mishlei (16:7), ”When a man’s ways please the Lord he makes even his enemies be at peace with him,” and our Sages say that "his enemies" refers to his wife. This needs explaining. Why is his wife considered his enemy? The answer is that by nature, because they are two different types of people, just as their faces differ so their opinions are different. By nature they should be like enemies. But with help from Heaven they make peace with one another.
A young man came to his rabbi a few weeks after his wedding. This man was visibly bothered and he needed little prodding to open up. ”Rabbi, I’m embarrassed to admit that there is already tension in our marriage. But I'm even more embarrassed to tell you what the issue is.” Mastering up his courage, he finally confessed, "You see, I roll, and she squeezes. ”
Despite his wisdom, the rabbi had no idea what was being rolled and squeezed. But before he asked for clarification, the young groom continued. "I’ve tried telling her several times that it’s better, cleaner, and much more efficient to nicely roll the tube of toothpaste, but she still insists on squeezing it with her whole hand. She says that this is how she is used to doing it and that I can’t expect her to change. The young man was overwhelmed by the brilliance of the rabbi's advice: buy two tubes of toothpaste.
This ridiculous (yet quite common) example illustrates that there can be significant differences on almost every level of a relationship. Whether it is the selection of the furniture and decor, the discovery of culinary preferences and practices, the saving and spending habits, the attitudes toward in-laws, or the social practices of who, how, and when to entertain, the issues are nearly endless. Once childrearing enters into the picture, with its whole new range of issues, an already rocky relationship could now become explosive. So, too, every new stage in life could create problems and tensions which were unknown to the couple until then.
People are often deeply committed and emotionally attached to the way that they were (or wished they were) raised. Each person is convinced that his system is the only one. A person relies on the argument of "It worked for me!” or "I turned out all right, didn’t I?” Our parents are our ultimate role models. We spend our entire formative years observing our own families. Behavior patterns and attitudes become entrenched in our minds (often very subtly and subconsciously), and we come into marriage with a very firm idea of the right way, and the wrong way.
There have been countless hours of marriage counseling meted out because people take unshakable stands over trivialities. Objectively, it seems absurd that a husband should stubbornly refuse to bring his wife a drink in the morning if it will make her happy. After all, she grew up in a home where her father always brought her mother a cup of tea in the morning. Yet he insists upon taking a stand because he grew up in a home where he never saw his father doing so. Similarly, a man who never saw his father wash dishes is shocked at his wife’s expectation that he participate in domestic chores. We mirror what we have seen at home, and we adopt the view that it is unthinkable to do otherwise.
Conversely, some people subconsciously resolve never to repeat certain patterns which they saw at home. This, too, can lead to stubborn stands and decisions which are not based on logic.
There are two additional factors challenging a marriage which are unique to our generation. They are the women's liberation movement and the mass media. The women’s liberation movement was one of the most powerful social revolutions in history. Over a period of approximately twenty years, the attitudes of an entire generation throughout the world were challenged and changed. This massive upheaval of traditional values and overturning of the delineation of gender roles has taken its toll on nearly every level of society, and has added confusion and instability to the husband-wife relationship.
The second factor which adds further challenges to a marriage is the media. We are living in a time when it is practically impossible to escape from the atmosphere of the media. Advertising is a multibillion dollar industry whose sole aim is to constantly beam messages into every person’s mind. Our senses are continually being assailed as we drive or walk through the streets. Like the dripping of water onto a rock, the media subtly plants ideas into our hearts, souls, and minds.
To our great sorrow, those who are choosing which messages to communicate are mostly part of a society which has a horrendous failure rate in marital harmony.
For the last two thousand years, Jews have lived in a tremendous array of societies, yet we have always been able to keep our identity. Despite being surrounded by constantly changing social winds, we were able to stay devoutly committed to our values. Our homes always functioned as our mishkan me’at, miniature sanctuary. But today that sanctuary is under constant attack, with the sophistication and widespread availability of every form of media.
Billboards, newspapers and magazines are all replete with messages (sometimes subtle, sometimes glaring) which are not at all in line with Jewish values and morals. It is nearly impossible for anyone to live a normal life without being exposed to this inundation from the media. It is certainly proper and wise to avoid these forms of media, and fortunate is whoever removes his eyes and heart from them. But scrupulous though we may be in trying to avoid the pernicious effects of today’s media, some of their messages do slowly creep into our minds, and they subconsciously affect us, especially in our formative years. In our days we can no longer assume that a chasan and kallah, groom and bride, will approach their wedding day with the same precious innocence which in the past was taken for granted. They often stand beneath the chuppah with minds partially cluttered with foreign images and influences. These are often bound up with unhealthy attitudes and mistaken expectations which add strain to married life.
Too frequently, a young couple finds their conflicts disrupting their relationship. Desperately, one or both of them approaches a friend, rabbi, or marriage counselor. They don’t understand what’s happening to them. The dating, engagement, and wedding were dreamlike, but now they clash several times each day. When they aren’t quarreling, they are usually on edge in anticipation of the next argument. This couple was sure that their “Once upon a time” beginning would culminate with a ”They lived happily ever after” ending. Instead, they are tasting life’s realities and difficulties.
It seems that the odds are heavily stacked against a serene and harmonious relationship between a husband and wife. However, shortly after mentioning the eizer kenegdo, the contrast, the Torah goes on to describe the attainable goal, "V’davak b'ishto v’hayu l’vasar echad — And a man should cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh” (Bereishis 2:24).
In order for this to be, one needs to pray fervently. Sefer Chassidim writes that some righteous people fast on the wedding day of their children, beseeching Heaven that the marriage will succeed.
Adapted from "Two Halves Of A Whole" by Rabbi Yirmiyohu & Tehilla Abramov. Available at www.jewishfamily.org