Let’s assume you’ve recognized the wisdom of the Jewish approach to relationships, and you’ve put it into practice. Now you’ve met someone very special. Rose-colored glasses have stayed in their case, leaving your view of this person and your relationship more objective. And in the space created by the physical distance you’ve maintained, something genuine has taken root and blossomed. Now, looking at the one you’re with and what has grown, you know you’ve found the right person. You’re ready to embark upon life’s greatest spiritual odyssey: marriage.
Like everyone, you will be entering into marriage with expectations, both conscious and unconscious. These expectations can make or break your marriage. Some will be rooted in your relationship with your parents and in their own relationship with each other. Others will stem from your ideas about marriage — culled from books, friends, the media, as well as your own thinking. But all will be influenced by the sense of reality, or lack of it, that you have allowed to pervade your relationship from the beginning.
Life is anything but a fairy tale. As someone I know once very bluntly put it, “Life is mundane.” Now I happen to know that this man has a great marriage, a beautiful family, and a deeply rewarding occupation that leaves him time to pursue even more fulfilling Torah study. His comment wasn’t coming from negativity. So what did he mean?
Much of life is neither new nor exciting in the conventional sense. While many of us accept the “mundanity” of our domestic responsibilities or even our jobs, we somehow think marriage must be different. Granted, a marriage shouldn’t stagnate; it shouldn’t be “the same old thing” year after year. For anything to remain alive, it must always be changing and growing. Yet there are different kinds of change and growth, and these create different kinds of newness and excitement.
When a baby is born, he or she changes visibly nearly every day. Parents (I can tell you) are constantly taking pictures, and long-distance grandparents (my mother can tell you) complain if they don’t receive prints in the mail every couple of weeks. But as the child matures, change slows considerably. The difference between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old is far subtler than that between a newborn and a 4-month- old.
So, too, with relationships. In the beginning, every day reveals new worlds about your partner — and about yourself. As time passes, however, the revelations grow fewer and smaller as you find yourself in increasingly familiar territory. Then the reality of marriage can loom large, but if you’re prepared for it, you can welcome it. For though Judaism provides ways of periodically re-experiencing the thrill of being newlyweds, marriage ultimately has something far greater to offer. Much of the excitement you once knew should ideally be metamorphosing into a quieter, deeper kind: an excitement born not of newness, but of the sense that the two of you are slowly but surely merging into one.
To experience the joy of a lifelong relationship, you must be able to find excitement in nothing more than everyday life — utter reality. This ability will come naturally if your expectations of marriage have been nurtured in an atmosphere of reality, an atmosphere based on a realistic view of your partner and your relationship. This is what being shomer negiah (abstaining from physical contact with the opposite sex before marriage) will help you create.
The Jewish world is built on happy marriages. While making things work after the wedding takes time and effort, Judaism gives us a way, while still dating, to greatly increase the likelihood of achieving that successful, lifelong union. Perhaps in the end, this realism is the essence of the Jewish approach to relationships.
Reprinted from “THE MAGIC TOUCH” A Jewish Approach to Relationships by Gila Manolson. Available at www.gila-manolson.com