I was recently speaking at a Shabbas meal celebrating the wedding of my husband’s best friend, when out of the blue my eyes flooded with tears. Suddenly the pain of my parents’ divorce washed over me without warning and I had to pause to regain my composure. I didn’t even know that it was still an open wound.
I considered myself fortunate that my parents had such a “friendly, average divorce.” They had such a friendly divorce because they had what most people would call an “average, friendly” marriage. They didn’t fight, but they didn’t grow closer either. And I think their divorce still frightens me because they slowly, subtly drifted apart until they couldn’t see a way to rebuild what they had lost.
Rabbi Noah Weinberg obm taught that whenever a person hears about a couple divorcing he or she should take a good look at their own marriage and see how they can improve it. Be worried, Rav Noah would say, that it could happen to you because if you aren’t investing in your marriage, you are withdrawing from it.
A happy marriage is a choice we make not just on our wedding day but thousands of times over the years. Will we improve our relationships and deposit positivity or take our marriages for granted and begin to grow apart?
In the first year of marriage every argument can seem like catastrophe, and differences between spouses can look like insurmountable obstacles. But arguments and differences can become crucial building blocks if both spouses are committed to facing their challenges together.
Ironically, a marriage with no conflict can spell trouble because the most dangerous thing for an “average” marriage is apathy. Here are five ideas on how to build stronger marriages:
1. Support – don’t fix – your spouse. We all come into our marriages with emotional baggage, some of us more than others, and sometimes our spouses can help us unpack. And sometimes they can’t because they are carrying their own individual burdens. That’s okay. We cannot and should not expect our spouses to heal our every wound or try to fix all of their struggles. We can be with each other in our pain, but we can’t necessarily take away someone else’s pain.
2. Commit to building together even when it’s hard. A good marriage is comprised of two imperfect people who refuse to give up on each other. There will come a time when each of you will want to give up on the other. Don’t. The happiest marriages are ones that have gone to the darkest, most painful places together and found a way to re-build their connection. Strong marriages require confronting your issues head-on and putting in the effort to work things out.
3. Make your marriage a top priority. There are few things in your life more important than your marriage. Treat it that way. Try to find out what is right together rather than who is right. You are on the same team.
4. Focus on your spouse’s virtues. Constantly remind yourself of your spouse’s strengths. Don’t take them for granted. You won’t be able to create a happy marriage with a negative mindset, harping on your spouse’s faults. Be optimistic and grateful for what your spouse gives to you.
5. Remember that marriage is a spiritual entity. Each of us is born with a special, Divine light and the deepest level of connection between a husband and wife is the merging of each of their souls to form a team that is greater than anything each of them could have become on their own. Years ago Rav Aryeh Levine obm took his wife to a doctor's appointment and when the doctor came in, Rav Aryeh said: " Our leg is hurting us." You and your spouse are two halves fused into a whole. Treat each other that way.
Treasure your marriage. Build your marriage. A happy marriage is a daily choice to love. Make that choice again today