Being married is the best way to live. Well, happily married that is. Research shows that people in happy marriages live longer and healthier lives, both physically and emotionally. We strive and emphasize marriage as a goal in our communities. A beautiful goal, no doubt. The question is, do we prepare people to build marriages that will fill their lives with joy? Do we talk openly about conflict and how normal it is to disagree and what healthy conflict looks like? Do we prepare couples for the intense emotions that are present in a marital relationship? I was once talking to a girl in shidduchim about dating and marriage. She said, “My husband and I? We aren’t going to fight.” Needless to say, I set her straight.
We need to talk more openly about conflict and how couples can work through their differences in a meaningful way, one that brings them closer and not further apart. I’m talking about marriages where both parties are generally healthy and capable of communication and commitment to a relationship. The lack of conversation in our communities leaves many couples trying to navigate their normal marital strife alone. Then, of course, shame sets in: “Are we the only ones? How come everyone else looks so happy?” Too many couples are drowning in loneliness and confusion, not reaping the benefits that marriage can truly offer.
We need strong marriages today. We need strong homes. First and foremost, this is for ourselves. Life can be hard. Having a loving partner by your side can provide a tremendous amount of comfort, reduce stress, and can even increase one’s lifespan. A fascinating study by Jim Coan at the University of Virginia showed that physical pain is mitigated while a person is holding the hand of a loving partner. We all carry some pain. Having someone to help alleviate that pain can be life-changing and invigorating.
That’s intrinsic motivation. Do you want extrinsic? Think about your children and the generations that follow. It sounds scary, but it’s true. Our ability to properly express our feelings (positive and negative), and work through conflict in our marriage will directly affect our children, which will in turn affect their children. Research shows that children who grow up in homes with hostile conflict can be affected academically, socially, emotionally, and physically (prone to getting sick more).
Just like we have parenting workshops in our communities, we need a stronger presence of marriage workshops. Let’s begin the amazing work of personal growth and self-discovery. Are we interacting with our spouses in a way which we would want our children to model? Think of a recent difficult conversation. Did you like the way you spoke? Maybe you lashed out, or walked away from your spouse. Would you want your child to speak or shut down the way you did? Or would you hope for more vulnerability, compassion and kindness? That doesn’t just happen - it takes knowledge, self-awareness and tools. It can be learned, and then modeled. We can feel nourished and energized from our marriages. Many couples feel confused and sapped of energy, yet struggle to find support. It doesn’t need to be this way.