Welcome all! It is our honor to host this party for the newlyweds. I’m going to go out on a limb here and offer some free advice to the newlywed couple, knowing full well that most people are equally as willing for a dentist to be drilling than to ever take a word of free advice1. But, as it says in the book of משלי (Proverbs 9:8), אַל־תּוֹכַח לֵץ פֶּן־יִשְׂנָאֶךָּ הוֹכַח לְחָכָם וְיֶאֱהָבֶךָּ. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; but offer advice to the wise and they will love you. So please indulge me some insights from almost forty-four years of a loving marriage, through richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, still working at it every day.
Everyone knows that marriage usually starts out with great passion and high hopes, but passion can wax and wane with the years. Someone, I think Shenandoah, said it’s more important to like your spouse than to love them. Loving marriages are nurtured over time; unloving ones devolve into apathy.
So here are my three steps to a respectful marriage–not specific to you–but for anyone.
What You See is What You Get.
We humans want to believe we’re rational, but we are dominated by our emotions. The comedian Danny Kaye said, “I know a woman whose favorite position is beside herself and whose favorite sport is jumping to conclusions”.People are a delicious mix of Nature and Nurture. If you shuffle a deck of cards, there are 250 septillion permutations. Your 5,000 matched pairs of genes yield 103000 possibilities, which is more than the 1080 atoms estimated in the known universe. You are literally a soup of genetic traits from all your 8 great-grandparents and beyond, and you didn’t even know them! And that’s not counting your upbringing, environment and experience. You think it’s tough planning a wedding? Try bathrooms, much less the challenges surrounding location, lifestyle, spirituality, careers, money, health, and children.So here’s my 1st point. We all mistakenly believe that everyone thinks — or ought to think — like us. In the immortal words of Henry Higgins, “One man in a million may shout a bit, Now and then there’s one with slight defects, One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit, But by and large we are a marvelous sex! Why can’t a woman be more like a man?…”2
We all want to train or “help” our partner to overcome some irritating habit, but we all have our crazinesses. In principle, according to Maimonides, human change is achievable, however tortuous. That’s what Rosh HaShanah is about. But, in practice, the rabbis said that it’s easier to learn the entire Talmud than to drop one bad habit. It is possible, but if you expect your spouse to change their basic personality ten years from now… then… don’t.
Speak Up / Hold Your Tongue.
I have a beef with the so-called Golden Rule: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Or, in Hillel’s negative version, מָה שֶׁשָּׂנוּא עָלֶיךָ אַל תַּעֲשֶׂה לַחֲבֵרְךָ. What you do not like, do not do to others. The problem is that it assumes that other people think like you. Guess what, they don’t. How much better to adopt the Platinum Rule: do unto others as they would have you do unto them! Sadly, each two human beings are divided, in Soloveitchik’s words, by a lonely chasm of uniqueness. Bridge it as best you can, but individual we remain.I am fascinated by a verse from Leviticus 19:17. לֹא תִשְׂנָא אֶת אָחִיךָ בִּלְבָבֶךָ הוֹכֵחַ תּוֹכִיחַ אֶת עֲמִיתֶךָ וְלֹא תִשָּׂא עָלָיו חֵטְא. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Criticize him and do not bear guilt because of him.So the Torah is teaching us not to quietly resent somebody. It’s better to say something. But I’m intrigued by the do not bear guilt because of him part. Rashi says it means criticize him gently and avoid the sin of cruelty. Ibn-Ezra says that by criticizing him, you might actually prevent his doing something wrong.
Some might notice contrast between the extremes of Israeli over-directness and American over-hold-it-in-ness. The right way, I think, is to say something, but with kindness. Frankly, It is as difficult to criticize with delicacy and tact as it is to hear criticism. God gave us lips and teeth: two obstacles to our loose unfiltered So think before reacting, before saying something mean or stupid. We humans are sensitive creatures; we sure can dish it out but we cannot take it. In fact, we will remember a mean word for a lifetime.
In the book of Zechariah, there’s a wonderful verse (8:19), הָאֱמֶת וְהַשָלוֹם אֱהָבוּ, which translates simply as “love honesty and peace”. Sounds simple. But the rabbis read more into it. In the gemara of Sanhedrin, it says, “Wherever there is total honesty, there is no peace. Where there is complete peace, there is lacking justice.” The difficult answer is a balance, a never-ending compromise between honesty & peace. Stop having the last word.
Put your spouse first.
This, too, sounds obvious, right? It’s not. After decades not being together, with one act under the חופה, the two of you became a married couple. Maybe not quite “you against the world”, but close.Diane likes to say that a loving marriage is not a 50-50 proposition, it’s really 90-90, meaning that maybe you cannot always be considerate of your spouse, 100% of the time… but close. It is not about one partner being smitten with the other more (that’s בּאָבּע מעשׂיות), it’s the two of you as equals in caring. Giving beats taking.However close you are today with your family and friends, your wife or husband now comes first, i.e. #1. Not your parents, grandparents, sisters, friends or even children, God willing, someday. No. Your partner from here on must be your #1 concern. Period.
So there you have it: three not-so-easy rules for a happy marriage:
- WYSIWYG: What You See is What You Get
- Speak up AND hold your tongue. Never harshness, all kindness.
- Your partner comes first. Period.
So there you have it. We all wish you the blessings of health and naches that life has to offer, with warmth and love. Mazal tov!