||WHEN A "SERIOUS" COUPLE HAS
RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS, WHEN DO YOU FIX AND WHEN
DO YOU RUN?
- Thursday, August 31, '00 - Parshas Shoftim 5760
A marriage should be composed of two
people who: * get along for the most part compatibly and healthily, * are focused on
pleasing and respecting eachother, * communicate, * effectively and responsibly handle the
practical functioning required by adulthood and * bring eachother to eternal life through
cooperatively and maturely achieving their potentials and meritorious goals during earthly
life. They should be able to come to a clear and confident decision to marry eachother
within a few weeks or months.
Some couples have questions about their suitability for eachother. Sometimes, they can
work their issues out, with communication and cooperation or the help of a counselor; and
they proceed to productive marriages. Often, these days, the picture painted by couples is
not so simple or pretty.
In my counseling work, I have seen people who have been in relationships that drag on a
year, two, three years. There is generally something fundamental and essential missing, so
it does not escalate to marriage.
When their are major, disruptive and unresolvable problems or concerns; don't marry on
the basis of expecting major change (e.g. religiously or psychologically). Expecting
change can lead to disaster. Marry or don't marry on the basis of the way the person NOW
TRULY is. People often promise to change but they often make no change or a temporary
change, failing to satisfy the promise and disappointing the other person terribly.
When there are relationship problems, try to work them through. No one can wait for a
perfect person. So, to simply just reject each person when there are problems isn't
necessarily an answer, if there is enough of a healthy, livable foundation. But, a
relationship cannot drag on interminably nor stagnate in an inadequate, deficient state
either, even if a futile or destructive relationship gets you emotionally entangled.
Any relationship that is not escalating to marriage must be given a time limit. Analyze
the nature of each problem, including what is its root. Set up concrete goals for
addressing each problem, including definitions by which each goal would be considered
achieved. This way you can plan a sensible course, create objective and actionable
criteria for how to take action and how to measure success or failure. If the problems are
unworkable in the appropriate time-frame, or are damaging, run.
If there are signs of trouble, even if trouble only starts out seeming a remote
possibility, there is a fundamental need to accept that possible wrong or trouble exists
within one person or the other the person (or, quite often on some level, both people).
Always first look into - and accept responsibility for - yourself. Whereas one can't
control another person, the diligent and honest person of character and maturity can
diligently work on him/herself. If there must be fault in a relationship, the Torah
requires that IT NOT BE YOURS.
Adaptability is a key to emotional health, on condition that there is a foundation in
healthy principal and personality ("don't be so open minded your brains fall
out!" - don't violate principle, halacha or morality). Rigidity is a trait that the
Talmud says G-d hates, and psychologically it is very unhealthy, and it suggests that
there is a need for professional counseling. There must be sincere effort. It is crucial
to be able to communicate, empathize, be adaptive and resolve differences or disputes on
behalf of the relationship. If any of these are missing, this indicates a serious flaw. If
you can get professional help THAT IS EFFECTIVE IN A REASONABLE TIME-FRAME AND OFFERS
PROSPECTS OF LASTING AND TRUSTWORTHY RESULTS, there is hope. In my counseling experience
of married or "serious" couples, when a flaw such as one of these is rigid and
impenetrable, it is often "a break-up waiting to happen." Such problems are not
remedied without considerable therapeutic work, and mustering of ample will power can be
difficult. If a person is not motivated sufficiently to change tough and destructive
flaws, and to persevere with a serious therapeutic process, there is generally not enough
there in the relationship to work with.
If the problems are not rectifiable to a functional and stable level, you have to
establish that the goal was marriage, that marriage under prevailing circumstances is not
realistic and that the relationship is over. Be firm about the issue; but soft,
considerate and polite as a human being. If the person with the difficulties promises to
change, make clear that enough time was given, the needed changes were not made to a
trustworthy and practical extent. Say that you have to move forward with your life on your
own. If the person can present him/herself in the future in satisfactory changed form, as
can be verified by a rov or professional counselor, the person can THEN contact you in
changed form IF YOU STILL ARE SINGLE AT THAT TIME. But, as for now, the relationship would
be unhealthy, incompatible or unworkable, and it is over.
My marriage and "serious couple" counseling experience shows consistently
that when there is a serious problem at the start, it does not get remedied in a short
time frame. One or both may need individual counseling on a deep and long term basis. As a
rule of thumb, if you can work out within yourself to accept the shortcomings of the
person; and you both basically get along, communicate and please eachother; and you can
handle as a couple the practical functioning required by adult life; and the relationship
is stable; then you have a "candidate." If your discord, non-attraction or
incompatibility does not get ironed out within the couple or few months designated for a
Jewish dating relationship, then my experience says that chances are you are going to be
ENGAGED IN FUTILITY - NOT ENGAGED TO BE MARRIED!
There is a Biblical verse that indicates that a relationship which drags on is going to
end up a futility, "A wish that drags on sickens the heart (Mishlay 13:12)."
It is imperative to cultivate an honest, open relationship with an intelligent,
articulate, learned person with whom the single can communicate. As Pirkei Avos says,
"Make for yourself a Rav, acquire for yourself a friend." It is your
responsibility to make a qualified rabbi YOUR ROV. He does not seek disciples, you have to
seek out the rov. It is your job to create a relationship with people who can advise,
direct or guide you; give feedback, support or concern. It can take numerous times talking
to people to achieve results. This can be a slow, arduous process. It is a vital process
that rewards the investment in it. The word "acquire" (from the same root as
"buy") used regarding friend tells us that any meaningful relationship requires
investment and effort. This is not in a sense of bribing. One has to put in, invest,
exert, to give of oneself to build a solid, meaningful, close and lasting relationship.
Generally, the more similar the two people's values, goals, attitudes and backgrounds
are, the better the likelihood of working a relationship out, and understanding eachother.