When a Marriage is Failing/Rabbi Reuven Bulka

Posted on November 21, 2010

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Seeking Help

Who should be the outside intervener for the troubled couple? It could be any one of a number of types. It could be a Rabbi whom the couple trusts; one who knows the couple, or who was even involved in their marrying. It could be a Rabbi whom the couple do not know at all, but who has a well-earned reputation for helping couples who are in difficulty. It could be a marriage counselor, or a psychologist with special expertise in marital problems.

When choosing within the realm of professionals, it is important to select someone with a bias, namely a bias towards marriage. It would be wrong to seek out someone who does not have a commitment to seriously exploring whatever can be done to save the marriage. For marital counseling, seeking out a counselor who is not committed to helping the marriage to whatever extent possible is the equivalent of seeking out a medical doctor who is not committed to saving life.

Making Help Work

The entry through the therapeutic door, as humbling as it may be, is well worth it, if it is the remedial step that is necessary to save the marriage and make it thrive. Aside from this endeavor being much less traumatic than divorce, it also offers the possibility that one may regain a relationship and avoid loneliness.

Once having made the commitment to therapy, each one of the couple must do so with the uncompromising intention to give one’s maximum effort to the process, and to be as cooperative, as open to suggestion and to change as possible, in order to effect some positive momentum.

Going into this endeavor with the attitude that I am only doing it to satisfy myself that I made the effort, or going into it with the attitude that it is the other one who has to do the changing and I am only there to facilitate that, is almost a guarantee that the exercise will fail. Each one of the couple must go in ready to do the changing and the adjusting, rather than demanding it of the other. Only then will the real possibility for improvement be a likely prospect.

Talking To Others

During the time that the marriage is going through its transitional phase of confronting difficulties, it is useful to be open to other activities that can help. Aside from the possibilities that are opened up via therapy, much can be gained by speaking to friends who have gone through this same trauma, those who either have had difficulties and overcome them, or had difficulties and failed to overcome them. Not every couple that has gone through divorce is happy in retrospect with that fact. More and more one hears of couples who lament the fact that the marriage ended up in divorce, who complain that they received bad advice from people who really had no stake in the marriage; advice which drove a wedge between the spouses, rather than creating the prospects for any reconciliation.

It is important to avoid the lawyer trap that sometimes creates artificial distance and coldness between husband and wife. One should also avoid getting into a me-first type of therapy, wherein individual happiness is so supreme that any form of struggle toward adjustment is deemed inappropriate, and saving of the marriage unnecessary.

Projecting the Future

Speaking with people who have been through it all can help. It is also beneficial to explore quite seriously the consequences of the decision to divorce, before it is made. These consequences include the emotional and purely practical domains. Although it is quite difficult to project how one will feel after separation, one can at least try to project what life will be like coming home to an empty apartment, or depending on custodial arrangements; what it would be like to be a single parent.

Too often a couple is so ready to divorce because of present frustrations that they do not care about the consequences that await them. They feel, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly, that no matter what, the new situation will be better than the present predicament. But this is not always the case. Sober projection of what awaits the separating spouses, individually and collectively, is of vital necessity before jumping towards divorce.

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