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As Difficult as Splitting the Sea…

on Wednesday, April 11 2012. Posted by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg
If you find yourself in a happy and fulfilling marriage, count your blessings every day and recognize that tragically, you are in the minority. Indeed, as of 2011, there is a 49% divorce rate, with those marriages having lasted for just 8 years. Many analysts assume that the percentage should be much higher, but the truth is in society at large, fewer people are getting married so when relationships dissolve it doesn’t show up in the divorce statistic.

Ask any Rabbi today and they will tell you that they spend a large amount of time counseling, supporting and guiding people in failing marriages and deteriorating relationships. Sometimes, when a couple confronts their challenges with the support of therapy and the chizuk of their Rabbi, their marriage emerges stronger than ever having gained skills and perspectives that they didn’t have beforehand. However, it seems as if more and more faltering relationships are resulting in divorce instead of strengthening. When I grew up, one could count on one hand the kids from divorced families in the class and still have plenty of fingers left over. Today, that is not nearly the case as divorce has grown prominently in every segment of the Orthodox community.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are marriages that are not meant to continue and should result in divorce. Indeed, geirushin, divorce, is also a mitzvah in the Torah and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it when the situation demands it. That said, the dramatic increase in divorce in the Jewish community is startling, troubling and begs the question, why is it happening?

The Talmud draws a parallel between finding a suitable mate, and the effort it took God to split the sea, kasheh l’zavgan k’krias yam suf. What is the connection? The Maharal, R. Yehudah Loewe of Prague, explains very poignantly, that the splitting of the sea was a reversal of nature. Naturally, water sinks to the lowest point and water molecules stick together. When Hashem split yam suf, He transcended nature by dividing something that naturally is one unit.

Similarly, says the Maharal, human beings are naturally different, distinct and unique. Each of us has our own tastes, likes, thoughts, opinions, needs, desires, goals, dreams and aspirations. People are naturally apart. To get married, form a union with another, blend and integrate one’s desires, needs and wants with that of someone else, also requires transcending one’s nature and is no less miraculous than the splitting of the sea.

According to marriage expert and researcher, Dr. John Gottman, 69% of conflict in relationships is perpetual and is based on lasting differences in personalities and needs. Couples tend to fight about the same things over and over again. In a happy, successful and fulfilling marriage the couple dialogues about these perpetual issues and comes to compromises or solutions together to navigate through the conflict in the future or to avoid it altogether. In unhappy and failing marriages, couples live in a state of “gridlock” and painful impasse in which they continuously revisit the pain and frustration of the same fight without anything ever changing.

The bottom line is that all relationships and marriage in particular, take great effort and constant attention. We all struggle not to slip back into the natural separate and apart mode in which we think of ourselves first and don’t make room for others. Marriage requires us to be considerate of someone else’s opinion and to sometimes place their needs before our own. Marriage transforms us from takers into givers and provides amazing opportunities to improve ourselves.

The satisfaction, joy, fulfillment and meaning that result in a strong marriage are well worth the work, effort and sacrifice it takes to get there. As we mark the miracle of the splitting of the sea this weekend, let’s create our own miracle by transcending our selfish natures and by building selfless marriages.

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