Shalom Bayis (Peaceful Marriage)
For When a Marriage Gets "Stuck"































Often, when marriages run into difficulties, they become "stuck." One or both partners develop a rigid system of responses to the other. The merits of an issue can get lost. One party may do things that are abusive, negligent, embarrassing, irresponsible, selfish, critical, or any number of things which merit the other partner's expression of objection and/or request for remedy. Over time, the mistreatment pattern makes the marriage unpleasant, possibly unlivable, and drives the couple apart. Communication is crippled at best, non-existent at worst. For one or both there is no or little sense of relationship. If the offended party wishes to express any sort of complaint for wrongdoing, and the other wants to reject that complaint, or to put all blame on the one complaining, there is a veritable impasse.

From a marriage counselor's perspective, there are several considerations that go into formulating a strategy for handling a "stuck marriage." These include (varying case by case), for example: do both members of the couple really care about each other? do both members of the couple have the will, emotional strength, maturity and strength of character to work on repairing and preserving the marriage? are they stable and trustworthy? is the nature of the offense or pattern actually damaging in a non-negotiable and completely unacceptable way (e.g. hitting, shoving, infidelity)? how long has the pattern been going on and how did it develop? how long after the marriage did it start? were there signs before the marriage? what role models did the offender have in the family of origin? how does the offender act with other people and are behavior styles varied for different people? are there children involved and how are they vulnerable or affected? what kind of rabbinical guidance do they have or not have? what originally attracted them to each other and how does that fit with how they now relate (or fail to)?

It is vital that the couple feel enough care and motivation to not lose their marriage in order for a counseling process to achieve success with any couple. Some people "go through motions" in counseling to say, "See, I'm a tzadik, I went for counseling." It is actually empty and worthless. They did not face themselves or work on real issues. Counseling is sometimes just an excuse to use what a counselor said to throw blame or criticism at the other. Couples must know that COUNSELORS DO NOT SAVE MARRIAGES, THEY HELP COUPLES WHO WANT TO SAVE THEIR OWN MARRIAGE. Counselors do not live the marriage for the couple. They give guidance, insight and emotional support to a couple. They relate Torah wisdom, ethics and obligations incumbent upon a Jewish spouse. They are not a substitute for the work, courage, integrity and inner strength necessary FROM THE COUPLE. Often, one spouse has to have extra courage or initiative to start a genuine counseling process or maintain its momentum.

Each member of the couple must accept RESPONSIBILITY for their actions and, even moreso, the impact of their actions upon the other. They each must be made to see how there is "cause and effect" between their actions and how these make the other feel. "Cause and effect" is an important concept also in judging when behavior, treatment and responses are appropriate or not. Very often, a spouse is carrying "emotional baggage." This baggage often has input into why someone chose to marry a certain person and why the person treats the other the way he or she does. This usually originates back with one or both of the person's parents. Troubled behavior with the spouse has some form of emotional or psychological association with the parent (e.g. escape, punishment or continuing the familiar). There is no rational "cause and effect" between a victim's behavior and an offender's mistreatment of that victim. The cause for that behavior comes from outside of the relationship with the victim. When I analyze the nature of the behavior, and its LACK of relatedness to the mistreated spouse, it becomes necessary to identify WHAT KIND OF CAUSE OTHER THAN THE VICTIM COULD PRODUCE THIS EFFECT? That often is when we start to uncover why the offender behaves the way he or she does and we can start discerning techniques for resolving the behavioral problems. The offender must learn to distinguish between behavior appropriate to relating to his or her spouse and behavior that comes from his or her "baggage," to the unjustifiable detriment of his or her spouse.

One thing I have a couple do is make a list of all of the maalos [good qualities] in, and benefits of being married to, the other. They make the list separately in private at home and then we all discuss this interactively in the next session. This helps foster feelings of appreciation and warmth, which may strengthen the resolve to not lose and to not further damage the marriage.

If both are wronging the other, it is vital to create a mentality in which, when the other does wrong, it is never license to wrong the other back. I'll say, "IF THE OTHER DOES WRONG TO YOU, YOU MUST STILL REMAIN BLAMELESS." Wrong responses can be destructive; leading to verbal attack, blame-throwing, escalation or giving up.

It is normal, even predictable, that a couple WORKING IN GOOD FAITH will have numerous backslides and mistakes. When the other is upset or discouraged by these, I tell them that I AM MORE INTERESTED IN THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE PERSON'S INVOLVEMENT IN "THE PROCESS" THAN THE "TRACK RECORD." I want to see STEADY IMPROVEMENT, rather than perfection. There will be slip-ups. This is normal and to be expected. The offender has been behaving the same way for years, possibly since childhood. The habits, thought processes and insecurities involved can be deeply rooted and don't go away overnight. If the offender in a counseling process does wrong, my concern is that he or she feels remorse, apologizes, goes through the steps of tshuva [repentance] and makes things right to the offended party. If the person has difficulty breaking out of their way of thinking, speaking or acting, I ask him or her, "WOULD YOU RATHER BE YOURSELF OR WOULD YOU RATHER BE EFFECTIVE?" When they answer, "Effective," I point out the CONTRADICTION BETWEEN DOING SAME THINGS AND EXPECTING DIFFERENT RESULTS.

I might have the couple make separate lists at home of the things they think they've done wrong to each other. In session, we talk out how differently they perceive their actions and intentions, and how they have to LEARN TO BEHAVE SO AS TO HAVE GOOD IMPACT ON EACH OTHER. If one is very stuck in their habits and has difficulty breaking the behavior, both may need "chizuck [emotional strengthening]." The one who is having a hard time breaking their pattern has to be clear that BEING HABITUATED IS NOT THE SAME AS BEING JUSTIFIED. NO ONE HAS ANY RIGHT TO HAVE HURTFUL, NEGLIGENT OR OFFENSIVE IMPACT ON ANY OTHER PERSON. The victim is made aware that the other is working and is in a slow, gradual and difficult process.



While a couple whose marriage is troubled is in an impasse-busting, relationship-saving process, I stress improving their communication. I help them to learn how to work things out in appropriate ways on their own. The first responsibility of a good counselor is to make himself obsolete over time and make the clientele able to do what they have to in "real life" on their own. Therefore, a major part of the process is training a couple how to constructively and appropriately handle in their lives what would originally have been negatives, such as hostility, anger, punishing, provocation or disappearing. They become aware of and sensitized to the workings of their defenses or other habituated reactions and of their impact on one another. When conflicts or stressful circumstances come up, they have to learn to communicate calmly, develop discipline, use reason instead of emotion, understand ramifications before acting, be unselfish and to behave appropriately.

If the couple has internet, I might assign them a "chavrusa [learning partnership]" in relevant topics that are on my site, e.g. shalom bayis [peaceful marriage], handling anger & quarrels, communicating, midos [building good character traits], derech eretz [civil, polite and thoughtful conduct] or Psychology & Torah.

One of the major lackings in such a marriage is FAIR AND EFFECTIVE METHODS OF RESOLUTION. While in counseling, I give the couple "homework" designed to address their methods (or lack thereof) for handling differences. I give principles; tailored to their situation, personalities and history; so that they can develop skills to work problems out when they come up in "real life." I tell them to see the technique somewhat as a "stop sign" for an argument. The man and woman are required to work the situation out appropriately (like they are replaying or re-writing the scenario) or, if they can't, they each must write down what happened for the next counseling session. Through exercises in how "it should have been handled" they learn how to conduct themselves constructively or, at least, to defer discussing the situation till the next counseling session and not to behave wrongly in the meanwhile. By knowing it will be dealt with at the next session, they build emotional security and trust. They have enough confidence in finding a resolution that tension, alienation and animosity are reduced or eliminated. By my requiring them to write down details of what happened, I see more of the inner workings of how their subjective and emotional minds see the issues and each other; they create (at the time, if a weekday; or shortly after, if the event was on shabos) a reasonably useful written record of what happened; and they have more motivation to find resolution "on the spot" since most people don't prefer taking time to write.

If things go well during these exercises, they might start to talk about the way the behaviors made them each feel and compare this with how they each think the event made the other feel. They could learn from this to have greater recognition of how events or their behaviors cause the other to feel. As they start to learn the differences in how they feel about events or behaviors, and begin to communicate about how differently they feel about or perceive the events, and how the events have different meanings for each spouse, their communication and understanding of each other improves. At the beginning, however, this may work only on a somewhat surface level of feelings or recognition.

Another exercise that works wonders, AFTER THE PROCESS HAS STARTED BRINGING THE COUPLE TO A MORE CARING AND PROGRESSING STATE, is to help the couple during sessions to communicate how they feel INSIDE from the OTHER'S behavior towards them. The other often has no idea how much pain, fright, anger or frustration they truly cause; and how damaging to the relationship or hurtful to the other their behavior has been. Under my supervision during session time, I will have them softly and non-accusingly express how the other's behavior has made him or her feel ON A DEEPER, MORE CORE LEVEL. I will coach the other on how to handle this responsibly, to be trustworthy with the other's vulnerability at emotionally "opening up" and to respond in a gentle, accepting, loving and emotionally supportive manner.

One of the greatest marks of breakthrough is when a spouse is crying over the hurt they caused the other. On the other hand, one of the best tools for creating compassion and understanding is when one cries showing how much hurt the other has caused him or her to be carrying. When the hurt-causing spouse is more emotionally developed and ready to face it, sincere tears by the victim say more to make him or her aware of the hurt he or she caused than complaining or criticizing words. Their sets of inner feelings start to make "emotional contact." A sense of bonding that they never had before begins to blossom.

An exercise such as this however will not work before each member of the couple is in touch with their inner emotional self. When people start counseling, they are often not aware of their inner buried feelings, which might have nothing to do with the surface feelings they are aware of in current daily life. An exercise in connecting at the level of their inner feelings requires that each be in touch with inner feelings, or the exercise will be abstract. When defenses or neuroses are not sufficiently resolved, premature use of the exercise that brings them into "emotional contact" could be useless at best and escalatory at worst. They will still feed into and stimulate unhealthy reactions. The security, trust, healing and stabilizatization necessary are not yet developed and in place.

If a couple handles this with maturity, honesty and perseverance; the counseling process can be a phenomenal growth and learning experience. It can be difficult to undo months, years or decades of "stuck behavior." But one of the most rewarding accomplishments in a counselor's work is getting an adversarial or alienated couple, in which one or both "knew all the answers," to see that "the more he learns, the less he or she knows." As King David says [Tehillim 147:6], "Hashem encourages the humble." When one or both (as appropriate) becomes adaptive and truly gets to work, that is when the once-bitter couple can start to develop love, respect and peace. That is when their marriage can start to become happy, functional and successful.



In the previous two installments, I described some techniques that help a "stuck" couple to make emotional contact with themselves as well as with each other, improve communication, develop concern and responsiveness and begin the process of becoming less adversarial and more attached.

When this much is achieved, I work to bring this process to its next level: actively becoming genuine, caring and compatible friends. The sheva brachos [seven wedding blessings] refer to a married couple as "rayim ahovim [loving friends]." It is TORAH for a couple to share true love and have mature friendship. This must be lema'aseh [practical], not merely an intellectual ideal. I construct the "exercises" and "home work" according to the individual needs of the situation, based on the couple's history and personalities. The basic point is to get them to gradually and independently become able to think on their own "in real life" so that they can effectively manage the struggles that come up, stop fights before they happen and learn to get along under all circumstances, whether pleasant or challenging.

Once a couple gets to a point of "emotionally recognizing and acknowledging" each other, they develop the capacity to relate on a real, meaningful and satisfying level, as they never have before. The relationship carries weight, value and significance as it never had before. Neither has to second guess the other's behavior or responses. They stop worrying before they speak, stop feeling they have to weigh every word. They stop expecting what they say will backfire, blow up or be turned against them. The atmosphere becomes more healthy, smooth and spontaneous.

It is important to capitalize on the momentum, to keep up the pace of the counseling process and to keep cultivating methods for resolution of mistakes or differences that appear in "real life." This is a "fluid" and continuing process. There is generally no point at which something is automatically or suddenly all changed or fixed. Things get better very gradually, offenses get more few-and-far-between, each learns from mistakes and repeats old habits less. Each gets more and more acquainted with how to please, refrain from wronging, communicate, understand and resolve problems satisfactorily with the other.

When ready, I help the couple to actively build "loving friendship." In counseling sessions, we will take stock of each one's needs, including emotional, spiritual and practical. We look for ways to help the couple spend more time in things that each enjoys. Sometimes this entails conflict, for example, when one hates to do something the other very much likes, or when one has a need to do things that conflict with the other (e.g. one is not available when the other needs practical help or emotional support, one wants to open the window when the other wants to run the air conditioner, etc.).

Sometimes Chazal or the poskim answer the question. Sometimes I have to "weigh" the priority level of the respective opposing activities and formulate how to assign time allocation, sequencing or decision-making principles to the one whose position has greatest objective and/or subjective need or merit. Sometimes we creatively "invent" new alternatives that take portions of each one's interests, or we assign time or establish criteria for determining when they should do one thing versus the other, or formulate how to do some of each at different times. It is very important to have each understand the other's feelings and agree to address them, so that the "formula" will not disintegrate in "real life." The whole thing breaks down without practical and steady follow-through. Each must learn to take the other's feelings seriously and thereby become genuinely responsive and adaptive.

It is vital to have the couple find ways to spend quality time together. This is nothing new to the Torah Jew. Rabbi Akiva Eiger writes that he spent what we today call "quality time" with his wife. After his busy day, he spent time speaking with her and obtained her opinions every evening till midnight. Rabbi Shlomo Heiman, Rosh Yeshiva of Torah VoDa'as, in the early 40s, made a point to spend 45 to 60 minutes every day, usually at a meal, speaking with his wife.

The couple must "practice" spending time that they enjoy together. In a good relationship, no couple needs an excuse to spend time. Just being together, even without much or any talking, is all that a good relationship needs. Neither has to impress, perform or justify the other's spending time with them. Of course, when they can share and enjoy activities or conversation, that is terrific. The activities should contribute to elimination of the old bad feelings (fear, tension, etc.). The activities should promote feeling good and natural being together. The more they grow comfortable being together, the more solid their relationship is.

The couple should view themselves as a "team." We work to eliminate personality clashes. When difficulties come up, these should be viewed as a "task" for the "team," not as a problem; as something to be creatively resolved, not as an emotionally intense dilemma for the relationship. They should spend as much time as possible on common activities or, at least, view themselves as having a common mission in life in which they complement each other to add up to a whole. The more they can see themselves as having a common purpose, goals and values in life; the less personal differences mean, and the more that differences are handled successfully, without emotion or agenda. They view life as something they share together with meaning greater than their egos.

The sense of love and friendship really begins to blossom when each learns how to ongoingly, voluntarily and actively give for the purpose of causing the other to have happiness and satisfaction. This comes when each has gotten beyond past quarrels, emotions, wounds, insecurities and resentment to the point where each is able to give full recognition to the other as a "full fledged person" and they begin to consistently trust each other. Each now can be impacted by the feelings, needs and requests of the other. Each attributes weight to the existence, feelings, needs and dignity of the other. Each has developed enough concern and respect so that when something matters to one, that is enough to make it matter to the other. If they stay at the process long enough, each learns to sense what the other likes or feels and can seek to give before the other even mentions a need to receive. Each has increased responsiveness and giving, each allows the other to register and to be important, each is free from the past "baggage." They grow from adversity. The good will and care that they build can be larger than any tribulation that they might encounter.

When good-hearted mutual giving, full-time trust, effective communication and healthy respect for each other are solidly in place, then I know that the once-troubled couple is on their way to "graduation" from counseling and into a rewarding and peaceful marriage relationship for the rest of their lives.



We have been writing about how a "stuck" marriage gets "budged" and "fixed" in counseling to a point at which it is able to function, how to be reasonably free from its adversarial past, how to have generally reliable methods of conflict resolution and how to have a quality of "loving friendship" in the relationship.

It is vital for any couple with a difficult history and "bad habits" to be ever vigilant not to permit regression. Backsliding is normal and predictable, but it must be made to be more "few and far between" as a couple progresses during the repair process. This is especially important at times of stress, provocation or nesayone [trial], when people can readily fall back on their old, familiar, entrenched and destructive patterns.

Each couple has to feel their way, according to their circumstances, personalities and history; but an important part of the process of making the marriage-repair solid is continually reinforcing the development of the relationship, strengthening the weak spots and their growth as individuals and Torah Jews.

The children should very much provide common ground for a couple to work on together - and also significant motivation to work on fixing their marriage. It is crucial to train children how to be civil and please others besides themselves, be concerned about their impact on others and to develop maturity. They are the spouses of tomorrow!

The parents should ever be concerned about being role models for peace, love, respect, appreciation, kindness and all other Torah values. They should realize that their children will witness "how to be a spouse" and "how to become an adult" from what they absorb from the parents. Tone, actions and atmosphere have more impact on children than words. Children often grow up feeling rejected by their parents and develop unhealthy need for social approval instead of having inner emotional security. The emotional pressure for approval blocks them from acting on the basis of right and wrong. When they marry, they come to feel secure with their spouse, to take him or her for granted. Since they do not feel starved for the other's approval, they do not think about behaving towards the spouse in terms of right and wrong, decency, kavod habrios [human dignity] or mature responsibility. They act in adult life from what their unresolved childish emotions pressure them to gratify.

For a stable family atmosphere, life for parents and children alike must be constantly governed by halacha [law], mussar [self-improvement] and yiras Shomayim [fear of Heaven]. The couple should consciously train the children to grow up to behave like mentshen. The Torah requires training children to know the difference between right and wrong, good and evil, what is allowed and what is forbidden. One wise couple, the parents of many well-behaved children, effectively disciplined an eight year old by simply requiring him, when he misbehaved, to eat separately at the kitchen table before the family had their meals at the dining room table. There was no hitting, anger, abuse or yelling. Everything was calm but firm. The child felt terrible from "being left out" for a couple of meals, got the message to behave and he straightened out quite quickly. For him, feeling approval was specifically tied to learning right and wrong.

Failure to address these issues, to a good extent, is the reason for much social breakdown responsible for so much divorce, abuse, agunah, kids-at-risk and shalom bayis crises in our generation. Hashem wants large families of fine and holy Torah-observing human beings. Each child requires enormous love, attention, discipline, help with homework, role models for midos and derech eretz, personality cultivation and moral training. We see children growing up with enormous chutzpa, selfishness, maladjustment, materialism and existential emptiness. Some are growing up with the midos of animals. Instead of having large families to serve Hashem, it seems some families are trying their best making the earth into a big zoo. I know one yeshiva educator who says he sees the new classes over the years coming in "worse and worse." Parents and educators have to work together. The failures end up in a marriage counselor's office, a bais din, court or a mental health clinic. The Torah prohibits hiding our eyes from another's loss [Sefer HaChinuch, mitzva # 539]. One must do all he can to save another from coming to harm or he violates the prohibition of spilling blood [Choshen Mishpot 420:8]. We must teach children how to grow up into human beings who are "life-long marriage material." It does not happen by itself.

If the couple does not have children, they should view the time and freedom they have as responsibility to build a sharing, unselfish, harmonious and stable relationship.

When a once-troubled marriage gets on track, the couple must maintain the gains that they have made and reinforce them in every way reasonably possible. There will be tense times that can tempt one or both back to old familiar patterns, to a weaker and more destructive stage. Each must catch themselves and build safeguards wherever possible. If, for example, the husband used to fail to give his wife adequate attention, and due to a hard day at work, he wants to escape her to relax, I'll tell him to differentiate between the rock-bottom measure of time he needs to return to himself and an excess that will make his wife feel hurt and cheapened. She will accept his needing to unwind after a stressful day, she will not accept being emotionally rejected. If a wife was a "recreational shopper" who neglected duties towards her husband or children, she must put money or credit cards in a different place than usual to remind herself that she cannot use them for shopping which keeps her from her priority responsibilities. They must, in good faith, train themselves in such techniques until healthy behavior replaces their dysfunctional habits.

I tell couples to think about their marriage problems the way Chazal would have when they wanted to make takanos (enactments) to safeguard the Torah. Once I am quite familiar with a couple and their situation, as their counselor, I can try to analyze their particular difficulties or patterns and "legislate" homework or safeguards to help them foresee and overcome the pitfalls which caused them trouble and hard times. Good marriage counseling trains the couple to figure out how to tackle their challenges and weak spots effectively, reliably and enduringly on their own.

For a couple to repair their marriage, both must have will, the capacity to face pain and hard work, discipline, character, unselfishness, inner strength and the ability to maintain their effort steadily - even at trying times. They must remember that they are in a human, dynamic, varying and Torah-mandated project. The gemora [Megilla 6b] promises that if you engage in a spiritual undertaking and give true, full effort, you will find Heaven's help and success. How much the sincere couple finds success is a measure of how much they really tried. Their impact, for good or bad, can last for generations to come.



Having sterling midos (character traits) and behaving like a mentsh (fine human being) are fundamental to living the Torah. These are obligatory towards all people: Jew and non-Jew, the distinguished and the ordinary, male and female. THIS INCLUDES: THE PERSON ONE IS MARRIED TO. How one behaves in close relationships shows who one truly is. Pirkei Avos [chapter three] says that if one doesn't have derech eretz, one doesn't have Torah. Rabbi Dessler [Michtav Mi'Eliyahu, vol. 4] quotes Rabainu Yonah (12th century) who wrote, based on this Mishna, that G-d's presence cannot rest upon any person who does not have good midos (even a person with lots of Torah learning). The external corollary to good character is "derech eretz:" polite, thoughtful and civil behavior.

The midrash [Vayikra Raba] says, "Derech eretz comes before Torah." At presentations I ask people, "If 'derech eretz comes before Torah,' if a person behaves without derech eretz, what is that person's Torah?" Hopefully, this gets people thinking. One does not personify Torah until he demonstrates derech eretz IN EVERYTHING HE DOES. Without prerequisite derech eretz, you don't have Torah. When your behavior is up to the standard required by derech eretz, you are a vessel for, and "good-will ambassador," for the Torah.

Pela Yoetz writes that when a person has derech eretz, he cancels his will for other people, people find him to be sweet, he makes a point to steadily learn about derech eretz, honors people in ways that do them good and he never hurts people; and any Torah scholar who does not have derech eretz is a chillul Hashem [profanation of G-d]. I tell people that a meaning of "derech eretz comes before Torah" is: if you make kiddush Hashem [sanctification of G-d] by treating people with derech eretz, this could bring them to Torah. YOUR DERECH ERETZ can come before THEIR TORAH. Derech Eretz helps one get olam habo [eternal life, Tanna Debay Eliyahu Raba 2]. You cannot do a mitzva if it requires hurting someone else [Orech Chaim 1:1, Mishna Brura 2]. One must always make himself be gentle [Taanis 4a]. Speak to people about what interests them before you speak about what interests you [Sifri BiHa'aloscha 102]. Derech Eretz requires constant work [Brachos 32b].

Pirkei Avos [chapter three] tells us that "all who are pleasing to one's fellow man are pleasing to Hashem and all who are not pleasing to one's fellow man are displeasing to Hashem." To be a Torah person, one must be sweet and peaceful [Mishlai 3:17]. Pirkei Avos teaches us to always give people a kindly and pleasant countenance [chapter one] and to always receive people cheerfully [chapter three]. Get into the habit of treating everyone in a friendly manner always. Be sociable and healthily involved in the life of your community. When a poor person asks you for charity, respond with warmth and a smile. If you can't give, say IN A NICE MANNER that you're not in a position to give. The Chafetz Chayim [Ahavas Chesed] says that even if you can't give a penny, a warm, comforting or encouraging response to the poor person can be a kindness, and, therefore, is a mitzva. Greet neighbors on the street. Ask people, with sincere interest - not mechanically, how things are. You'll start to see your attitudes - and relationships - improve.

Hashem told Moshe to leave Yisro and go to Egypt to save the Jewish people. Moshe was living in Yisro's home. He first went to Yisro to ask permission to leave to go to Egypt (Exodus 4:18). DERECH ERETZ FOR A PRIEST TO IDOLATRY CAME BEFORE A COMMAND DIRECTLY FROM HASHEM!

Watch for opportunities to exemplify derech eretz IN YOUR HOME WITH YOUR SPOUSE AND YOUR CHILDREN. Watch how the quality of your marriage goes up. Anticipate each other's feelings, needs and wishes in advance - before they have to be mentioned. If your wife asks you to take out the garbage or bring home a quart of milk, learn from this the first time that when the garbage fills up or the milk runs low - take the garbage out or bring the milk in - on your own. Similarly, if your husband likes a coffee with breakfast or likes his seforim (holy books) put back on the shelf in their proper place after the children use them, don't wait to be asked to make sure that breakfast includes coffee the way he likes it or to put his sefer back on its shelf after your little Yonkel finishes his Chumash homework.

If your spouse likes something, bring presents of that kind home. One young man found out his new bride likes ice cream. She came home to find a milk shake from the store in the refrigerator. A woman made a passing remark that a household article was wearing out. Shortly thereafter, her husband came home with a brand new one as a surprise. An engaged young man told his bride-to-be that he doesn't like the look of certain clothes. Out of respect for his feelings, during her "bridal shopping," she acquired a wardrobe of clothes to suit his taste. A woman makes a point to be attractively dressed and have supper ready when her husband gets home from work - no matter how rambunctious their many children are after school.

When the other has a problem, be as supportive, understanding and patient as you can. Stay cheerful, gracious and pleasant, except when you are genuinely burdened and your spouse can help. There is no gain expressing depression, trouble or tension where your spouse will only be made sad or hurt and can't help in any way. Don't do things that will bother, irritate, ignore, disrespect, pressure or unnecessarily worry your spouse.

Always be considerate, give compliments and express appreciation. Tell your wife that her appearance looks nice and cooking is delicious. Tell your husband that his achievements make you proud of him. Hold the door for your wife. It is NO violation of tzneeyus [modesty] to hold a door for any woman and it IS derech eretz. If either feels, because of tzneeyus, she should be behind the man, then he should hold the door turning himself so that she walks behind his back.

The Arizal said to Rabbi Moshe Kordevaro that he had a ruach hakodesh [Divine inspiration] that if the two of them went (from their town of Tzfas) to Jerusalem right away, they would bring Moshiach. Rabbi Kordevaro said that he would just tell his wife that he is leaving for Jerusalem. When he came back, ready to leave, the Arizal said that, in the time he took to say goodbye to his wife, the opportunity passed and it was too late. Rabbi Yisroel Salanter, the "Father of the Mussar [Torah self-perfection] Movement," said that we see from this that you cannot bring Moshiach if it means doing so on the "cheshbon" of one's wife. It was more important that Rabbi Kordevaro give derech eretz to his wife than bring Moshiach with the great Arizal!

Some people make the mistake of thinking "derech eretz" altogether is corny or old-fashioned; or just for saints who want "extra credit." Some people make the mistake of thinking derech eretz is fine in public, but not with one's spouse nor children; or derech eretz is fine for wife and children but not for strangers. The thing which COMES BEFORE THE TORAH is not something to make any mistakes about. Not with anybody. Never.



The Talmud says, "G-d wants your heart [Sanhedrin 106b]" to be for Him and His will. The Hebrew word for "heart" (laiv) is spelled with the letters lammed and bais. The Torah starts with bais and ends with lammed. It would have been nice if the Torah started with lammed and ended with bais instead because these would make the word "heart." If the main thing that G-d wants is the "heart," that would have been very symbolic and instructive. We would have been able to say that the Torah contains heart and your heart contains Torah and it would have made a lovely lesson. The beginning and the end of the Torah are the letters for the word for "heart," spelled BACKWARDS.

Curiously, bais and lammed (in that order) also spell a word: "bal" (which means: not, don't, negation). For example, we see it in the phrase "bal tashchis - do not waste" [the mitzva to not waste or destroy worldly resources]. On the surface, it seems there is a message that the Torah stands for negation or some form of non-existence. But, that is the exact opposite of what we know the Torah to stand for.

In Parshas Shoftim, the Torah tells us to follow our Torah authorities. If you have a question in Torah law or a claim against someone, go to the Torah instructor and follow what he says. The obligation is so strong, that you must not turn to the right or the left of what the Torah authority tells you [Deuteronomy 17:8-11]. Rashi tells us the meaning goes so far that even if what the scholar (i.e. rov, posaik, dayan) says seems to you "the right is the left" or "the left is the right," do what he says. Don't think he has things backwards, even if you think that the truth is the opposite of what he tells you. The person with da'as Torah [practical knowledge of Torah] has training in truth, objectivity, seeing with clarity, perceiving life accurately and knowing what the will of G-d is.

People are subjective. People have emotions, self-interests and biases. The Torah is straight and objective. It is the "knowledge" and "wisdom" of G-d. "The Torah of G-d is perfect, it restores the soul; the statement of G-d is trustworthy, making wise the simple. The laws of Hashem are straight, making the heart happy; the commandments of G-d are clear bringing light to the eyes [Psalms 19:8-9]." We start out at a point of spiritual and intellectual imperfection, shortcoming and backwardness. We have to spend a lifetime breaking our faults and filters, overcoming them and turning ourselves over from our subjective and imperfect starting point, to get to our Torah-determined completion point, to our potential as relaters and as human beings.

When the Talmud teaches us that G-d wants the heart, and when the initials of the Torah are "heart backwards," this means that WE have to turn OURSELVES and our perceptions around and reverse them during the course of a lifetime (to get from self-oriented, incomplete and subjective to Torah-oriented, complete and objective). By learning and observing Torah and its mitzvos, by working diligently on midos [character development] and by listening to the rabbinical leaders of our day, we fulfill what G-d wants and we turn ourselves around from "bal" to "laiv." It is not the Torah that is backwards, it is us. It is our job is to transform ourselves THROUGH TORAH. In the beginning we present to G-d "bal" (nothing, selfishness, frailty, deficiency and subjectivity) and the Jew's goal in life is to get to where we each give G-d "laiv" (heart, completeness, perfection, service, loyalty, devotion).

The Vilna Gaon writes in Evven Shlaima, "The essential purpose of life is to strengthen oneself continually in the conquering of midos and if at any time one does not, he is wasting being alive." This says what life itself is. One must always be working on midos, including when relating with other people, so that you can craft the kinds of human interactions, relationships and activities that the Torah wants. At any moment that one is not growing, one is wasting life. There is no bigger BAL tashchis! By opening up the Torah within the Jew, we can transform the "bal (nothing)" to "laiv (heart)." Through immersion in Torah, we put together the physical and spiritual, manifesting continuity and purpose of life. Then, we can say that one's laiv is the Torah and Torah is one's laiv.

In Pirkei Avos, chapter two, Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zakkai says that a good heart contains all good things and a bad heart contains all bad things. The laiv is the essence. Having a good, pure heart contains every manner of good. It is crucial to living a good life and distancing from all the bad things in life. This is a rule to which there are no exceptions.

When working with couples in counseling, I see they have often developed "blind spots" to each other. They fail to see the impact of their actions, words, tone, behavior and positions on each other. They are capable of hurting and negating each other, as if the other, in important respects, is not even there. They can be domineering, selfish, demanding, pejorative or sadistic; even couples who want to fix their marriage.

It becomes imperative to analyze the root and nature of each one's behavior. More often than not, external behavior is a manifestation of something deeper inside. The couple has been causing pain, evoking defensive reactions or habits and accumulating emotional baggage.

It becomes imperative to train the couple to see how they impact each other, and to accept the responsibility that each has to correcting their part in the marriage. I emphasize what each must GIVE, and I train them to get away from what each demands or feels they deserve, or from playing the other's judge or analyst. These are usually ways they give themselves license to abuse or neglect each other. I have to devise formulas and principles that allow the couple to gradually learn to work out their differences at home in "real life." This entails both objective and subjective criteria. Sometimes one has a practical objective need (e.g. the husband's work or recuperating from its stress, the wife having dinner ready or being preoccupied with the children). Sometimes there is subjective need (e.g. an issue having emotional weight such as a hurt or disappointment, a cause or pastime having deep meaning). The couple learns to overcome subjectivity, selfishness and the "blind spot" to the other. Because they have been paining, frightening and/or angering each other for years or decades, they have sometimes learned to shudder at the thought of interacting with the other (at least in "hot" subject areas). In a sense, I am working to remove "orlas laiv [blockage around a heart]" and the psychological baggage that keeps each from genuinely reckoning with the "human reality" of the other. Since they have been alienating, wounding or terrifying each other, they have been putting each other off. I train them to become what I call "want-able" to one another, to deal with issues in a fair "two-way-street" fashion, to behave so that the other will want to be with and please the other - of his and her own volition. They gradually learn to acknowledge and respond to each other in real terms when they communicate. They accept responsibility for their treatment of each other and to be concerned about their impact on each other. When these happen, the couple is ready to start resolving their differences maturely and relating "heart to heart." They grow closer to the way the Torah wants a couple to behave and to give their hearts more fully to each other and to Hashem.



When couples, younger or older, have marital trouble, often "the trouble is not the trouble." The real issue is deep below the surface. Things "don't come from nowhere." The couple's situation is often aggravated and compounded by their "history," the result of a building up over years or even decades.

A representative scenario is something like this. A couple comes in to see me for counseling. Things can be quite emotional, intense or hostile. I hear out the situation and patterns; and some history of the marriage and of each spouse's family of origin. I notice again and again, with couple after couple, that the picture they paint with their complaints, accusations and heartache is one of a situation often that is a matter of WHAT ACTIONS AND BEHAVIOR REPRESENT UNDER THE SURFACE; PARTICULARLY AS A MATTER OF THE ACCUMULATION OF ENCOUNTERS OVER THE YEARS. What A did is a result of something B did, which was a reaction to something A did, who complains it was because of something B did, etc.; and so it goes, back for years and sometimes to the beginning of the marriage. THE PATTERN HAS TO BE UNRAVELED IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER, starting from the present and most up-to-date event.

To describe it a little more concretely, let's go back to the beginning and proceed in chronological order. The pattern might go like this. A does something offensive. B gets defensive and does something not nice in return. A is angered and does something punitive to B. B takes vengeance. A is going to show B who is boss and does something nasty. B blows up. A reacts with something hysterical. In other words, their marriage has become the proverbial "snowball" that gets bigger and bigger as it proceeds to role down the hill.

The couple gets so lost in fighting, "winning," punishing, controlling, protecting and accusing; that they no longer realize that THEIR RELATIONSHIP HAS BECOME CHARACTERIZED BY THEIR PATTERN OF TAKING RIGID AND EMOTIONAL POSITIONS, PROVOCATION, REACTION, DEFENSES AND ESCALATION. They fail to see that their behaviors no longer have the meaning that they appear to on the surface. Rather, much of their marital behavior is symbolic of what they will or will not "allow" to happen and is a mounting of intense trouble that has developed over years. They often fail to see how caught up they've gotten in this escalatory pattern and how much their behavior has become "REACTIVE," rather than "active." They have lost perspective on what marital relating is.

What matters as a practical marriage counseling concern is that the pattern has to be uncovered by discerning how a recent event (or series of recent events) that brought them to counseling is the result of a previous provocation, which was the result of the previous one, etc.; to adequately see the pattern for what it is and how it developed in this individual case.

For me, as the counselor, I have to recognize the pattern by unraveling their history in reverse chronological order, to see how the most current stage is the result of the previous, which is the result of the previous, etc., sometimes for years or even back to the beginning of the relationship. Then we have to discern what forces and psychological processes are at work guiding the particular behaviors and general pattern in this couple's individual case. For example, one did something when the marriage was new that was insensitive. The other's reaction was defensive. The other's reaction was immature. The other one's feelings were hurt and did something to get even. The other one, feeling self-worth threatened, got defensive and lashed back aggressively. The other one had to draw the line and took some irrational and rigid position about something. The other one started dissappearing for many hours at a time or overnight, etc. It built up over years or decades to the point where one or both feel they no longer have a life.

It is vital in such a case that the couple realize that their marriage and behavior has gotten out of hand. The situation has intensified and escalated over several years. By starting to unravel the history, and understanding its reactive and escalatory character, the couple can start to gain rational perspective. They can start seeing their behaviors and patterns - and their origin and development - for what they are. By paring down the components of their history to their basic elements, a couple WHICH WANTS TO WORK can get an effective grip on the situation, come to understanding their behaviors and patterns, start changing destructive and unreasonable behaviors, and GRADUALLY turn the complex and messy marriage around successfully.

One or both members of a couple in such a case has generally developed an intense and emotional state. This can make working on repairing their marriage difficult. There is a lot of hurt, tension and resentment built up, and a lot of habituation to adversarial and defensive behavior. It is crucial for the couple to get perspective, to recognize the escalatory pattern for what it is, to catch themselves and discontinue it. By understanding how their problems developed historically and emotionally, and mustering the courage and perseverance to work on their problems, they can slowly repair the marriage and give to themselves and their children a healthier and happier life.



One of the saddest and most destructive things that I repeatedly witness in my work as a marriage counselor is the "RELATIONAL PHONEY." This person presents him/herself to the outside world as a tzadik; sweet and generous.

Recently, I was on the phone with a person who was seeing me for marriage counseling, whose behavior with me was pleasant, lovely and mature. A family member said something innocent in the background and the person I was speaking to started shouting wildly at that person. Couples come for sessions. At the beginning of the counseling relationship, they might speak dispassionately and politely. After some time, some couples start tearing at eachother; accusing; disclosing a history in their marriage of nasty, callous and abusive behavior.

Couples who come in for marriage counseling often present themselves as angelic and flawless - until demands are put upon them to face their faults and misdeeds in "real life" and change. There can be a variety of responses, but typically they might include defensively putting blame and criticism on the other, abandoning the spouse and family, "closing up," justifying improper things which they do, claiming a conspiracy (your whole family hates me/is out to get me), anger, verbal attacking, breaking down and/or getting emotional.

What is remarkable is how such people live by acting. They are living in two separate, disconnected worlds: the phoney "nice guy show" that they put on in the street (for their shul, customers, marriage counselor, etc.); while, in their homes, their behavior is far less than nice. They can talk beautifully about what a marriage should be, growing, about high standards, about behaving responsibly. It is all empty "lip service" and meaningless abstraction. When pushed to act maturely in their home and marriage, there are a million and one reasons why the good concepts don't apply in this case, why the other does not deserve "normal" treatment or any number of evasions of duty and critical value judgements of the other. They "talk the talk but can't walk the walk!"

When we see the disparity between their worthless talk and their real-life action, we see that such a person is living two seperate lives and is a PHONEY - often with considerable flaws and weakness in personality, character, behavior and emotional maturity. When the reality outside of the false, self-serving "mental reality" (constructed in the person's mind) confronts the person, (s)he is not equipped to deal with it and is pushed to "fight or flight." In personal relationships, (s)he is rude, vindictive, a manipulater, a user, a "spoiled child," a lier, selfish, irresponsible, begrudging, nasty, cruel, explosive, negligent, offensive, impatient, escapist and/or lacking self-control. When both partners have such shortcomings (generally each in different manifestations), the results can get quite hysterical.

Mathematically, two incomplete halves cannot add up to a complete whole and a phoney spouse cannot be half of one true marriage. For problem marriages to be authentically worked on and resolved, each partner has to face the issues within him/herself that must be dealt with in practical, trustworthy, courageous and persevering ways. Placing all blame on another, bullying, evading responsibility within oneself, running from what resolution requires of each partner - all guarantee that no significant or lasting change will occur. It is simple logic: if you keep doing the things that bring result A, you will get result A. Only if you change and do the things which get result B will you get result B. If you do things which bring A, you will NOT get B. The counselor does not live the marriage for the couple. It is the couple who must change their marriage; with the guidance, insight, advice and encouragement of the counselor. Marriages don't get fixed by phoning a counselor, or visiting a counselor - and CONTINUING TO BEHAVE IN THOSE WAYS WHICH MAKE THE MARRIAGE A MISERABLE CATASTROPHE! That is just living a contradiction, delusion and lie!

If one or both members of the couple fail to act so as to produce a happy and harmonious marriage, they will not have one. And, ONE OF THE MOST SUPERB WAYS TO MAKE SURE THE MARRIAGE STAYS PATHETIC IS TO PRETEND TO BE A FLAWLESS ANGEL, GIVE BRILLIANT LIP SERVICE TO MARRIAGE REPAIR, AND RIGIDLY REMAIN AS NEGLECTFUL AND MALEVOLENT AS EVER, being the phoney who presents a righteous, pleasant person in the street, while sadistic and unresponsive in "real life."

If you want a happy, functional and stable marriage; each partner is going to have to be very brave and honest, take responsbility for each one's own work, stop focusing on what is bad and wrong with the other, look inside (do cheshbon hanefesh - introspection) and evaluate what each has to do to contribute adequately to the marriage as a whole and to do for the good and happiness of the other partner, grow emotionally and spiritually, and make all practical changes necessary on a reliable, good-natured and steady basis.

It is only when marriage partners stop passively neglecting what they must do and stop actively doing what each must not do that their marriages will become successful. Talking one way and acting another - regardless of the exquisite sound of the words - will only keep the failure and misery constant.



There is a pattern that I see in my marriage counseling experience. It's frequency of recurrence from different couples is amazing. It's almost like a script that couples from all over get a copy of and come to me with - over and over. Of course, many marriage counseling cases do NOT play out as follows, but there is a definite segment in which this very frequent pattern recurs. We keep hearing about the marriages that crumble because one or both are abusive, rigid or "morally challenged." The following will show that we can't presume one partner is automatically bad and that WE MUST STRIVE TO KNOW BOTH SIDES.

The point, however, that I really want to make here is how SUBJECTIVE ANY PERSON can be, even one who SEEMS to want to work on repairing a marriage. Unless both partners are objective, open to change and to honestly facing themselves, and willing to do what it takes to fix their marriage; EVEN GOING FOR HELP IS A SELF-DECEIVING BLUFF AND TOTAL FUTILITY.

The pattern starts with a phone call from one spouse who tells me that there is some serious problem in the marriage. The other, in some way, is stuck in a behavior pattern that is making the caller suffer and/or is tearing the family apart. The caller might be to some degree emotional, sometimes even driven, and sometimes wants a first session to talk alone before both come.

Almost without exception, the other spouse is described as cold, evil, neglectful, mean, irresponsible, constantly busy and occupied, selfish, disturbed and/or steadily ignoring the children; who are becoming wild or disrespectful, or are hanging out with the wrong kids or getting less frum.

When the allegedly "guilty" spouse comes in for a session, I see, with striking regularity, in cases that fit this pattern, that this other person is generally warm, good-natured and sincere. It is the first one's behavior and perceptions that are the primary cause of dysfunction, strife, instability or incompatibility. The complaining spouse is often rigid, selfish, steamrolling, manipulative, critical, demanding, all-knowing, angry, pained from dysfunction in childhood, rude, non-communicative and/or irresponsible. The accuser does not see any fault in him/herself. S(he) will often give EMPTY LIP-SERVICE to how important it is for both to work on themselves. But there is nothing real in it, except his/her wish to impress me. If the accused spouse ignores the complainer, it is because this true victim can't take the way the complainer treats him/her, and needs to escape. The complainer provokes the accused constantly. If the latter reacts, e.g. by getting upset or by going out for a while, it is because of understandable sensitivity and need to get relief or defend him/herself. Then, the complainer uses this reaction to say, "You see, you're crazy/evil." The victim typically is a very nice person who can't handle a mean, pouncing, irresponsible and neurotic beast of a spouse. The victim is sometimes even a tzadik/tzadekess for what (s)he puts up with.

The gemora (Bava Kama 93b) says, "Always one should be the persecuted and never the persecutor" (because G-d punishes persecutors). The Kotzker Rebbe asked why the gemora adds the word "always." The teaching seems clear without it. The Kotzker, consistent with his sharp insight, says that one person can irritate and instigate a second person into persecuting the first. "Always" teaches: don't ever be one who provokes another into persecuting you. THE ABOVE SCENARIO IS THE KOTZKER'S CASE: SPOUSE "A" MANIPULATES SPOUSE "B" INTO BEING A PERSECUTOR. "A" IS THE ONE WHO IS ACTUALLY AT FAULT. But, spouse "A" says, "I am the one who went for help so you MUST BE THE GUILTY/EVIL/SICK ONE." Then, there is often no dealing with spouse "A," due to whom such marriages die or stay unhappy. THE GOAL NEVER WAS TRUE MARRIAGE COUNSELING. THE INTENTION REALLY WAS, "FIX THE OTHER ONE MY WAY, THEN EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE." It is more trustworthy when a complaining spouse says "the other HURT ME" [a historical fact] than "the other IS BAD" [which is a value judgement].

The GRA says that the fundamental purpose of life is full-time work on midos. King Solomon says (Proverbs 4:11), "In the way of wisdom I instructed you, I directed you on the straight paths [ma'aglai yosher]." "Ma'agal" can either mean a "path" or a "circle." There is Hebrew grammar problem, then, in the verse using a term that can be read "straight circle" - an inherent contradiction! I heard in the name of one of the Telzher roshai yeshiva that King Solomon is adding a deep message. A person has a storehouse of all of the midos (character traits) of the human personality and these are analogous to a "straight circle," IF THE PERSON HAS THE CORRECT MEASURE AND BALANCE OF ALL THE MIDOS. If there is too much or too little of any mida (trait), that puts bumps on his "midos circle." Where there is too much, the circle bulges out, too little it bulges in. G-d instructed us in Torah wisdom to lead us to the straight path which is only attainable through an even "straight circle" - the proper content of midos. Only through working constantly on midos can a person live with truth, goodness and righteousness; go according to the instruction of the will of G-d, and live with others as G-d wants from each of us.



One of the things I see over and over when doing counseling and in dealing with people is what I must refer to as "emotional retardation." I see it in various forms, but there is a common underlying theme: people are often un-developed and, even though they reach physical maturity, they don't reach emotional maturity. This is NOT a question of intelligence or Torah knowledge. The more intelligent or learned an emotionally under-developed or disturbed person is, the more destructive (s)he can be; particularly in shidduchim, shalom bayis and interpersonal relations.

In one pattern, a husband will make judgements or use his logic to determine what feelings are valid or allowable. He doesn't get it when his wife says she has feelings or that an issue matters to her. He is blind to his impact on her, causing extreme emotional pain and distress in the process. The feelings are usually a legitimate part of her female nature.

Then there is the type of woman who is blind to anyone else. She is a user, sadist and manipulater; is demanding and thinks nothing about how much she imposes on anyone else. Others are there to take from. She can do no wrong. She might use charm or she might be downright hostile. If someone is upset by her abuse, they are the culprit, in her thinking. She says that they are crazy, defective or evil and she is just fine.

Then there is the steamroller type, often, but not necessarily always, the man. If you do not agree with him, he puts up an emotional "armored tank" that comes out "shooting" (e.g. anger, yelling, storming out of the room, throwing objects, threatening gestures). You can't get a word in edgewise. He is thundering through, with emotional force, wounding and offending whatever is in the way. He makes sure that no one can override his onslaught, so that he never has to feel wrong, guilty or, worse, the loser. His unsophisticated ego could not handle that.

Then there is the type who is "sensitive." It seems very commendable to be "sensitive" these days. After all, society can be so callous! However, many of these self-proclaimed "sensitives" are sensitive for themselves, not for anyone who makes them uncomfortable or who puts any price on having a serious relationship with them. In their cases, "sensitive" is "code word" for profoundly selfish and infantile.

Regardless of what brand of emotional retard one is, having a meaningful relationship with one is next to impossible. Even as a counselor, I find some people are incapable of the maturity, derech eretz, stability or responsibility to even have a COUNSELING RELATIONSHIP with. They will miss or cancel appointments, show up very late, find reasons not to work on their issues, try to take more time than the counselor has available, behave provacatively or offensively and then say that they can not work with the counselor. In truth, they can't work with anybody - including themselves, so they will not help themsleves to change. The counselor has a life, with them or without them. They are only fooling and shortchanging themselves.

These conditions typically go back to childhood. The person never developed as AN EMOTIONAL ENTITY. The person may have have suffered psychologically, or may have been spoiled, or never trained to have discipline or responsibility. In anything which does not adequately suit them, they are very hard to deal with. They rigidly want things to be one-sided, on their self-centered terms. Often, only something very forceful and painful, such as a life tragedy [Rachmana litzlon], or threat of divorce or (if single) of never getting married, makes such a person wake up and try to face the situation within themsleves for what it really is. With or without a crisis, these people often are unreachable, or their changes are temporary, or they move so slowly to work on themsleves that "watching the grass grow" is a fast-action sport, by comparison. Their marriage partners are faced with the unenviable dilemma of choosing between being a "korban" [sacrifice] or a statistic.

These people often can't be controlled or prevailed upon to respond to the dignity and real needs of another and to the halachic or moral obligations they have to others. This can extend to other relationships (e.g. neighbors, business, etc.) too. However, since these people are often also fakers, they may seek approval by acting like angels with some class of acquaintances and viciously with others. Since they are as insecure as they are small in character and emotional development, they are often starved for kavod that they try to squeeze out of those who have little meaning in their lives. Those they are close to, or who can get to know the "real them," they must have control over, have power to reject (and not be rejected by), have power to hurt (and not be hurt by). They do not see the contradiction between starvation for love and guaranteeing through their behavior that they can never avail themselves of it. They are so frightened of rejection or hurt or feeling unimportant, they won't risk obtaining a love relationship in a real, solid, steady, mature and secure way.

In my counseling experience, prospects for building improvement with such people are tough, at best. I have seen cases where near-to-hopeless marriages have been repaired and I have seen where marriages have either continued as an exercise is suffering and dysfunction or have ended. What generally made the difference is the ability to find it in themselves to be honest; to have some grasp of character, maturity, responsibility and integrity. Success came by making - and staying committed to - goals; such as resolution of a marriage, of self-sabotage and of personal faults, or the well-being of children. This must be a higher goal than ego, neurotic defense or staying rigidly stuck in a habituated comfort level. Sometimes, I cannot tell them of the goal directly because this can scare some away, so I just work with such people in the direction of the goals that I know they should have. Often, such a person comes around very slowly. It is hard to make up 20, 40 or 60 years of emotional maturation or security and to re-learn how to live and view life, in a few months of counseling. It takes time, courage and inner strength to face the pain of trustworthy change and self-improvement. A Jew must never forget that he has Torah obligations towards others (including for the person one married!) including ahavas Yisroel and kavod habrios [love and respect for people], shalom [peace], onoas devarim [never hurting feelings] and countless other obligations. Rambam says that if one annoyed another just once in the course of a year, one must ask forgiveness and do tshuva, for Yom Kippur to bring atonement!

Let us not fail to raise our children to have "age appropriate" emotional maturation, and let us re-inforce at all ages that a Jew's life is for giving, not taking; responsibility, not self-indulgence; pleasing, not harming; and treating fellow Jews, especially those closest to us, as the creations and children of G-d, whom He loves.



There is a pattern that presents itself in my marriage counselling work. Naturally, individual details, relationships and personalities will vary. This is not the only kind of marriage trouble around. Men or women can occupy the attacking or victimized role. But there is so much recurrent thematic unison in many cases I have worked with, that I see it as helpful to write about this somewhat common and painful pattern. Chazal tell us the mizbayach (altar) cries when a Jewish marriage ends. It is a serious responsibility to do everything humanly possible to restore peace to a troubled marriage. Extra effort is mandatory to preserve marriage when a couple has a child, or more than one child.

I'll receive a phone call from a woman (or, occasionally, a concerned relative). She tells me that her husband is emotionally abusing her (or worse). There is no meaningful relationship and she doesn't know what to do, but the marriage is too unbearable to keep it as it is.

The wife will often come in at the start alone for counseling. There is no affection and there usually hasn't been for years. The woman is torn for one or more reasons such as: * he's really not a bad or mean person, he's just troubled, * they still have to marry off children and it is much harder with a broken home, * she has no means of financial support without him, * she doesn't want to have divorce emotionally cripple the children, * she has guilt about quitting the marriage, * she has misplaced pity towards him, * she's too emotionally drained, weak or insecure to confront him and/or divorce, etc.

The husband typically has several characteristics which include being very angry, critical, nervous, wanting things his way, bullying, seeing things one-sidedly, rigid, steamrolling, blind to his wife as a person or woman and to his impact upon her, deeply insecure inside but a self-important "big shot" outside, is in deep need of warmth and approval, comes from a dysfunctional or emotionally lacking family, can snap in an instant, has either no interest or only physical interest in intimacy (but with no emotional connection to or concern for his wife), defensive, explosive and basically makes his wife feel cancelled, cheapened, used, pained, burned-out and/or disrespected. She might want to know whether to divorce or accept her fate, she may want coping strategies or may want coaching on how to guide her husband into counseling.

One of the most important things for the wife is to work on building her often weakened, pained and battered self-image and emotional strength and security.

My general strategy is to change her frame of thinking to prepare to view the situation from a healthy perspective and to set herself up to take charge of her course. She has to be made to clearly recognize that her husband is troubled and is not in her control. Some of these women can see things somewhat realistically while others are lost in fantasy or wishful thinking. Very often, they view or handle the situation with contradictions. For example, they can intellectually tell you that they deserve not be treated like a shmatta (rag) while constantly accepting "shmatta treatment," explained away with elaborate rationalizations. Often, the husband does not agree to come in for counseling. He will say that the wife is over-sensitive and crazy, that they tried counseling [with him giving resistance or half-hearted effort], that he knows more than counselors do, he is too busy with "real life," etc.

When counseling women alone, I basically work to get them to * see the situation objectively, * clear out mental cobwebs that irrationally and unjustifiably cause her to defend or explain the husband's abuse, sadism and irresponsibility and * build up her emotional strength, inner resolve and self-esteem. This is critical. She has to undergo emotional healing inside before she can take any credible and actionable position about the marriage. If she tries to make a stand with her husband, and is too weak or too steeped in dysfunctional habits to carry it out and stick with it, she will not only fail, she will be a laughing stock to her husband, an object of scorn and ridicule. She must become emotionally strong, mentally clear and in possession of a set of firm principles.

Then, the most frequent goal is to get her to decide that she is taking charge of her situation. She will basically say to her husband something like this [of course the details vary from case to case], "This abusive state of marriage is unacceptable and IT IS NOW OVER. I will only be in a marriage that is healthy, workable, halachic and normal. I am moving forward and it is a new situation from this moment on. You are invited to come forward with me and repair this marriage. But make no mistake that if you don't, I am proceeding anyway and will leave you behind. If you come with me for help, we stand a chance of a satisfying and workable life together. If you don't, you will be responsible for your damaging impact on this marriage and all consequences. I will only be in a liveable marriage. Will it be with you or not? YOU CHOOSE. You have [a limited time e.g. two days] to give me your final decision. I will proceed then as I see fit."

An approach along this line makes stagnation or procrastination NOT an option. It takes control out of the hands of a husband who is not equipped to be entrusted with it. It lays out clearly and firmly where things are going.

The wife must recognize in advance the chance she is taking. She also has to realize that if her husband is only willing to be married on the condition that she be his "shmatta," verbally, emotionally or worse, she has no marriage anyway. If she has no marriage, it just may be time for her to face up to the truth of this, and do what she has to for her life. She has to be the one to take control and force the current "non-marriage of a marriage" out of existence. If she can have a real marriage, the only way she will have it is by bravely and actively bringing it to the "real marriage" status. She must be realistic about her husband's limitations and not be unrealistically demanding about his speed of change. Rather, she must be demanding about his SINCERITY AND CONSISTENT LEVEL OF EFFORT. She must NOT go to the other extreme by being punitive, neurotic or demanding anything unreasonable or unfair from him.

With balance, patience, mutual effort and perseverence, this is an approach for some couples in this pattern to try to repair their marriage.



There is a common expression that "Men are from Mars and women are from Venus." Torah knew gender differences since Sinai and it is important for Jews to learn true, accurate and precise information about gender differences and compatible living ONLY FROM THE TORAH. I hold it is "traif" to go to outside sources to learn about the holy and fundamental institution of marriage. To start, the gemora deals with "where the genders are from."

The Talmud (Shabos 62a) calls women "a nation unto themselves." Chazal knew the exact nature of analogy. When the sages give an analogy, it is perfect from every angle. By their saying that men and women are different "nations," the analogy tells us that they must achieve "alliance," uniting their differences "on the same planet." They must regard each other the way ambassadors, interpreters and diplomats regard and deal with those from a foreign nation. Each has a different language, culture, history and mind-set. Dealing with a spouse is like dealing with someone from a strange country. When couples come to me for marriage counseling, they often have trouble communicating and comprehending the other's mental process. Part of my work is serving as a "translator." In spite of the differences, peculiarities and inexplicability of the other, each must be able to get along peacefully and productively. The man and woman each have different natures, personalities and abilities. By bringing them together harmoniously and complementing each other for the benefit of creating a complete whole, the two "nations" come together as "allies" to achieve a common purpose which neither could achieve without the other. The man and the woman each bring resources, temperament, thinking patterns, personality traits and strengths into the marriage that the other cannot provide. When unified and at peace, they come together and make strong "alliance" of two different "nations" to achieve good that each could not achieve alone. Their differences are a source of completion, not dissention.

G-d calls only a married couple a "human being," as the Torah writes (Genesis 5:2), "Male and female He created them, and He blessed them, and He called THEIR NAME 'MAN'...". Alone each is incomplete, only half a human being, and ill-equipped to build a complete life. If you don't believe me, just remember: man or woman ALONE CAN'T produce half a baby! Only together, the "allies" constitute a complete human being, equipped for adult life.

Today we often hear about career women who want to work, kollel wives who have to work, or men who have to work two jobs to make ends meet. Such arrangements can introduce stress and trouble into a marriage. But, this does not necessarily have to be. Remember that we live in a society that can be extremely callous, insane and filthy. We must always use the Torah as our frame of reference and value system. Looking at questions (e.g. women at work or in college, or men staying home) from the vantage point of secular culture, makes the basis for judgement invalid. In "Aishes Chayil," the "wife of valor" is a good businesswoman. This never damages her femininity, modesty, fear of Hashem, midos, hashkofos, holiness or obeying of halacha. She does her tasks, which have no mental, emotional or cultural symbolism to her. Her husband trusts her and she builds him up so he is respected by Torah leaders. G-d made each gender differently. Each must always operate in the framework of his or her gender.

I know two observant families in which the husbands are working men with unglamorous salaried jobs. Both of their wives are practicing, hard working medical doctors. These two marriages are stable. Each boasts a romping crew of children. The two women are energetic, brilliant, well-adjusted, talented and capable. They manage homes, careers, motherhood and marriage. It can be done. Often, trouble is a question of what the roles mean psychologically in each case and how secure each is deep down (e.g. a macho man or an accomplished pushy wife).

Jewish marriage laws, in the aggregate, promote a happy, strong, smooth, respectful, peaceful, gentle, holy and functional marriage; when the laws and principles are all consistently observed in good faith by both the husband and the wife - with the right values, priorities and attitudes. In the case of the two women doctors, each woman sees to the responsibilities of her domain. For example, both serve the shabos meals. Both have very good midos. One woman only started medical school when some children were old enough and could help in the house. These children, now in the late teens, help with the housework, shopping, cooking, baking and babies. The other woman uses a housekeeper part-time and, when the husband comes home from work, he cares for their little children part-time. The roles and duties have no unhealthy psychological meaning or agenda for theses two couples and are worked out in their two homes SO THAT THE PRACTICAL FUNCTIONS OF LIFE ARE SUCCESSFULLY AND COOPERATIVELY ACHIEVED. The marriages are not subordinate to the arrangements. THE ARRANGEMENTS ARE SUBORDINATE TO THE MARRIAGES. In good cases, marriages are at one with all arrangements, nothing in the Torah is violated, no family member makes any other suffer and PEACE IS THE FIRST CONSIDERATION.



In the previous installment, I described that gender differences are perfectly understood by the Torah and Chazal. Even in modern times and in cases where a woman works, the Torah's views of the male and female nature, and governance of the marriage relationship, are timeless. Good midos, good haskofos, good attitudes, modesty and Torah-loyalty must be constant and never compromised. Various arrangements can be made in any individual marriage, but are always subordinated to peaceful, smooth and cooperative functioning of the home. I will bring some sample sources to show how much Chazal understood male and female nature so that you be motivated to learn about marriage from Torah. Material here will work superbly with mature, psychologically healthy people.

Bava Metzia (58 & 59) tell us to be careful with a wife's honor and to never hurt her feelings. Derech Eretz Raba (chapter eleven) teaches that "He who hates his wife makes her feel like she is murdered." Tractate Nida (31b) says that a man can be appeased, a woman cannot be appeased. Watch out for the feelings of a wife! Be very careful for her sensitivities and emotions. Even if a man tries to appease his wife after he has hurt her, some of the pain will continue to stab her and stay within her. Once a husband has put that impression, that sting and that insecurity into the woman's emotions, they are very difficult and slow to go out of her. Never hurt or upset a wife in the first place, but if, Heaven forbid, you do, be very big and forthcoming and make amends rapidly, sincerely and fully. It's not a question of what's right and wrong or of what is reasonable. It's entirely a question of what will or won't work. Note: the wife may never use this to take advantage. The point is not for her to have a way to abuse him. The point is that there won't be abuse by anybody.

Tractate Sanhedrin (76b) says that a husband should adorn his wife with attractive jewels and ornaments, to make her more respectable (this is a practical, concrete way of attributing honor to his wife). Besides giving honor, making a woman feel attractive and appreciated makes a woman very happy (even though men may have trouble understanding why!). In tractate Taanis (20b), Rabbi Ada Bar Ahava was asked by his students to what he attributed an extraordinarily long life. He answered, "I was never stern within my house."

Tractate Brachos (57b) says that three things bring a man satisfaction: a beautiful home, a beautiful wife and beautiful possessions. Tractate Kesubos (62b-63a) recounts how Rabbi Akiva's wife sacrificed to enable him to learn Torah for twenty four years. When he returned home, he had twenty-four thousand disciples. He said to them, "All of my Torah and all of your Torah is hers!" A midrash is cited in the respected sefer, Menoras HaMeor, that gives an intriguing insight into what makes a wife lovable to her husband. "The sages said in a midrash that one wise woman directed her daughter when she was about to marry, saying to her, 'My daughter, stand before your husband like before a king and serve him. If you will be like a maid to him, he will be like a slave to you and he will honor you like his master. And if you will make yourself big upon him, he will be like a master over you against your will; and you will be, in his eyes, cheap like one of the maidservants.'" A man's nature is to respond with THE OPPOSITE of what his wife presents to him. If, in her demeanor, she is small and modest, he will love, respect and admire her. That's the way G-d made nature. Taking modesty seriously, and keeping affection and physicality private, are major parts of the holiness of the Jewish people. Modesty is a safeguard against immorality, it is a vital element of peaceful marriage and it keeps a woman exclusive with her husband. Jewish law requires that a woman be modest in dress, demeanor and actions in every facet of life. Her internal character qualities make her bigger, more beautiful and beloved to her husband. "A Jewish woman's honor is internal (Psalms 45:14)."

Rambam wrote [Hilchos Ishus 15:17-20] that a husband is to approach his wife (for physical relations) never by force or pressure, but only by obtaining her will through first talking nicely to her and making her happy. He must honor her more than he honors himself and love her as much as he loves himself. He must spend money on her to do good for her. The more money he has, the more he is to spend on benefitting her. He must never be frightening, depressed or angry with her. His speaking with her must always be gentle. The Torah also commands the woman in conduct. She must be extremely modest (especially regarding demeanor, clothing and covering of her hair). She should minimize levity and silliness, she should not speak on the subject of marital relations, she should not refrain from being with her husband, especially when this will pain him. She should obey all of his words, instruction and will. She must honor her husband exceedingly as if she views him to be an officer or king, and she must distance herself from anything he dislikes. This, Rambam concludes, is the way the holy men and women in Israel conduct themselves in their marriages, and THROUGH THIS, THEY WILL LIVE A BEAUTIFUL LIFE TOGETHER.



Youth today are not taught how to be spouses. The girls often get boys who have no idea how to treat a female or how to differentiate behavior appropriate with a female from behavior appropriate with another guy. The youth are being seriously shortchanged by the ones who establish the often superficial and irrelevant values that they and the ones they marry look for. Although both genders can be seriously, even destructively, lacking, it is more often the boys who bring less to a shidduch as far as maturity, personal qualities or relating abilities go. Shalom bayis suffers seriously. Marriages are starting off on weaker and weaker foundations, they get more stormy or unworkable more and more rapidly than ever before, and couples are divorcing sooner and sooner after marriage. From my counseling with younger couples, and co-consulting with dayanim, educators or psychologists, there are several serious issues involved and there is nothing coming from the people who stand to do something about this.

From what I can determine, the approximate divorce rate in the Jewish community is up to an alarming 20%. That means for every five chasunos you go to, one will end up a divorce. For every five children in a frum school, one has divorced parents. This is not just a statistic, this is a "social breakdown." Our youth are not being educated on how to be a spouse or on basics such as how to be a mentsh, how to work on midos, how to behave in bain adam lechavairo [interpersonal] ways, how to consult a rov with a shaalo [Torah question] for "real life" conflicts or difficulties, how to differentiate between readiness for marriage vs. social pressure because "it is time," how to communicate, how to give emotional security, how to build and earn trust, how to care enough about another to be impacted by their needs and cautious about the impact of one's behavior upon the other. When I hear about a sweet 21 year old woman who is divorced after three months because her chosson is a "defect," the kind of girl "who wouldn't hurt a fly," my heart aches...and it is story after story these days.

When educators are asked why they put their heads in the sand like ostriches, why there is no preparation to be a spouse who can behave and handle life like a mentsh and an adult, they are evasive. It is "taboo." You'll hear some say some lame things like "bittul Torah [waste of time from Torah]." Marriage, bain adam lechavairo conduct and obligations, personal shalaimus [perfection] and NOT setting up for a predictable high divorce rate ARE ESSENTIALS OF TORAH.

Some will say, "it's not tzneeyus [modest]" to talk about. This is untrue because Torah basics of mature living do not have to have any details of intimacy before an appropriate time. These can be reserved for shortly before marriage, taught privately one-on-one. Youth should be saturated with teaching about and living examples of chesed [active kindness], derech eretz and kavod habrios [treating people with respect, civility and consideration], unselfishness, not hurting feelings, being responsible and reliable, not being guilty of hezek or achzorius [harm or cruelty], caring about others, applying halacha and mussar to resolving interpersonal differences, etc. When I was a youth in yeshiva, if two of the boys had an argument or if one hurt the other in any way, we were taught to work it out nicely and substantively, according mussar and halacha, to apologize, to go through the four steps of an interpersonal tshuva and to forgive. It didn't occur to anyone to hurt another or, if they did, to not make it right. We were taught to be sensitive and responsive to others. That is chinuch!

Some will say, "People won't listen." If someone can't listen to how they must become ready for someone else to live with them, if someone is blind to or uninterested in their impact on others, it is an irresponsible and destructive contradiction to allow another to live with such an uncultivated and unreachable person.

Parents blame educators and educators blame parents. The children are raised in a materialistic, shallow, callous and self-indulgent society. Nothing gets fixed. Except divorce lawyers' financial portfolios.

When chosanim and kallahs are "prepared" for marriage, they are taught technical laws relating to nida [menstrual separation] and mikva [the wife's ritual immersion]. They are, in essence, taught HOW TO BE APART, NOT TOGETHER; and that MARRIAGE IS TECHNICAL, NOT "RELATIONAL." Girls want a boy in learning and boys want girls with money. These days, PEOPLE MARRY A "RESUMEE," NOT A PERSON. Resumees make no demands, never disagree, never need to be given care or consideration, never require flexibility or sacrifice, never get sick or stressed. Catching a resumee makes you feel good and that you've socially "made it." It's "Madison Avenue," "Jewish Hollywood." The marriage itself can be an empty, if not destructive, shell.

The gemora says that a husband owes a wife more kavod (respect, honor) than he gives to himself [Yevamos 62b], that a wife must cancel her will for the kavod of her husband [Kidushin 31a], that marriage is for life and not for pain [Kesubos 61a] and that one must see the other before marrying to make sure he will be able to love the other when married [Kidushin 41a]. The Maharal [Nesivos Olam] says that a marriage can only endure when the two can have unchanging trust in each other. The Tur says that a wife must serve her husband and that the husband must protect and have compassion for her. Rambam says their conduct with each other must be holy. These are indicators of a Torah marriage.

The mizbayach [altar] cries when a marriage breaks up. If it does not qualify as a Torah marriage, if it is a pain-inflicting "non-entity of a relationship," my guess is that the mizbayach has no cause to cry in that case [ask your rov about your situation before deciding anything]. The mizbayach cries when a "ZIVUG [Heaven-ordained couple]" divorce, not two people who went through a technical marriage ceremony and then treated each other like dirt. Maybe the mizbayach cries that the two were mismatched and treat one another with cruelty and selfishness! One of the sayings I've developed over years in counseling is, "If you have to fight for basics, you have no relationship."

When the choices are between being tortured in marriage vs. a divorce, you must act with qualified da'as Torah - and I don't mean the "be a martyr" kind. I mean the "marriage is for life and not for pain" kind. Remember, however, that your complaints against the marriage MUST be "translated" into HALACHIC grounds, with a determination that there is NO CHANCE for correcting the problem(s), before a bais din will consider granting divorce. Whichever road you take, the Torah wants your goal to be to have "a life" and to GIVE YOUR ENERGIES FULLY AND HEALTHILY TO SERVING HASHEM.

Marriage is life's primary opportunity for giving, and thereby  emulating Hashem, who is a pure giver [Michtav Me'Eliyahu, Kuntros HaChesed]. Marriage requires giving steadily and unconditionally, on behalf of one's spouse and children. The difference is that for children, the giving in "one-way," for spouses the giving is mutual. Neither should be a taker. One who takes, expects or demands can only make a marriage miserable. Part of the work that goes into the maturity necessary to be marriageable is to give what pleases and satisfies the other. If a spouse primarily takes, this person is still a child. If your spouse is able to be pleased and satisfied by what you give, and with the attitude with which you give, you are a marriageable adult.

When marrying, young couples are starting a life, and their lives can impact generations to come. Let us turn to our Torah and its sages, who give us so much instruction and wisdom, and who set high standards and impose many requirements. One would never call learning and adopting this "bittul [wasting] Torah." It is preventing "bittul [wasting] lives." There is nothing more important for our "Toras chayim [Torah of life]."



The Torah ideal is always to repair and preserve any difficult marriage. Both must have the will to work together cooperatively and each must honestly have the will to change themselves. It is up to both partners to do what is necessary to achieve success. History "repeats itself" when people repeat historical events. As a counselor, I see patterns repeated in couple after couple. It amazes me how people repeat behaviors which trouble or destroy marriages, instead of learning from "history," from the mistakes of themselves and others and, most important, from the wisdom of our holy Torah.

The Torah says that the Egyptians embittered the lives of the Jews with porech [demeaning and abusively hard work, Exodus 1:14]. The Ozrover Rebbe said from this that anything imposed on another that is not compatible with his or her nature is "porech." He cites Rambam [Avodim 1:6] which says that if one imposed on his slave any labor only for the sake of making the slave feel he is master over the slave, to crush him without purpose from the labor, this is porech. Whenever dealing with another, we must be sensitive to the other's feelings, inclinations and nature. Otherwise, the treatment is destructive and abusive, the kind for which the Egyptians were punished and from which the Jews deserved to be saved. I see the holy rebbe's words applying in my marriage counseling work when one partner is abusive, "erases" and invalidates the other's humanity, humiliates and emotionally tortures the other.

One of the most serious difficulties in the field of marriage counseling is when one of the partners is seriously abusive, one-sided, unreasonable and rigid. It is a combination of negative traits that make a marriage relationship unbearable at best and impossible at worst. The afflicting spouse is impossible to deal with. People might stay in marriages with a difficult spouse to protect their children from emotional damage or to protect the children from becoming "unmarketable" at the age of shiduchim, because they do not know what else to do but remain married, because of unhealthy attachment to the offender, or for any number of reasons. But after about a quarter of a century studying what G-d defines as a Torah marriage, given the existence of the get [divorce] for when it is needed, given the Torah's laws of marriage and overall obligations for bain adam lechavairo [interpersonal relationships - which ALL APPLY FULLY in marriage!] and the overall constant obligation to attain personal shalaimus [perfection] under the supervision of a rov, there obviously are Torah standards by which to define what a marriage is and what a marriage isn't.

There may be years of disparagement, escalation, punishment, retaliation and damage. One may come to the counselor only to "instruct" him what to tell the other spouse ["tell my husband he is bad," "tell my wife she is sick," "tell my husband to do this," "tell my wife NOT to do that;" or some other "order," judgement or "diagnosis"]. One may have been "taught" by others to "be tough" towards the other. One may have learned to mistreat a spouse by witnessing his or her parents behaving with contempt or adversity. Couples can come for counseling and one is just too rigid to work with. The person can always find a way to turn blame away from themselves. The person takes from the counselor what suits him or her ["See, the professional agrees with me"] and doesn't even hear what does not suit him or her ["He never said I was wrong"]. The person can say the other is an ingrate, is a hopeless "nut job" or is oversensitive. They may instigate or provoke the other into acting fed-up or angrily and then say, "See, you're crazy, how can anyone live with you/be nice to you." Everything is twisted by their mind so that they can do no wrong and the other is the impossible one. Sometimes the person is so shrewd that it could take a few sessions till they show their real selves in counseling. Sometimes, they show their ugly and rigid behavior right away and it is plain to see. Sometimes they start out painting the other one as entirely evil or as mentally ill. They can be judgmental, rigid, controlling, manipulating or verbally attacking. They may turn against the counselor ["he is unfair," "he doesn't really know how sick/evil you really are"]. They are truly impossible to work with. This is a serious dilemma because it is a very serious responsibility to decide when to keep a marriage vs. when to divorce. It is a decision that must frighten anyone with yiras Shomayim [fear of Heaven]. I have general policies to not tell an impossible couple to divorce [just that I cannot help further], and to have a couple do everything humanly possible to preserve a marriage, especially when there is a child. But A COUPLE MUST REALIZE: A COUNSELOR DOES NOT LIVE THEIR MARRIAGE FOR THEM, THEY ULTIMATELY MAKE A MARRIAGE LIVE OR DIE, THEY MAKE IT GOOD OR BAD. IT IS THEY WHO LIVE THEIR MARRIAGE AND THEY WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT.

Although it is conventional wisdom that it takes two to ruin a marriage, and this often is true, my counseling experience has taught me to have enough faith in our generation's capacity for dysfunction and decline to say that one party can alone indeed kill a marriage. This is particularly shown when, after termination of an unhealthy marriage, the healthier or non-abusive one remarries successfully and thrives with a new subsequent partner. The other stays unmarried, marries a dead-beat that no one normal would go near, makes another partner miserable, has a nervous breakdown or divorces again. I note consistently that such a destructive person, male or female, never has a rov for da'as Torah regarding their marriage. They know it all, and certainly more than any rabbi or counselor who doesn't know what a loser, "oisvarf" or bum their spouse is. They are their spouse's judge, jury, rabbi, prosecutor and persecutor. They are one-sided and want to retain control of all interactions and outcomes. They cannot handle the other refusing to be under their control.

People who control can't relate. Needing to control is very unhealthy and indicates profound inner insecurity, fright and smallness of character. A person who needs to control is too self-absorbed and dictatorial to be a "two way streeter." The inner person is too broken to allow another to really register as a full-fledged human being or to make themselves accommodate, respect and care for another; except when it suits, or wins something for, themselves.

For the person married to someone who thinks that brow-beating or verbal abuse is an OK relating style, or that the victim deserves a life of torture or punishment, a decision about what to do with such the marriage is not pleasant. It is a "lesser of the evils." Anyone who has studied the Torah marriage knows that there are halachos and ethics governing the conduct of both partners and that Jewish marriage is designed to foster love and respect, happiness and peace. If one is in a situation which promotes the opposite, it is not the Torah way to maintain this condition. It is naive misinformation to tell someone to take abuse in the interest of being big spiritually. It overlooks the psychological complexity and destructiveness of marriage to a severely disturbed spouse. This advice might be appropriate when there are children but this is for the sake of the children, not because the Torah advocates your being a martyr. It is a mitzva de'Oraisa to protect your health, including emotional health. Get the help of a rov or counselor who will take you seriously and respond as substantively as circumstances allow. It is necessary to establish lines which the one-sided abuser had better not cross and, to the extent possible, for both to do serious work on inner growth [whether during marriage or after a marriage is terminated].

Some people choose to remain married to a rigidly one sided and disturbed person. Essentially, they forfeit having a marriage. In the next article, I will suggest some ways for such a person to cope (in the near future, perhaps around or shortly after Pesach, I plan to publish a series about building a solid foundation for marriage, for when two people want to work together).

Even if you feel you cannot leave your one-sided marriage, you must have enough inner strength and self-respect to not stand in the way of arrows slung your way. Better still, let's explore how you make a fuller life for yourself.



Pirkei Avos says, "Make for yourself a rov." It is not a rabbi's job to get congregants. It is every Jew's obligation to make someone into his or her rov. A couple should have one rov (not one each!) and that rov should be able to settle all shalom bayis questions in a unified and definitive way. When troubled couples come to me for counseling, I ask them if they have a rov for guidance in life or marriage. They typically say "No." What kind of chinuch [Torah education] permits people to NOT have rov? I repeatedly tell couples that their policy should be, "We don't have fights, we have shaalohs." A majority of their conflicts are over as soon as they adopt that. Issues are no longer battles of personalities or positions. The rov's answer is the end of the problem. I tell couples that there are two words in Hebrew for "answer" to a question, "tshuva" and "p'sak." I ask them to tell me the difference. They say they don't know. I tell them that "tshuva" means response to the question and "p'sak" means termination of the question. When a rov answers a question, by definition IT IS OVER. If the two are truly frum Jews with yiras Shomayim and devotion to G-d's Torah, there's no more problem. They move on.

A rigidly negative spouse will systematically make the other feel pain, cheapened, humiliated, insignificant or rejected. Some victims of negativity accept the miserable situation and are willing to live as a "korban [sacrifice]" for any number of reasons. They may want to protect their children or not know what else to do but keep their status quo. Older people may feel ashamed of being stigmatized with the word "divorce" or may figure that they could only have stayed together this long because there was some good between them. In no event is abuse, neglect or violence acceptable, but it requires firm will and definitive action to make bad habituated things improve. Until the pain of the status quo hurts more than facing the pain and fear of change, many people will stay with their situation.

I tell individuals who are married to another spouse who won't come in for counseling to "change the axioms" of their relationship. If the other imposes some form of mistreatment or neglect, especially if it is an ongoing pattern or habit, there is a "circuit" which the victim completes with his or her response. If the other wants control or to inflict punishment, responding in a way that feeds into, supports or maintains that behavior basically "invites" repetition of the mistreatment. "Break the circuit."

When two people have a contract and perform perfunctory or technical activities, they may have a din [legal status] of a marriage, but NOT A RELATIONSHIP OF A MARRIAGE. The main manifestation of their marriage is that they are liable to guilt for committing adultery, but nothing that is positive or "relational" as a couple. When spouses behave towards each other in ways that the other cannot stand, they are baalay avaira [serious, ongoing sinners], not spouses.

I have already written about confronting a one-sided and destructive spouse who won't change. I was writing there a context where the victim is willing to gamble by forcing change that could either fix the marriage or risk its termination. In our context, the victim is resigned to staying. Let's explore healthily coping while staying in the deficient marriage. Perhaps you can work on coping and tolerating the situation (if it is not violent or endangering), or influencing the other to recognize the marriage seriously requires repair.

There are ways to seek fulfillment outside the marriage, such as volunteer chesed [kindness, community service] work, learning a career skill, getting a full time job or cultivating meaningful and communicative friendships. Be sure that these are not just escape. They should offer inner repair. Don't use the time for empty things. These only will be healthy if your involvement is to bring you purpose as a person. These positive activities should express some talent, creativity or potential or make you a more wholesome relator. This way, you accomplish things that make you more complete, productive and fulfilled as a human being.

By being busy in healthy, and perhaps "mitzva-dik," ways to occupy yourself; you put your time, mind and energies into constructive activities. You are out of the dysfunctional and harmful atmosphere. You ARE NOT THERE to be victimized. You are not available. You are missing. You have taken yourself away from the target so you stop getting hit when the other "shoots." You are expressing healthy energies. You are probably being treated like a mentsh by most people in the outside world - and practicing using that as the only standard that you accept! And YOU ARE SENDING THE SIGNAL THAT YOU NO LONGER PLAY INTO THE OTHER'S SICK NEEDS AND BEHAVIORS. YOU CHANGE THE AXIOMS OF THE MARRIAGE while staying in it. If the marriage is a dud, at least don't stay still at home to be pounded by it. By appreciating your healthy outside experiences and achievements, your self-esteem will increase, your attitude about life will improve, and your judgement about your partner will become more realistic.

Take care of practical obligations, particularly your children. You are just no longer there to fight or to be abused or humiliated. You're too busy being healthy and functional - and safe. Meanwhile, you remain blameless in the eyes of G-d.

The other will notice and will respond according to his or her pathology. Some will protest that you are not there fulfilling spousal duties [don't worry about it - getting out of the way of brow-beating is perfectly justified]. Some will say you are killing the marriage [if it is a marriage in name only, there is nothing that you'll be guilty of killing]. Some will get more hostile [maybe this will make you finally see that status quo is really no option].

The other spouse, in frustration, may talk against you to relatives. If people talk against you, you just say with calm and confidence, that they do not know enough of the facts or both sides of the story and they are not competent to have ANY VALID JUDGEMENT. You do not accept their mixing in to a matter in which they are not entitled to even have an opinion. They are required to give benefit of doubt and refrain from judgement and from making machlokess [argument]. Recognize that you cannot control other people [just as you are not allowing your spouse to control you]. If you can defend your positions with dignity and without emotion, you should specifically point out to people where accusations against you are erroneous, vicious, ignorant, unfounded, superficial or half-truth. Point out that everyone will be judged by Heaven for every word they utter. Be brief. Do not get caught up in involved discussions which don't solve anything. Have healthier things to do with your time. Further, you don't want to machshol [cause sin in] people to speak lashon hora [slander] or rechillus [tale bearing], to provoke fighting, to degrade you or to escalate troubles. Be as positive, sweet and responsible as possible with your children. Avoid anger, put-downs or quarrelling in the presence of others. Make them wonder how anyone could say anything bad against anyone as nice as you. Make it authentically look crazy and unbelievable for anyone to criticize or condemn such a mentsh as you.

It could help strengthen your position if you build yourself in some significant way that the other cannot escape noticing. Some spouses who are "alone in their marriage" will get schooling, learn a career, get a job or profession, or volunteer for a noble cause and earn the respect of the community. It is important to choose a thing that makes you more complete as a person, that takes you to a higher level of functioning, builds your self-esteem, occupies your mind and time meaningfully and makes you feel fulfillment. Do NOT choose a thing to "teach your spouse a lesson" or to strive after your spouse's approval. Make the choice only for the sake of getting yourself closer to your own potential as a human being. It can become clear that you are becoming too much of a human being to just be a maladjusted bully's "punching bag." Perhaps seeing you more functional, content, independent, solid & self-respecting will make other decide to reckon with you once and for all, change his or her tone and inch towards fixing the marriage. In any event, you can become stronger and healthier inside, widen your range of options and fortify your ability to negotiate terms for your marriage relationship.



Choshen Mishpot requires that when two parties have complaints against one another, they must appear in front of the dayan at the same time. Each must state his claims and substantiate them objectively to the dayan in front of each other.

A Jewish marriage counselor is somewhat comparable to dayan in a bais din. Two complaining parties come before him. He must look beyond the biases and wants of the parties, impartially seek out the truth and devise workable and Torah-based methods for resolution of the differences, issues and difficulties.

This is the preferred method. But, sometimes a couple's communication has broken down so badly that every attempt to talk together goes in circles or becomes inflammatory. Sometimes the couple is already living separately. Things get no where when trying to bring the two together.

This does NOT necessarily mean that the marriage is over. If both are willing to keep trying, and if both can receive as much constructive encouragement and support as possible from responsible concerned parties (particularly relatives, their rov and/or close friends), then the marriage can often be repaired. It is vital to save a Jewish marriage if it is at all possible, especially if the couple has a child/children together. I have seen the methods about to be described save the type of marriage in which the two are living separately or staying in separate rooms, regardless of whether they are on or off "speaking terms" with each other.

At the start, the couple comes separately to one-on-one [individual] counseling. If they are not living together, I make a point to have them come at separate times, to accord with the fact that, for the time being, it is destructive for them to see each other. If they are on manageable terms some couples might find it more convenient to come together for back-to-back (but separate) sessions [especially when they are traveling a distance, when "double travel" is a difficulty; such as when people come to see me in Brooklyn from Lakewood, Long Island, Monroe, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts or Canada].

Very often, the way people behave in marriage, and what attracts them in the first place to a partner, is effected by their parents' marriage relationship, how one or both parents treated the man or woman when young, the atmosphere in the home and their overall experience when young (e.g. the influence of school and peers).

Sometimes, we explore relevant "history" which can uncover why the person chose a partner with whom relating is dysfunctional, irrational, sabotaging, alienating, insecure and/or unstable.

It is a massive contradiction to want someone with whom serious, committed or intimate relating is impossible. Why does a person do that? It can possibly be many things, for example, to replicate a familiar pattern generated by or perceived in one or both parents, to fulfill an unhealthy need or emotional emptiness created by one or both parents, to fulfill a social value (e.g. someone whose profession suggests money or prestige), parental or rabbinical pressure that was independent of the real needs or individuality of the person, marrying a certain type or "resumee" instead of a genuinely fine or suitable person, failure to explore the person with enough depth or scrutiny to discern significant and "relationship-blocking" incompatibility or faults, having destructive behaviors or weaknesses of character that provoke or instigate the other, etc.

We explore the nature of each party's side of the behavioral breakdown. Each is required to examine with me why they act and react the way each does, their justifications or rationalizations, the Torah halachos and ethics which pertain to their conduct, their thought processes or patterns, how they may be abusive or negligent and how these matters reflect on them emotionally and spiritually.

One of my counseling policies is to promote bringing the insights and benefits of each session into "real life." People who come to counseling sessions to give "lip service," or who lose themselves and fall back to their old ways when in "real life" situations, rob themselves of the value of the counseling process. Even under the best of conditions, it can be a slow and gradual process, especially if one (or both) has been behaving habitually the same old way for a long time or if the person is weak in self-discipline, character and/or emotional maturity.

Therefore, from exploring the roots and nature of their behavior, I can start to "custom design" and give homework as each becomes ready for it, in the hope that each party will start taking the benefits of the sessions into practical life.

I will give the parties assignments that open them up to recognition of their faults or their part in the trouble pattern. I emphasize that each must no longer think in terms of blaming or faulting the other. It is vital that each must accept responsibility for each one's part in damaging the relationship, contributing to its trouble, hurting or inciting the other, learning to go beyond their subjectivity or "blind spots" regarding the other, behaving maturely, overcoming and healing negative feelings, ending resentment and grudgbearing, recognizing their failings in relationship halachos or midos, stopping to be the other's judge or analyst, stopping to feel entitled to control or punish the other, and learning how to behave so as to promote healing and resolution.

I emphasize that repairing and living a marriage requires a focus on giving of oneself and acceptance of responsibility. Each must learn to view his or her personal faults as realities that they each must honestly and maturely face, viewing these as "homework assignments for life from Hashem." Whether the marriage survives or not, each must face Hashem after 120 years and justify how each spent every moment of life. Each must work on him or herself for his or her own good. Each must overcome their shortcomings and come to achieve maximum possible shlaimus [perfection] as a human being and Jew. I try my best (depending on such variable factors as each person's co-operation, understanding, sophistication level, sensitivity, fear, background, midos or level of emotional health) to convey the practical importance of the homework in making the process a success.

I tell them NOT to discuss their individual sessions or homework with each other. This can set off more arguing (the last thing we need!). Some examples of the kind of homework I might give follow. List or describe how you have hurt your partner, how you are responsible for making your partner behave to you the way he or she does, what good and worthy attributes as a person or spouse your partner has, what you would have to do to make your partner happy and be able to get along steadily with you, etc. Again, the focus is on what each one OWES their marriage, not their complaints or demands. No marriage can endure or have peace by counting the other's faults or sins. In marriage, each must constantly GIVE.

Naturally, each will often say that the other has wronged them countless times, the other owes them and they should not have to see good in or owe good to the other. I tell them that I am working on the problems and faults of each and that I plan to not let the other "get away with" any "baloney" or any shortchanging of the process. Of course, the work and improvements have to be genuine and mutual. In some marriages both contribute to the damage, but in some, one person may do much more harm than the other. Regardless, saving the relationship requires each doing their part honestly and reciprocally. Without each WILLINGLY ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY FOR THEIR PART, the marriage gets nowhere or, better said, there is no marriage. Each must take the "risk" and make the changes necessary on their own side. They each owe that to themselves, if not to each other. I make clear that they will take themselves wherever they go, whether in this marriage, another marriage or by themselves. This includes their faults, neuroses, complexity, selfishness and patterns. They each owe it to themselves - and Hashem - to remedy what needs fixing within.

They work to become "two-sided," fair and responsible for their own behavior and faults. When they both get to a point at which it becomes somewhat "safe," I will start seeing them together. By this time, they should have some ability to accept blame for themselves where due, to give the other benefit of doubt or see extenuating circumstances when appropriate, to think with more objectivity, to stop instigating or sabotaging and to appreciate the other enough to value working to keep the marriage and contributing what they each owe to it. I will help them learn to express themselves and their valid objections healthily, and to accept the other's statements and feelings as valid, so that they learn to communicate constructively on their own in "real life." This can involve a lot of re-learning how to live and to relate as a spouse.

If both do their job and focus on their own responsibilities, they will develop (or restore) trust, respect, communication and feelings for each other. It is up to them.

One of the greatest sources of fulfillment and nachas that I can have as a marriage counselor is when a couple, which was once on the brink of concluding their marriage, lets me know, about a year or so later, that they have just had a child or that they are together for the birth of a grandchild.



In good, healthy marriages, the couple thinks and acts as one. Even if they don't literally have the same thoughts, their basic goals and values and their sense of purpose in life is one; so their different activities constitute contributions to one basic common mission in life. Their separate contributions add up to a whole. They communicate and basically keep themselves on the same "road of life" together in a spirit of unity and peace.

One of the major deficiencies in a dysfunctional or ill-prepared married couple is the ability to act in unconditional and steady unity. They do not see life as "allies" or "teammates" who are handling common life goals together. They are at odds, they take positions, they see themselves as separate individuals and their egos are "on the line." Their behavior divides them, hurts and antagonizes each other, blocks peaceful co-existence.

Rambam writes that to break any bad trait, one must go to the far opposite good extreme and stay there for as long as it takes to break away from the bad trait. Then, the person should come to the "golden mean" thereafter. For humility there is no "too much." For anger and arrogance, there is no "too little." For all other traits, a balanced midpoint in character traits is healthiest and is the Torah's will. The nefesh [personality, spirit] of one with any bad trait(s) is ill and must be healed, the same way one whose body is ill and must be healed. Rambam writes that the rabbi who has wisdom about traits is like the doctor for the unhealthy nefesh.

It stands to reason that a couple with difficulty must work to become extremely unified and sharing of their lives, if they want their marriage to be better than technical or painful. In troubled couples, one or both is too wrapped up in him or her self to allow genuine interaction with, and consideration of, the other. Such people have to work to go to the opposite extreme to break the "shell" in which they are enclosed, to "come out" and "connect" with their partner. If one is prone to secrets, he or she should practice speaking out things which the Torah says a couple should share; for example matters of the home, children, social or Torah obligations and showing respect, appreciation and consideration to one another. They may not read each other's personal mail, divulge confidential secrets, say loshon hora or things that will hurt the other with no to'elless [Torah-sanctioned beneficial purpose]. Otherwise, in general, for most matters they should speak freely together with no barrier.

They should spend time regularly, preferably every day, possibly at meal time, to build constructive communication by speaking about each one's day, words of Torah that either recently learned, their aspirations and disappointments, and ways in which they can strive to be supportive and allied partners to one another. Their lives should not "feel" separate. They should feel incomplete without each other. The couple should constantly build the sense that they are sharing one life together, the way the left side of a body does not live a separate life from the right side. They feel as one. If one is hurt, the other feels hurt too. If one is happy, the other feels happy too.

They should specifically undertake activities together that allow them to share a relationship together in pleasant ways, as frequently as their circumstances permit. Activities should be mutually agreed upon. When one does a certain activity together to please the other, the other should reciprocate by doing an activity together that please the first one. This way, each feels satisfied, instead of "alone" while they are together or "used."

If the couple has internet, I recommend that they have a "chavrusa [regular study session together]" on topics in my site that pertain to their situation; such as Marriage, Interpersonal Relating, Personal Growth, Handling Anger & Quarrels, Hashkofa [Torah Views] and Parent-Child Relationships. The site approaches each of these subjects in depth and gives much to think and talk about - and apply.

When there are children, they should be involved in activities that create a sense of unit for the entire family. At the table, especially on shabos, each child, according to his understanding level, should have something to say on the weekly Torah portion. When a child is still too small to appreciate the idea of a weekly parsha, involve him or her with something commensurately simple. For example, one father said to his daughter every Friday night starting around the age of two and a half, "What did Paro say to Moshe when he asked to free the 'Yidden?'" In answer, the child knew to say one word with a proud smile, "Sorry." It was very cute, the child understood the meaning of "sorry," and she was trained to speak Torah at the shabos table.

Another father would play games that involved the children at the table. He would say something like, "What word in the Siddur [prayer book] starts with a nune, ends with a heh and has five letters?" The first one to answer "neranenah" [in Kabolas Shabos] got a prize. He did similar resourceful things during car trips. He raised his children so that all would wholesomely participate in activities as a family together.

One father wrote me, through my "Ask The Rabbi" feature in my internet site, about how his three and five year olds were behaving at the shabos table. They would fail to sit still through the meal. They would run off and play. I furnish here my reply, because it deals with "pacing" or measuring the appropriate involvement level of young children, which is relevant here.

"It sounds like they are still too young and immature to appreciate what you are trying to accomplish. You risk making them resentful of halacha. At their tender ages, keep them at the table to their limit, but not beyond. If they are in a good Jewish school, and if you optimize the time they spend at the seuda, let them enjoy Torah and zmiros up to their capacity. They will on their own become able to sit longer as their minds mature. Give them time to let their chinuch [education] sink in. Make their stay at the table as enjoyable and nice as possible - in their terms. I would rather you make them love shabos on their own and at their pace, so it will stay with them a lifetime, and not make them hate and resent Yiddishkeit and you. It is not worth getting angry over. You should have patience and self-control. They are not old enough to be responsible to stop acting the way they do. Do not let them see you angry, mean or excited, or they will associate shabos with nastiness and be repelled by it. Make the most of the time they can stay at the table, make it attractive to them. Then, let them see you having a pleasant time for the rest of the seuda after they get up from the table (Torah, zmiros, shalom bayis), so that, as they get older, they will have no reason to resist, fear, hate or resent being at the table. They will gradually agree to stay at the table on their own. Require that they stay a little longer as they get older, perhaps each year when they start a new class (use your judgement according to what their capacity grows to and when they are ready for a little more). Try to be creative - asking questions on the parsha, loshon hora, chesed, good midos or the alef bais, etc., or ask them to tell what they learned in school or what they know about a given subject. Give prizes, praise, kisses and positive inducements. Never show them anger and be realistic about the capacity limits and energy that they have at their age. Make them see being at the table a thing they will want to do on their own - for the long run."

When a couple feels apart, they should make extra effort to bridge the gaps and build unity. This must be done with a pleasant, gracious and positive attitude. Among the most important things any couple that feels distance can do is break the trait, build a sense of unity by going to the opposite extreme and extend the sense of unity to the entire family. Let the family constitute a "common ground" that enables the couple to be, act, feel and think as allies and teammates. The more they can do together, and break the barriers, the more they will achieve the harmony that a Jewish marriage is designed to have.



The observant Jewish world is suffering a crisis that is growing bigger and worse with time: many of our youth are crumbling - sociologically, psychologically and spiritually. More and more are going off the derech, getting involved with addictions (e.g. drugs, alcohol), committing suicide, suffering from mental illnesses (depression; obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic or manic disorders; etc.) and many need medication to hide conditions (never mind function), have enormous chutzpa and atrocious midos, are rebellious, are promiscuous and vulgar.

Those who are not necessarily psychologically damaged often grow up to be very selfish, brutish, nasty and inconsiderate. Their midos are crippled. They will park in front of your car or driveway, trapping you. They will rudely push in front of you on line at a store like stampeding cattle and then say (s)he was there first. They talk during dovening and talk louder when you say "Shhh." They cheat with business and debts. They will lie or pervert justice in bais din. They go to the mikva every morning before shul but do not pay the entry fee. They will hurt or bother other people and say the others are "just over-sensitive." When you are about to park, they will quickly dash in to take the space from you. They will break their word repeatedly as if their word is only a way to trick or manipulate people. You can't correct them. These morally dysfunctional "holy hypocrites" think themselves clever and superior.

My focus in working with such cases is when singles are blocked from finding their mate or when marriages break down due to various dysfunctions. Relating to such people can be torture, if not impossible. Their psychological and midos deficiencies usually come out in their closest relationships and are often at the root of their relationship troubles and shortcomings. I and other frum helping professionals recognize that there are often several common denominators when children grow up to be disabled, controlling, broken, anti-social, alienated, unethical, immature or lacking judgement and character.

First, when anyone has a child, it must be with the understanding that the child is going to need emotional nurturance, psychological cultivation and massive midos/character-building. IT DOES NOT WORK to substitute materialism or externals for time, love, attention and all necessary human qualities. Many of the people who have any of the conditions which break down their spiritual, social or psychological maturation grew up empty inside for love, affection, "human importance" and recognition as a unique individual human being. "Nature abhors a vacuum." When a person feels emotionally empty, rejected, undefined or non-existent; there is a powerful natural force within which drives the person to seek more emotional fulfillment, or distraction from the inner pain.

There is tremendous pressure in school. In some communities, people are under intense pressure to put on external shows because any socially-wrong move will be the object of slander. Pressured youth cannot develope healthily.

There is more influence these days from the outside world; with its sin, filth, glitter and appeal. It is easy for someone emotionally starved to be attracted to anything which seems capable of filling the inner vacuum. A youth can be ruined by one trip to Manhattan, one contemporary movie, one friendly invitation from a cult or missionary, one chance meeting with wrong people.

You fix nothing by saying, "This is tuma/bad." These youth laugh at this. They needed the love, affection, individual human nurturance, self-respect and moral chinuch necessary to develop them AT THE ROOT WHEN THEY WERE CHILDREN; so that there would be no breakdown, resentment or pain inside and; therefore; no appeal in nor susceptibility to anti-social, psychologically ill or immoral directions in their vulnerable, yearning, curious, impressionable and restless young lives.

We have a sociological mess on our hands now. It is getting worse, not better. Anyone who is having a child must enter into parenthood FOR EACH AND EVERY CHILD with the understanding that this child is going to need massive nurturance and attention. Its individual personality is going to have to be discerned and cultivated, as King Solomon says, in its own unique way. It will not work to raise or educate any child in a "mass-production" way. Each parent has to see each child as an obligation: to bring out the unique person in each child and making the cultivation and nurturance of each child a highest priority. Mothers will have to sacrifice social plans, recreational shopping and other indulgences which block formation of a complete child. Children must be made to feel validated AND to treat others as just-as-valid. They must learn self-respect without arrogance nor selfishness, and to attribute respect to everyone else. They must be made to feel happy, content and fulfilled as human beings. They must be taught that life requires responsibility, giving, consideration and kindness for others. If any of this is a problem, you must speak to a competant rov immediately about becoming ready to be a responsible and successful parent. Educators must increase emphasis on midos, derech eretz and interpersonal requirements. When children grow up this way, with love from adults, sharing healthy social traits with peers, their likelihood of growing up to be frum, happy, good-natured and functional will significantly increase.

While the Vilna Goan was once dovening Shmoneh Esray, he had 54 chidushim (new explanations) of a pasuk (Biblical verse). When he finished the Shmoneh Esray, even with his ingenious mind, he forgot all 54. He realized that he was being punished by Heaven for not concentrating on his prayer. The next time he had brilliant chidushim during a Shmoneh Esray, he pushed his own thoughts out of his mind and stayed concentrated on his prayer. After he was through, the chidushim came back. Pirkei Avos (chap. two) says, "Do G-d's will that He do your will, cancel your will for His will that He cancel the will of others for you." We might not save every child. But, if we as a society take on practical policies; do real, honest, lasting tshuva for sins and shortcomings; and pray to Hashem for mercy and help, we will remedy as much as is humanly possible.



Chazal say in several gemoras and midrashim that, "It is as difficult to find one's true mate as the miraculous opening of the Reed Sea [Yam Suf]." Our sages understood the limits and nature of analogy, so whenever they make one, it stands up perfectly to analysis from every angle. There are many miracles recorded in the Torah (Sara giving birth at age 90, the 10 plagues, the giving of the Torah with thunder and lightening, manna coming from Heaven and water from a rock for 40 years, the earth opening under evil Korach and swallowing him alive, etc.). If Chazal wanted to say that finding one's zivug requires miraculous aid from G-d, why was the opening of the sea the analogy they used?

The place on land from which the Jews entered the Sea, when it opened, was "Pi HaChirus," which translates, appropriately enough (since they were escaping the Egyptians), "the beginning of freedom." Pirkei Avos (ch. 6) tells us "There is no one free except he who engages himself in the Torah." One thinks he is free when he can do what he wants, but the gemora (Gitten 13a) says, "A slave likes to be unrestrained." When a person likes to do whatever he wants or to be selfish, he is a slave - to himself! Submission to control, to rules and ethics, is to be truly free, free to do what is right in the eyes of G-d. When the Jews left Pi HaChirus, where were they headed? To Sinai, to receive G-d's Torah. The beginning of freedom was setting off on the path to accepting and submitting completely to G-d's law. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai was analogous to a wedding in which G-d was the groom and Knesses Yisroel (the Jewish nation) was the bride (Midrash). It was a marriage, with an exchange of commitment and love, acceptance of roles in relation one to the other, the inauguration of permanent devotion and responsibility between G-d and Israel. This is where the Jewish people were headed to, from Pi HaChirus.

Targum Yonasan tells us that Pi Hachirus was not an ordinary desert. In an ordinary desert, there is nothing but sand on the ground. At Pi HaChirus, the ground was not covered by sand. What covered the ground at Pi HaChirus? Gold, jewels, diamonds, pearls, precious stones. The Jewish people became wealthy. There was plenty for everyone. Not only did G-d, in His kindness, just save them from slavery, He prepared wealth for each and every Jew so that they each could proceed to their new life generously provided for.

Let's go back to our initial point: the analogy of finding one's zivug to the specific miracle of the Yam Suf opening. Finding a mate is like finding a valuable jewel. One is only ready when one is able to view a mate as "human wealth," a jewel, when one is mature and unselfish enough to view finding a mate as finding someone whom he or she must care for and act responsibly with.

If you had a huge and beautiful diamond, the size of a watermelon, worth a vast fortune, you would take superb care of it! You would polish it, hire an armed guard, put it in a vault. There is no question that you would take care and assume responsibility with diligence, with discipline and with drive!

Finding a mate requires being ready to care for, be devoted to and accept responsibility for that mate; the way one would if he found priceless jewels that had to be protected and properly treated. Finding a mate requires viewing oneself as headed towards "the Sinai of his/her life;" with the exchange of commitment, inauguration of devotion, acceptance of roles and obligations, submission to daas Torah and unselfishness, giving nonstop love and respect.

It is very intentional, very precise, very meaningful that Chazal used the opening of the Reed Sea as the analogy for the miracle of finding one's mate. Much of today's marriage trouble and fighting would disappear if couples were truly mature enough and ready to start and maintain their marriage this way and concerned for eachother's happiness. When is one ready for G-d to work the miracle of bringing one's "basherte/destined mate?" Only when he or she is ready and mature enough to see the other person as a priceless jewel who must be cherished and cared for, to give of oneself for, to live with according to Torah rules every moment and for whom one must accept lasting responsibility.



Sacrifices in the Holy Temple are generally "kosher for Passover." There is never chametz except in the "new offering to G-d" (Leviticus 23:15-16) brought one day of the year - on Shevuos, the day on which we commemorate G-d's giving of the Torah.

Chametz on Pesach is punished by G-d with the terrible punishment of korais. We don't tolerate a speck. But after the transition from the tuma of Egypt (represented by chametz) to the tahara and kedusha of receiving the Torah on Shevuos, we see from the Torah itself that we overcome and replace tuma and yaitzer hora (evil inclination) with holiness. Achievement of this transition is represented by Sinai. The transformation is so much and so great that chametz is a commandment on Shevuos! Similarly, going from singlehood to marriage is a complete spiritual turnaround, elevation and transformation!

The 50 day period which spans the time from Pesach to Shevuos starts with the Yom Tov (Pesach) on which we read "Song Of Songs," the allegorical Biblical statement of love between bride and groom, representing the love between Jew and G-d. Between the exodus from Egypt (at the time of Pesach) to receiving the Torah at Sinai (Shevuos), there was massive spiritual purification, elevation and preparation, progressively accomplished in the 50 days leading to Israel's "wedding" to G-d. The entire transformation process from single person to married person parallels the transformation process from slave in Egypt (slave to spiritually impure forces and influences of Egypt) to free Jew in a spiritually pure and holy love-bond with G-d. Song Of Songs 3:11 says "on the day of his wedding." Rashi and the mishna [Taanis, chap. 4] teach that this refers to the day of giving the Torah at Sinai, which symbolizes marriage, its characteristics and its commitment. G-d "marrying the Jewish people" through the Torah bond parallels man marrying woman with the commitment bond.

On the trek from singleness to marriage, one must cancel the self-centered "tuma facet," developing, instead, the quality of humility, the foundation of all good spiritual qualities. Without humility there is only self: no G-d and no other people. The Talmud says that wherever you see G-d's greatness, there you see His humility [Magila 31a]. Moshe was the one who brought Torah from Heaven because he had the most humility. There is nothing great or lasting without humility. Humility leads to fear of sin [Avoda Zora 20b]. ONLY ONCE YOU ARE CAPABLE OF FEAR OF VIOLATION AGAINST OR SINNING AGAINST SOMETHING, YOU CAN MAKE COMMITMENT TO IT. WHEN YOU ACTUALLY CAN FEEL FEAR OF WRONGING OR SINNING AGAINST SOMETHING/SOMEONE, YOU MAY MAKE A COMMITMENT THAT YOU CAN PERMANENTLY KEEP AND BE PART OF. PREREQUISITE TO GETTING MARRIED IS A FOUNDATION OF HUMILITY ON WHICH IS BUILT FULL FEAR OF VIOLATING YOUR MATE OR MARRIAGE IN ANY WAY.

The giving of the Torah is an analogy to marriage [Taanis 26b]. Just as a groom marries his bride, G-d married the Jewish people. The Torah is the holy commitment which bonds the Jewish people and G-d the same way that marriage is the holy commitment which bonds man and wife.

The Torah was given ("matan Torah"). It is up to the individual to receive Torah. Marriage is an analogy to Torah. It is given, but it is up to you to accept and fulfill what begins when you are under the chupa. In the marriage of husbands and wives, each must also distance and cleanse from the self-slavery and impurity in which a single or immature person might indulge. The culmination of the greatness of one's self-creation is when one can conduct marriage in the way of the righteous, and in the way of G-d.

King Solomon wrote (Proverbs 5:19), "You will always be engrossed with your love for her." The Yalkut, commentaries, Rambam, and Talmud (Eruvin 54b) explain this verse to refer to Torah with some citing analogy to the love between male and female. Two of the nice ideas that fit our parallel are 1. when one is really devoted to one's love, one constantly renews that love by ongoing devotion to it and 2. it remains dear at every moment to the one who truly loves another person. In love for Torah and for one's spouse, one can keep that love going at all times, continually. By being engrossed in and attentive to that love, one plays a constant and active role in the maintenance of the permanent love-commitment of marriage. This parallels the Jewish nation's permanent love-commitment to the Torah. Just as the Torah enables the Jew to elevate all particles of matter in the physical world to holiness, Jewish marriage elevates the relationship of man and wife to the holy. The Torah, through its laws and lessons, empowers the Jew to extract spirituality out from this physical and temptation-rich world.

When Israel came to Sinai, they were ki'eesh echad bilaiv echad (like one person with one heart). The entire Jewish people was unified and could, as a harmonious unit, come to be unified with their Creator.

When one is ready to be one person with one heart with him/herself, and then become united with his or her beloved, ready to relate as one person with one heart, they stand under their chupa to become one permanently, as Israel and G-d became one permanently at Sinai. The Talmud (Avoda Zara 3a) tells us that Israel's receiving the Torah at Sinai was the condition for which G-d created the universe and for maintaining its existence. The Torah (Shmos 19:5) tells us that it is because we observe the Torah and our covenant with G-d that we are G-d's chosen nation. The unity and commitment of marriage parallels the unity and commitment between Israel and G-d, which is the reason for which the world is maintained in existence! The Jewish people "married" G-d, by their stand at Mount Sinai (on Shevuos), committing to be faithful forever to the holy covenant with Him. Marriage, similarly, is faithful commitment to the holy covenant (kidushin, from kodesh, holy) between man and wife forever that starts when they stand under the chupa (marriage canopy).



In Parshas Naso is the Torah reading about the sacrifices brought by the 12 tribal leaders for the original inauguration of the mikdash. According to midrash and kabala, the sacrifices of the 12 tribal leaders represents beginning a marriage! "It was the day of his wedding, the day of the happiness of his heart (Song Of Songs 3:11)." Rashi writes, "'The day of the happiness of his heart.' This is the eighth day of setting up the Mishkan [when sacrificial service was inaugurated in the sanctuary - with the first day of sacrifices by the 12 tribal leaders]." We see that the inauguration of the service of the Mishkan (by the 12 tribal leaders) is an analogy to marriage.

Hashem commanded building the sanctuary to enable Jews to achieve holiness, atonement and perfection. When the service was inaugurated, it was a day of celebration. Yet, the Torah says, "And it was on the day when Moshe completed setting up the sanctuary" (Numbers 7:1), starting with the word "Vayihee (And it was)," which always introduces something with an element of pain and misfortune (tractate Megilah 10b). How does the Torah refer to one of the happiest and most profound milestones in Torah history, inaugurating Temple service, as a day of trouble?

The Midrash Tanchuma brings the following story (on "Vayihee" in Numbers 7:1). There was a king who had a very argumentative, shrewish and troublesome wife. He said to his queen, "Sit down and start sewing a huge royal cloak." He thought to himself, "I know that as long as she is busy sewing, she will be occupied because this is a very large and intricate assignment, so she will not be able to make trouble." She sewed and sewed and sewed. One fine day, she came to the king and said, "Here is the royal cloak. I finished the job."

The king said, "Oy vay [oh woe]!"

The queen was surprised at his response. "You told me to sew a royal cloak. I sat down and made the royal cloak as you said. What's this 'oy vay'?"

The king said, "All the time that you were working on the cloak, I knew you were busy and occupied, I knew you weren't going to incite any fights, provoke or anger me or make any trouble for me. Now that you're free from the work and finished, OY VAY, you can start in causing me trouble again."

The midrash learns this story from the first word in the story of inauguration of the sanctuary, "Vayihee (and it was)," which is grammatically close to "vay (woe)." While the Jews were busy making the sanctuary, a long and intricate job, they were too busy to anger the King, G-d, with sins. Before the work on the sanctuary, they had time to sin with the golden calf, time for distractions from spirituality. Now that the sanctuary was done, the Jews could find time for trouble and sin, and to provoke the "King."

In drash and kabala, these inaugurative sacrifices of the tribal leaders represent getting happily married. The midrash can correspond to the marriage aspect also. You may think that when you're going out or engaged that you have to keep busy. You work carefully on impressing, on not antagonizing and on winning the person. Once married, he says, "No more Mr. Nice Guy. I'll forget about her feelings and needs; I got to get on with the real important business of life." She says, "Now I got him hooked, he isn't going anywhere anymore. I can look like I want, do what I want and spend his money like I want."

No, the midrash says. If you think the work comes before marriage, and then you are free to do what you want when married, OY VAY! That marriage will be a disaster. THE WEDDING IS REALLY WHEN THE WORK JUST STARTS! Once the work on building the sanctuary, mishkan (from the word kodesh, holy) was completed, there was time for trouble. If used for avoda (service of G-d), the sanctuary is holiness. If a couple gets married ill-equipped, or unwilling, to do all the work of building and maintaining their marriage, there is so much room for trouble and damage. If equipped for avoda, then the marriage, kidushin (also from the word kodesh), is holiness. If they are prepared to work to make their marriage holy, subordinated to the service of G-d, ready to work and sacrifice for the sake of their marriage, that couple will have continual happiness.

The Torah portion before Naso, Bamidbar, tells of how each of the twelve tribes received its own banner, to give each its own unique identity. This story takes place on the first day of the SECOND MONTH of the second year after the departure from Egypt. The second portion (Naso) tells how each of the twelve tribal leaders brought generous sacrifices to inaugurate the service of the sanctuary (which was the forerunner to the Holy Temple). This story takes place on the first day of the FIRST MONTH of the second year after the departure from Egypt.

Notice that the first portion, chronologically, takes place second (a month later) and the second portion takes place first. We have a principle that the Torah is not required to be chronological. Its writings often are positioned so that adjacency, context or sequence of the writings give us instructive lessons. By the same token, when there is no reason to veer from chronology, the Torah maintains it. For example, the story of Creation IS INDEED right at the beginning of the Torah! So what is the lesson when the above two stories in the Torah are placed in reverse chronological order?

The story of the 12 tribal leaders bringing sacrifices represents (in Midrash and Kabala) STARTING A MARRIAGE! Each of the 12 leaders brought the exact same sacrifices (flour, incence, animals, etc.) and the Torah repeats the list (of about 70 words) 12 times with each leader's name (for a total of about 800 words). The Torah is concerned about brevity, and we have here the most extensive case of "non-brevity" in the entire Torah! The Torah could have said that all 12 leaders brought the list of gifts, and saved about 700 words! Ramban explains the repitition. The 12 leaders had utmost honor for Heaven. Their intention was pure. None was looking to out-do the other. THEY WERE ALL UNIFIED AND AT PEACE. Each was only concerned with giving respectfully and wholeheartedly for a cause greater than self. THIS IS WHAT MAKES A MARRIAGE!

In the story of the banners, each tribe had its own identity, its unique and separate individuality. When a person looks at the Torah superficially, his flesh and blood eyes see the story of separate identities first, and see, as last, the story of what makes a marriage. Yet, chronologically, the story of the sacrifices actually comes first. Because the 12 leaders' giving was so complete and perfect, and was so beloved in G-d's eyes, the Torah included, in full, every detail of each leader's identical set of gifts. The Torah is instructing us NOT TO FALL INTO THE TRAP OF SEEING SEPARATE IDENTITY AND INDIVIDUALITY FIRST. The "G-dly perspective" is to see that THE PEACE, UNITY, SACRIFICE, GIVING, RESPECT, UNSELFISHNESS, RESPONSIBILITY AND FREEDOM FROM EGO - WHICH ARE CENTRAL TO MARRIAGE - COME FIRST. Do not say, "I got to be me! I have to fulfill myself! You must do more for me! I have to do my own thing!" IN G-D'S EYES, the couple comes before the self! Your unique "self" is never an exemption from giving; it is the DEFINITION OF HOW YOUR UNIQUE PERSONALITY, IDENTITY, INDIVIDUALITY, TALENTS, STRENGTHS AND ABILITIES CONTRIBUTE TO THE "TEAM;" it is HOW YOU GIVE AND SUBORDINATE YOUR UNIQUE "SELF" TO THE MARRIAGE!