Why is the world so mesmerized by weddings? What exactly is it that so avidly captures the imagination? We wait with eager anticipation, we dress up, we get emotional at the ceremony, and even for the guests it can often be a romantic experience. One woman I know attends every wedding I conduct in my synagogue - whether she is invited or not! She is always there in the gallery, watching and enjoying.
Part of it, I think, is that a young bride and groom starting afresh bring with them a sense of new hope. Especially for older, married veterans who may have become somewhat staid and perhaps even jaded, it represents a new beginning, a new opportunity, and a chance to do it right. Love will blossom again and hope springs eternal once more. Maybe we are hoping to get re-inspired ourselves.
The trouble is that fairytales are in books, movies, and maybe every now and then in Buckingham Palace. But in the real world we don’t just ride into the sunset and live happily ever after. Love is a four-letter word that brings another one in its wake, W-O-R-K! Without work, even the most ardent love cannot survive. The wedding is but the beginning of a life-long journey of learning to communicate, understand, respect, and nurture our marriage partner.
We even have to learn how to fight! No matter how many years a couple may have been going steady, they would do well to attend a marriage preparation course before they marry. Along with improving communication skills, they will also learn about conflict resolution. In any partnership, conflict of one kind or another is inevitable. And there is a right way and a wrong way to fight.
I’m very proud of the marriage preparation programs we’ve developed for brides and grooms today in our own community. It has helped many couples understand themselves and their partners better. It has also taught them that counseling is an important option to consider should problems arise during their marriage. It wasn’t always so. Generations of new couples, myself included, were just ‘thrown in the deep end’ — with no swimming lessons. Some learned, others swallowed lots of water, and sadly, many drowned.
I will never forget a wedding ceremony I conducted when the groom was the ‘mushiest’ young man I’d ever encountered. He was simply swooning over his bride. I was actually concerned that he was going to literally collapse in love under the chuppah. At one point during the ceremony, while the choir was singing, the photographer leaned over and whispered to me, “Just look at him, Rabbi. You’ll never have problems with this one.”
Well, what should I tell you? Not a year later, this same swooning bridegroom had an affair with his wife’s best friend. So much for romantic love alone as a recipe for marital longevity!
I recall a couple that once came to see me about their own marriage problems. I asked how long they had been married. 18 years. I asked how long they’d been having problems. 18 years. I asked what they had done about it. They said they had just kept trying. I said it was like a guy driving on the highway who hears a noise from the back of the car, but he is determined to get to his destination, so he just keeps on driving. The noise gets louder, but he just keeps on driving. Now, surely, simple logic suggests that one should actually stop the car, get out, and see what’s going on. And if the tire has a flat, you’d better fix it before you damage the wheel, the chassis, and more.
In marriage too, we sometimes have to stop to. And if we cannot do it ourselves, we should call in someone qualified to help us. Just to keep trying on our own with no professional intervention is the same as the guy who keeps driving with his flat tire. He’s going nowhere fast.
Too many men have this macho attitude when it comes to counseling. “I’m not crazy. I’m not going to any shrink! You wanna go? You go!” Clearly, that is a formula for failure. And the happy truth is that many struggling marriages have been saved (and transformed into beautiful, lasting relationships) thanks to a sustained period of counseling with a trusted therapist.
Of course, love is natural. But so is life. Life doesn’t always run on auto-pilot. Problems and unexpected issues regularly crop up in life, and marriage is part of life. Life takes work, and so does marriage. But when we are prepared to put in the work, it can work very well indeed.