By Rabbi Yossy Goldman
She became his wife and he loved her.
Why are so many marriages failures? And why do so many fail so soon after the wedding?
This week we read about the first shidduch in history. Avraham sends his trusted servant, Eliezer, to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. He returns with Rivka, and they live happily ever after. The verse tells us that Yitzchak “took Rivka; she became his wife, and he loved her.” So, it would appear that in the biblical scenario, true love comes after marriage, not before. Before a marriage can take place, there has to be a commonality between two people, shared values, mutual aspirations and, yes, certainly a degree of chemistry between them. But true love has to be nurtured over time.
Without doubt, a primary cause of many marital breakdowns today is the unrealistic expectation that people have going into marriage. Our generation has been fed a constant diet of romance novels, hit-parade love songs, glossy-magazine advice, and Hollywood fiction—all of which bear little resemblance to the real world.
“We fell in love!” “It was love at first sight.” I confess to being a bit of a romantic myself, but surely “love at first sight” has got to be a contradiction in terms. “Love,” by definition, takes years to develop. If you are honest with yourself, the only thing you can feel at first sight is lust. “Love at first sight” is a monumental bubbe maiseh!
So we “fall in love” thinking it’s real, hoping it will be true and lasting, and then at the slightest disappointment we fall right out of love. Which only proves that it wasn’t true love in the first place. True love takes years. True love is the mature conviction that our lives are intertwined and inseparable no matter what—even if my partner goes gray or flabby or loses his money. That kind of love is measured not in romantics but in long-term commitment.
When I officiate at a chuppah ceremony, I make a point of observing not only the bride and groom, but also their parents. A single glance that passes between father and mother under that chuppah—radiating nachas and feelings of shared satisfaction—tells me that they have had a good marriage. That, to me, is more telling than the mushy swooning of the newlyweds. As exciting as it is, their love may still be in the infatuation stage. Yet untested, it’s still early days.
So the first rule is patience. Love takes time. It needs nurturing. Sadly, too many give up too soon.
Second, the Hollywood effect leaves us so naively impressionable that our partners have got to be the proverbial Prince Charming or Princess Grace. But then, at the first sign of imperfection, “Hey, I bought a lemon! I’m outta here!” Remember, nobody is perfect. Not even you, my dear. In the passage of time, we discover the little imperfections of our chosen partners. Some things can be unlearned, with gentle encouragement and, again, patience. Others, we may just have to learn to live with. Acceptance is an art. Weigh in your mind the relative significance of minor inadequacies against the greater good in the grand scheme of things. You may very well realize that you can actually live with those small, petty irritants. Admittedly, if it’s something major, then you may need to go for some serious counseling.
And in making these calculations, consider the following: Do I stop loving myself just because I am imperfect? Do I stop loving my children because the teacher told me they were really bad at school? Of course not. Why then do I have difficulty loving my spouse because of a perceived fault?
Marriage is the beginning, not the end. If we can be realistic about our relationships, we can find true love. But it takes time, patience, and the wisdom to overlook the little things that can annoy us. Then, please G‑d, with true commitment will come true love, togetherness, a lifetime of sharing and caring, and the greatest, most enduring contentment in our personal lives. Amen.
Rabbi Yossy Goldman was born in Brooklyn and was sent in 1976 by the Lubavitcher Rebbe as an emissary to serve the Jewish community of Johannesburg, South Africa. He is Senior Rabbi of the Sydenham Shul and president of the South African Rabbinical Association. His sefer “From Where I Stand: Life Messages from the Weekly Torah Reading” was published by Ktav and is available at Jewish book shops or online at www.ktav.com.
By Rabbi Yossy Goldman