This week’s letter is being answered by Jennifer Mann, LMSW.
My husband Eli and I have been married about two years and we don’t have children yet. When Eli and I were dating we had many serious conversations about Yiddishkeit and the level of observance we would have in our home. We agreed on things like no TV, no Facebook accounts, and no double-dating. I would say we were basically on the same page about our life together, until recently.
Over the course of the last several months I have noticed changes in Eli. They are specific things I can point to, and then there is also a different attitude he now possesses. His desire for a TV was so strong that I caved in and told him he could watch when I am not home. We both grew up Modern Orthodox, so I am no stranger to the life he is creating for himself. The problem is that I chose to live my adult life differently. He did, too, but he is backpedaling. I feel that he has put me in an unfair, impossible situation.
I am so hurt by this change in him, and I feel like he is not taking our life together seriously. Secretly, I am glad we do not have children yet, because I can only imagine that would complicate things in case I decide to leave him. I have spoken to Eli about my feelings but I don’t think he takes me seriously. I think he figures I will return to the girl he knew in high school, as if I am living some sort of facade.
The rational part of me says that Eli is still the same decent, intelligent, person he was when I married him. Yet another, just as rational, part of me says that this is unfair, and he is breaking a sacred agreement we had.
I am so angry with him, I scream at him all the time about nonsense like not taking out the garbage. Should I leave this relationship and give myself a chance at happiness with a guy I share values with and envision myself being with?
Your signature suits you. Eli’s change of heart has changed your world, your present, your future, and you may be left questioning your past together, wondering if he was sincere in his intentions and plans for the life that lay ahead of both of you. Here you are, two years into your marriage, and Eli is telling you loud and clear that his path has changed. Though some readers may not understand or be sensitive to your situation, I can say that when one partner changes course in this way, or any other way for that matter, it can be damaging to the relationship. You may feel that he is going back on his word, or “if he loved me, if he truly loved me, he would stay the same for me.” Surely, you are confused and rightfully so.
If I understand, you are asking me whether you should divorce Eli. I will save you the time and energy of waiting to the end of the article and let the cat out of the bag now. There will be no great reveal or answer I can give you. I do not know you or Eli or anything about your relationship. I can, however, give you some food for thought, some insight to process, before you make any decision.
While some couples seem to float through life without any significant issues, most couples have significant differences they are working with. Among these are choosing a location to live, how large a family they will have, inappropriate allegiances to parents, communication styles, different levels of frumkeit, a flirtatious spouse, how to spend their money, where to retire, creating boundaries, etc.
Couples disagree about many important issues. Some choose to weather the storm because of their love and commitment, while others feel these differences compromise their integrity. There is no right or wrong person. In my humble opinion (and feel free to disagree), when men and women create lists of their expectations of a spouse while dating, they are setting themselves up for failure for the simple reason that people change.
Yes, it is imperative for a chassan and kallah to talk about their desires for their future and what kind of home they want and how they will raise their children. But in what universe is this document signed, sealed, and delivered? Wouldn’t that be a great place to live! These conversations and agreements are not guarantees. Human beings are constantly changing and evolving.
As unfair as this feels, I suggest as a primer that you begin to let go of your anger. I think your anger is a reaction to the loss of your expectations for this relationship and the loss of the Eli you knew. Focus on the loss and try to lose the anger. Whether you stay or go, the anger will only corrode your marriage and your heart.
There are certain revelations a spouse can make that would be deal-breakers. This is a family publication, so I will not get into too much detail. Domestic violence, moral corruption, and untreated mental-health disorders or personality disorders are among these deal-breakers. While some people stay in these relationships, others choose to leave because there is absolutely no fulfillment in it for them. Deciding to take a different religious path in the form of a TV, or missing the occasional minyan (you didn’t get into any other specifics aside from the TV) is manageable if you want to manage it.
I suggest that, as part of your decision-making process, you speak to a person who has gone through a divorce. More often than not, the ones who are content with their divorces are the people who feel with every fiber of their being that they tried everything to make it work. Because they tried everything and it still didn’t work, they have no regrets. Are you going to be thinking about Eli, wishing you had tried? Would you miss him? Would you miss your relationship? His arm around your shoulder, an intimate glance your way? Only you know the answers to these questions.
The main question is, do you love him? Walking away from love is like ringing a bell. You can’t unring it. A good relationship built on respect and honesty is not easy to come by. Relationships can survive a difference in frumkeit if there is a mutual desire to fight for something you believe is worth saving.
A few suggestions: Speak to a competent, trusted, respected rav who has experience in this area. Secondly, please speak to a therapist about your conflict. Do not let this fester. While love does not conquer all, it can make a bumpy ride a whole lot smoother.
Jennifer Mann is presently working as a psychotherapist at Ohel. She also works as a relationship coach and can be reached at 718-908-0512.