My Marriage Report Card — By Ben

Photo by Amboo Woo

Yesterday was my 10 month wedding anniversary. You might be asking yourself, why didn’t I wait two months for the annual anniversary? I could have. However, yesterday was significant because Rachel and I dated for 10 months before we were married. Meaning that as of yesterday, she and I have been married longer than we dated. It’s a bizarre notion for me to contemplate as a man who spent between 34 and 35 years of his life single.

Recently, I was talking to my brother about someone he was dating. He had expressed that he liked her a lot and that she might even be “the one.” But he then qualified the statement, “I’m not going to fast track it like you did.” I get that in the secular world, 10 months of dating is warp speed. But I am also in the religious world where a 10 month courtship is considered a snail’s pace. So given these two perspectives on relationships, I thought it might be good to review the things I have learned in this short time. In fact, Judaism recommends two critical practices for one seeking personal growth: Chazarah (reviewing) and making a cheshbon (receipt or report).

Mitzvahs Go By the Wayside

Prior to getting married I almost always prayed in a minyan, studied one hour of Torah most days, and dedicated time to my personal writing. My blog posts always had a new or innovative idea. But in these recent months, I’ve not been so on top of my game.

Rachel often times expresses that she thinks she’s dragging me down spiritually. I can understand why she’d say this, but she’s wrong (one of the few times she is.) First off there’s shalom bayis (peace in the home). Now I did a whole blog post about this, so I’m not going to go into much detail. But essentially having a happy, thriving, home of peace is one of the biggest mitzvahs a couple can fulfill. That being said, here are some other things to consider.

Between waiting tables, writing, and television production I’ve held many different short lived jobs. (Now you can see why I was single for so long.) When I had had said job for a while things fell into place. I was working on my art, exercising regularly, eating right, making time for friends, etc. But when I had to get a new job, everything went to hell for 3-6 months as I got the hang of the new gig. The difficulty of that learning curve of the job is directly related to how quickly I was able to get personal priorities back under control.

I’ve certainly never worked a job that was as big of a shift as being married. Not only are you having to deal with your adjustments, you are now having to negotiate with someone going through the same shift. It takes some time to get the hang of things. Is the neglect of some mitzvah observance the worst thing in the world? Depends on which rabbi you talk to. But I think the following story will help with the justification.

The Celibate Shlit’a

There was once a man who decided to remain single and find a secluded house of study where he could devote the days of his life to Torah and Divine service. Day after day he would sit quietly learning day and night with no interruption. He denied himself all bodily pleasures of luxury. The villagers of his town were sure he had achieved the title of great tzaddik. When he finally died after decades of dedicated study, his soul ascended to the Holy Court of Heaven. He expected to be greeted by the greatest of Jewish figures, tzaddikim, perhaps even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, etc. To his dismay, no such fanfare welcomed him as he was ushered into the heavenly tribunal.

The Chief Justice ruled, “You learned and prayed, and did a great many mitzvahs. However you didn’t complete the mission you were sent down to complete. You learned Torah but you failed to implement what you learned. Had you married, you would have seen how far away you are from true Torah observance. For then, you would have had to invest much more effort to fulfill each mitzvah. You never gave yourself to another person. You never sacrificed a thing for another person; nor have you ever surrendered your desires to the desires of another person. You have no idea about the meaning of compromise.

From The Garden of Peace (paraphrased)

I think the story says it quite clearly, but the main idea is that doing mitzvahs for your own sake is far less meaningful than pairing with another person to accomplish them together. The act of kiddushin (a kosher Jewish marriage) is a spiritual phenomenon that binds two souls into one. With that in mind, my mitzvahs now count for the both of us. It’s going to take some time to get the hang of it. But it is well worth the learning curve.

The Royal We

Before my wedding day, a close friend offered a piece of unsolicited advice: Start using the pronoun “we.” What is this, the British crown? Was my friend taking the “uniting of souls” idea way too seriously? I wanted to write this off as a tool to teach insensitive husbands how to think about things from their wife’s perspective. But it wasn’t long before I learned how right my friend was.

It doesn’t take a relationship expert to tell you that as a married individual you’re not going to be able to go to every meeting, meal, or event you want to. Plans are going to conflict. At this point you have one of two choices; you can put the blame on your spouse “my wife isn’t comfortable” (whether it is true or you’re just making up the excuse because you don’t want to go) or you can use the “royal we.” That 1st person plural pronoun does far more than stop you from throwing your spouse under the bus. It subconsciously trains you to see your partner’s problems as your own. It is a constant reminder that the two of you are in this together. And considering how essential Judaism views the power of speech, it inherently changes your reality.

Fundamental Shifts

There are certain behaviors that have changed in my life since getting married. Every couple struggles with communication, boundaries, and expressing their needs. But I had no idea just how fundamentally those behaviors would have to be negotiated on a constant basis. I don’t consider myself a big spender, but the decision to buy another Nintendo Switch game is now a far more important issue than I ever expected. Rachel loves to express herself, whether she’s actually talking to me or not. She has to reconcile with the fact that when I’m writing, if she comes in for a question, pulling my attention from my assignment is like ripping velcro in my brain.

Despite these fundamental realignments, there is a bigger more monumental change that more than makes up for it. I’m not going to say love. Of course, I love and am in love with my wife. But that’s something any couple can understand. When you are married, there is always someone in your corner to help you write emails, read over first drafts, who will do the marketing work when you’ve done the art. They are your ride home at the end of the night, the assembler of Ikea furniture, the person on the phone arguing with the insurance company for the refund. Examples such as those have supplied me with a confidence I never dreamed possible as a single person.

For decades I attended social functions with an inherent insecurity and a need to progress and succeed. A mere 10 months of marriage has turned that all on its head. The Talmud in Yevamoth 62a says, “Any man who has no wife lives without joy, without blessing, and without goodness.” I always felt this quote was hyperbolic. But for the reasons above, I now know it to be true.

The Road Ahead

Our first 10 months flew by in the blink of an eye. In that time we’ve already had struggles that I’ve only hinted at. God willing, our family will grow and I will understand what it means to be a husband on a whole other dimension. But in the meanwhile, I am happy to report though it hasn’t always been easy, it has been extraordinary.

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