PLEASE PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST!!!
I’ve written about this before, but it’s not being talked about enough in the frum Jewish world, that probably the biggest reason that couples break up today is because of a very unhealthy relationship with the parents and parents in law.
And I’m including both sets of ‘parents’ and ‘parents in law’ here, because there is no such thing as only one half of the couple coming from a dysfunctional background, however it may look externally.
When people grow up in emotionally healthy, accepting, God-fearing, functional families, they simply can’t jive with a spouse who grew up in a dysfunctional family that is not all of these things (i.e. nearly everyone in 2017).
I know this flies in the face of conventional marriage guidance and Western psychological thought. But the Zohar teaches us very clearly that husband and wife are two parts of the same soul. In some way that means that both people coming into the marriage experienced the same sorts of traumas, lacks, problems and issues - albeit it’s often dressed up in such different clothing, that usually that’s not at all obvious.
Again, if one set of parents are any admixture of emotionally unhealthy / controlling / neglectful / dismissive of their children’s true feelings / grasping / selfish / rigid / intolerant of difference / snobby / angry / jealous of their children’s love, attention and loyalty going towards a spouse (I’m missing a bunch of things out here, but you get the picture…) then IT’S IMPOSSIBLE for the other set of parents to be totally emotionally healthy.
Everyone has their issues, everyone their problems. Some are more obvious, some are more hidden, and God puts couples together dafka to bring those ‘hidden’ issues up to the surface, so they can finally be worked on and fixed.
Dear reader, I have heard so many horror stories of parents who are so caught up in what they want, and what they prefer, and what’s good for them that they are wreaking havoc upon their children’s marriages, shalom bayit, emotional health and general well-being. I know this stuff is so hard to spot (also because it’s so common that we think it’s ‘normal’ behavior) - so here’s some examples of what emotionally unhealthy parents do to wreck their kids' marriages, so you can see what I’m on about:
- Expect their kid to put them and their needs first, ahead of what’s good for their spouse. This takes many forms, including: inviting themselves to stay for ages; expecting the kid to attend any events / holidays they deem necessary; making decisions on behalf of their kids without checking it’s what the kid (AND THEIR SPOUSE!!) really wants or can manage (‘we’ll all come to you for Seder again this year!’) etc
- Only corresponding with their child, while ignoring the spouse (and their wishes) completely. Instead of encouraging the kid to make a joint decision with their spouse, emotionally unhealthy parents completely sideline the spouse, and speak only to the kid. The spouse doesn’t really ‘exist’ - but here’s the thing, neither does the kid. It’s just harder to hide that reality from a grown-up who didn’t get used to this situation from childhood (at least, from that set of parents).
- Criticise, pick holes in and generally slag off the kid’s spouse to the kid. Whatever problems are going in the marriage, it’s very rarely ever only one person’s fault.
Emotionally unhealthy parents excel in seeing the ‘bad’ in the spouse, while excusing their own kids’ contribution to the situation.
This is because they see their kid as an extension of themselves, so when the kid starts acting in their marriages according to the bad middot and mentally ill behaviors they learnt at home, the parents find it very hard to accept this behavior is ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’.
If they accepted that it was ‘wrong’, they’d be acknowledging that much of their own behavior is crazy and ‘wrong’ - and emotionally unhealthy people struggle to do that tremendously.
So it’s much easier to just blame the other person and ‘the other side’ for all the issues, and avoid looking at what’s really going on in our backyards, with our own dysfunctional and destructive family dynamics.
- Drop hints, obviously and otherwise, that if the marriage ends that’s no big loss. This one is SO upsetting to me when there are kids involved, because the people who do this are operating from the mistaken assumption that you can somehow surgically remove a parent out of the equation and it won’t have any impact on the kids.
Sometimes, when you’re dealing with chronic abuse or a level of madness that is almost impossible to fix, it could be there is no choice except to get divorced. I understand that. But divorce even in those circumstances is still the lesser of two evils, and not a ‘good’ thing.
When you divorce, your ability to fix your spouse - and the parts of your spouse that are PART OF YOUR CHILDREN - diminishes considerably. You don’t get the same siyatta dishmaya, you don’t have the same motivation to do six hour sessions, to pour your heart out to God to help you, to help your spouse, to fix the problems in your family.
Getting divorced is SO much easier than dealing with disappointment, frustration and thwarted dreams day in and day out. At least, that’s how it looks, if you pretend that your spouse is not an integral part of your kids, and the other half of your own neshama…
The buck stops with us! Don’t give up on your marriages! Don’t give up on your spouses!
I know it’s so, so hard, I really do.
But getting divorced is NOT an easy option (even when there are extreme circumstances and your God fearing Rabbi is counselling you that this is truly the best option for you and your family.)
For so many people, it’s the apparent shortcut out of all the drama and hassle that turns into the longest and most painful road of your life.
Just ask the divorcee I hear screaming most nights a week that she’s going crazy, and can’t do it all by herself anymore!!! Ask the lost, miserable kids I see wandering around my neighborhood, smoking cigarettes at age 11 and getting into all sorts of trouble. Ask the dad who misses his kids so badly, and who dies a bit more inside every time he thinks of his kids growing up in some other man’s house.
Fight for your marriages, fight for your spouses! Don’t leave your kids to rectify all those massive bad middot they inherited by themselves!
Pray your hearts out!
Be aware that most of us come from highly dysfunctional families, and that if you’re seeing that by your spouse’s family, it’s 100% for sure also lurking in your own background too, just waiting for you to wake up and acknowledge it, and to fix the problem in your own family tree.
And the first way to start that process is this:
PUT YOUR SPOUSE FIRST.
May God bless us all with the emuna, strength, patience, prayer, perseverance and love we need to hold our families together in these extremely troubling times.