[W]hat makes you so certain that you’re married to the right person? There is surely a more talented, more charming, more attractive woman/man out there? Why did you marry the one that you did?
“Why did I marry you?” is a commonly used line spouses may blurt out at each other when things in their marriage don’t proceed the way they envisioned. It can be due to trivial things, like the style of clothing your spouse chooses to wear, to real problems like either spouse being irresponsible in housekeeping, finances or the education of the children.
Before we try to work out the solution to such a state of affairs, we should first translate to practical terms what we are actually saying when we say “Why did I marry you:”
We see, rightfully or not, a disturbing trait in our spouse. But instead of focusing on that trait, we make an association between him and his trait. We reach the conclusion that if that trait is something we can’t stand, then it means that “I can’t stand him/her” either. We come to realize that we’re not compatible and we consider the whole relationship an error we are sorry we ever got into.
In most cases such a rift can be mended with guidance of a rabbi, a therapist or a marriage counselor, who will help the couple through their challenging circumstance. While in other extreme cases, there remains no choice other than to dissolve the marriage.
Indeed, Halacha recognizes that when there are certain forms of deception from either side in the marriage, be it about the financial, medical, physical, occupational or social status of either spouse, it can render the marriage as a mekach taa’us, a “mistaken purchase”. This can be legal grounds to justify and enforce a divorce. But at the same time, divorce, especially of a first wife, isn’t encouraged by Halacha and should be used only as a last resort.
For the majority of cases, however, especially those that begin because of petty differences, it would be worthwhile to look at how a Jewish woman many years ago dealt with a similar situation…
Devorah was a unique personality; remarkable, rare, maybe even one of a kind. Sort of a sensation. She was a prophetess and a very learned woman; she even served as a rabbinic judge in an orthodox community. Other rabbis in later generations had to find out how it was permissible for her to do so, since there are Halachic restrictions on a woman taking on certain leadership positions. Several valid reasons are given.
Either way, this great Rebbetzin also had another side job in order to support her husband. Not financial support; they were doing fine with selling fresh dates. Rather she supported him spiritually.
She was the biggest Torah-authority of the time but her husband was an Am Ha’aretz, an ignoramus.
Instead of asking “Why did I marry you?” she said, “Since you cannot learn and have no way to receive divine reward, I will set aside part of my time to prepare wicks with which the menorah in the temple will be kindled and you will deliver them to the mishkan so you too will have a share in the world-to-come for performing this great mitzvah!
We don’t know whether she had a choice regarding who she would marry, or if men closer to her stature even existed! Yet we do know that she definitely knew why she was married to him, which led to their healthy approach to their relationship.
In a business partnership, you choose a partner based on certain qualifications. If it thrives you keep it going and if not you have the option to dissolve the partnership. But a marriage is a bit more complicated than that. By its very nature, a marriage is a much deeper commitment; it involves not just finances and fiscal responsibilities. It involves your entire being.
Finding a soul mate means to find someone with whom you will share not just your driveway, your home and bank account, it means finding someone with whom you will share your very life. All of it!
When one person marries another they are essentially committing their entire life to him or her. In a marriage, a person surrenders a very large part of himself, never to be returned. If all works well, then that is a worthwhile investment, but if not, G-d forbid, that person will never be the same. He or she can only partially heal from that breach of trust.
When children are born the relationship becomes set in stone in the strongest way: no matter what happens between the couple, they remain together forever in that child’s physical, mental and emotional psyche.
So it’s a really tough decision to make: How can anyone make such a decision alone? Do you have enough information about the prospective spouse? Even if theoretically you do, don’t people change over time?
Perhaps that’s why we don’t decide: “Forty days before a fetus is conceived a heavenly voice sets out to announce the daughter of so-and-so will be the wife of so-and-so!” (Sotah 2a) Two matching souls, or more accurately, a halved soul, is sent down to this world and when the time comes the two halves find each other and reunite.
This shouldn’t remain a mystical teaching. If we come to realize that we don’t decide who we will marry, it can really improve all aspects of our married life, starting from the pre-marriage stage: finding the right one.
A famous story of the Ba’al Shem Tov describes a wealthy and learned chassid, we’ll call him Reb Yankel, who was offered a shidduch (-marriage match) for his son with the daughter of a simple pauper – Reb Chaim. R’ Yankel didn’t think it was a good idea. After all, R’ Chaim didn’t match neither his yichus (- familial lineage), his financial class or even his spiritual stature. But a chassid he was and he asked his Rebbe for advice.
Motzei Shabbos at the Melave Malka meal the question was asked.
“Let the shidduch go ahead!” said the Ba’al Shem Tov with a tone of urgency in his voice. “Mazal-Tov! This was bashert (-predestined)!”
The Ba’al Shem Tov explained the urgency:
“My soul ascended to the upper worlds and there I saw the following scene in the heavenly court: The angel in charge of shidduchim (-matchmaking) returned reporting that he was unsuccessful in orchestrating the shidduch between your son and R’ Chayim’s daughter.
“Why does he refuse to make the match?” they asked, to which he replied that you don’t think it is compatible for a host of reasons: he’s too poor, not from a special yichus, etc.
“The heavenly court then decreed that you, R’ Yankel, will have to lose all your money to R’ Chayim, and your daughter, R’ Chayim, will become hunchbacked so the predestined match may proceed: can a poor boy refuse a rich girl, even if she’s hunchbacked?
“I then intervened and asked to try to make it work before anything negative happens. So what do you think is better R’ Yankel, a healthy, poor kallah (-bride) and a wealthy chassan (-groom), or a poor chassan and rich, hunchbacked kallah?!”
All the vetting we do in the process of finding a shidduch is just using clues and cues from G-d to direct us towards “the right one,” which has been predestined for us years before.
All the things we search for in a projected spouse are not things that cause us to choose him or her for marriage. We will marry our spouse not because he or she is smart, good looking, shares the same taste in music and food and who-knows-what else. All those things just bring us closer and help us search for the person we are destined to marry by serving as hints to where he or she is waiting for us; no one ever married someone else’s wife.
So with this in mind we can safely answer the question “Why did I marry him”? – You married him or her because he or she is your spouse. Not “he or she is my spouse because I chose to marry him or her”.
There is a very clear formula to know that you made the right decision: if you stood under the chuppah (-wedding canopy) and received the ring, or gave it to the other party, k’das moshe v’yisrael, as prescribed by Torah law, then you know you married the right person. The next step, which will take a lifetime of work, is to make the relationship flourish.
Another big problem is the comparing disease. It is a devastating disease which plagues many homes, especially in today’s “open” society, but it’s a detrimental mistake. Spouses often compare their partners to other in a host of ways, which can also lead to wondering “why did I marry this person” if this other person is smarter/cooler/more helpful/richer/more spiritually inclined/more learned and who-knows what else.
Well, if you choose your spouse, then you get to compare him or her to other men and women, like a car. But if it’s G-d’s choice, then it is just as useless and harmful as comparing your child to other children and expecting them to live up to something they aren’t.
Always remember: it’s not that a man marries a woman of his or her choice; a husband marries his wife.
Comparing is a leading cause (not the only though) for conflict in relationships and the less we compare, the more we can appreciate what we have and even find productive ways to improve ourselves and our spouses.
When conflicts do arise in a marriage, for whatever reason, they are an indication that something in the relationship needs to be fixed, not that the relationship is an error. Conflicts don’t indicate that “I may have made the wrong choice,” because we really don’t have a choice, we are being led by G-d’s hand.
This approach to marriage, besides for being the eternal truth of the Torah, also holds great positive potential for resolving conflicts:
If the husband and wife sense that their spouse is theirs forever and don’t get the vibes of “I shouldn’t have married you in the first place!” even at moments of conflict, they can more calmly work on themselves to be a better spouse.
In Shir Hashirim (-The song of Songs), Shlomo Hamelech describes, using a human analogy of a husband-wife relationship, the relationship of G-d and the Jewish nation: it gets very rocky and shaky at times, but it’s always committed and therefore ultimately loving.
We can all look back to moments in our personal life and to events in our collective history as a nation where our relationship with G-d has been a good one on both ends:
We did His will, He provided us with our needs. Unfortunately, we can also attest to many times when our relationship was in conflict, from the sin of the golden calf down to the Holocaust. But one message we can take home from our almost 3,500 year relationship is that neither G-d nor us ever wondered “Why did I marry you?”
And this is the secret of the survival of the Jewish spirit, as well as the Jewish people.
A most fascinating piece of Midrash describes how Rabbi Elazar bar Rabi Yossi explained to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai the loving relationship between G-d and the Jewish nation by comparing it to a king who had an only daughter. Overflowing with love, the king called the daughter ‘my sister’ and ‘my mother’. Similarly, G-d calls the Jewish nation ‘my sister, my bride’ and ‘my nation, my mother’. (Psikata D’rav Kahannah, Rashi on Shir Hashirim 3:11)
The description of a wife is the one which is used more often than others in Tanach, Talmud and the Midrashim, as a marriage contains many components that are present in the G-d-Israel relationship. Yet, in this Midrash, where our relationship with G-d is described as “overrflowing,” examples of blood-relations are used. A lesson we can take from this may be, that just like G-d, we too should inject some familial concepts into our marital relationships.
Blood relations are stronger than marital ones. It’s harder for a daughter to disown her parents than it is for a couple to get divorced. Siblings can find it even harder to break ties between each other and a mother is someone, who more than anyone else, will never, ever separate from her child!
It can only do good to a marriage to know that either spouse feels towards the other, the same commitment a mother feels to her child.