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Marriage Isn't for You

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Am I the only one who clicked on Seth Adam Smith’s This Recently Married Man Just Realized Marriage Isn't for him and assumed it was about someone who decided to throw away their marriage after 18 months?

While shocking titles are meant to attract readers, I can’t help but think that he knew many people would be looking to his article as a way out of their own miserable marriage.

If you read his article, you’ll see that he realized marriage is not for him but for his wife and that it is a selfless exercise in giving to another. It’s a great message and one that is refreshing in a society that is often focus on “what’s in it for me.”

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 Smith writes:

No, a true marriage (and true love) is never about you. It’s about the person you love—  their wants, their needs, their hopes, and their dreams. Selfishness demands, “What’s in it for me?”, while Love asks, “What can I give?”

Here's what I'd like to add to Smith's article-

While I agree mostly with what he writes, I would like to suggest that marriage is more than his needs or her needs, but about something much bigger; the relationship.

Sure, if both couples are selfless, then they both get their needs met but what if one partner is selfish and the other is selfless.

Should he/she just be a doormat and keep giving?

It’s funny that I find myself writing this as I am usually seen as the one to encourage a couple to stay together.

I have seen in comments that readers leave on my guest blog posts, that when I support couples working out their relationship challenges, the readers react swiftly, “triggered” by what I’ve said, claiming that because I am a Rabbi I don’t believe in divorce, or that I am encouraging people to stay in abusive marriages, etc…

As a marriage counselor, my job is to keep couples together.

While I won’t advise couples to stay or to break up, I do try to let them see the deeper reasons for their conflict and how they can learn tools (namely through good marriage counseling or our self guided marriage course) to help them grow and heal.

They, ultimately, need to be the ones to make this decision as it forever impacts their lives.

Many people, probably because they themselves are looking for permission to leave their marriage and not feel ashamed, are extremely triggered by any assertion that even a bad relationship can be transformed.

Call me naïve but I believe people can change and I have seen countless couples change. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

And yes, even couples where there are anger problems, diagnoses, and name-calling are not eternally dammed to suffer.

These problems can be remediated.

Clinicians are too quick to diagnosis and give a marriage a death sentence as they get caught up in the story line and are not able to see what’s really going on beneath the surface.

A medical approach that treats the symptoms views everyone as ill.

A more holistic approach that treats the whole picture enables couples to achieve successful loving relationships.

Yet, couples need to be willing to do the work.

Another recent article making the rounds is that of Gital Dodelson, the young lady who has been trying for 3 ½ years to get a religious divorce from her husband. Although she is civilly divorced, she is not allowed to get re-married according to Jewish law until she receives her religious divorce. Her husband refuses to give her the religious divorce.

I have not thoroughly researched the issue so I will not pass judgment on either side but to say that if you aren’t interested in staying married and have even gotten a civil divorce, it is cruel to withhold a religious divorce. I do not wish to get mired in this controversy.

What I am reminded from this story and her depiction of her husband, whether it is one-sided or not, is a few things.

While I don’t think it is healthy for couples to enter marriage with divorce as an option lurking in the back of their mind, there are situations where marriages simply don’t work.

It goes without saying that if one does not feel physically safe in their relationship, their number one goal needs to be to protect themselves.

The cases of verbal and emotional abuse become a bit more complicated. Emotional and verbal abuse may be harder to “measure” and is less “tangible” if you will, as physical abuse.

Furthermore, couples that are willing to work on the relationship can often heal such marriages.

The opposite of how Seth Adam Smith portrays a successful marriage as being one that is selfless, Dodelson depicts her husband as the epitome of selfishness and someone who refused to seek help. Again, we don’t know how her husband would reply, but to generalize these examples, we see that bad character, self-absorption, and an unwillingness to seek help are not conducive to successful relationships.

While anyone can get pushed over the edge and we are all self-absorbed to some extent as Seth Adam Smith reminds us that our tendency is to think about “what’s in it for me” , if we are not committed to the entity we call the relationship, a marriage will not thrive.

The mentality of commitment should be ‘til death do us part.

If we know we are in it for life, we will be willing to seek help to make it better.

It’s when we think we have a way out, that we see no reason to work on the marriage.

Of course, this does not mean that we can’t leave. We are not forbidden to get divorced.

Commitment, though, should not be viewed as a death sentence but a daily choice to be fully involved in our relationship.

So many people are suffering in their relationships, yet instead of committing to make it work, they’re looking for an easy way out.

I want to get your Free Marriage Guide!

I imagine that’s the hope that some people had when they opened Seth Adam Smith’s article, that they could get validation for wanting to leave their lousy marriage.

Instead you were told that if you would only be selfless, your marriage would be great.

Don’t get me wrong, a bad marriage is miserable.

What saddens me, though, is that I know that most marriage can improve.

Unfortunately, our disposable society doesn’t favor holding onto anything too long, especially something as uncomfortable as a lousy marriage.

Yet, it is often the very discomfort and conflict we experience in our relationships that becomes a catalyst for our personal growth and healing.

Am I telling you to stick with a lousy mate?

No, but I am telling you to be committed enough to the relationship to seek out the right help. And if at first you don’t succeed, try try again. If a doctor gave you six months to live, you surely would do whatever you could to find another doctor who could help you. Why be content to let your marriage die and family split up all because one professional or approach couldn’t help you?

Despite his anxiety going into the marriage, Seth Adam Smith committed to doing whatever it took to make his marriage work.

The power of his attitude shift, forever transformed the way he viewed his relationship, and that’s the reason why people are so taken with what he wrote.

And may his story inspire us all to co-create the relationship of our dreams.

Be in touch,

Shlomo and Rivka Slatkin

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