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Does Love Conquer All?

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi David Clyman

What is the missing ingredient in so many marriages that end in divorce?

The following statistic sends chills down my spine. The United States has the highest divorce rate in the world. At present rates, approximately half of all U.S. marriages can be expected to end in divorce.

Imagine that you're about to board a plane when the pilot says, "Statistics confirm that half of all planes taking off today are expected to crash." What would you do? You'll run off that plane!

In spite of the high number of divorces taking place right before our eyes, people still want to get married. And here's the interesting thing: Not one couple gets married with the intention of getting divorced.

We all believe our marriage will be successful. Yet statistics prove otherwise - half will fail.

Two questions we need to ask:

1) What is the problem?
2) What needs to change?


We've all heard that "love conquers all." Many couples believe in their heart of hearts that if there's enough love between them, all problems will be conquered. But this wishful thinking often leads to heartbreak. Experience shows that you can love someone deeply - and still opt to divorce.

Yes, being in love helps. Yet the foundation of a strong marriage is created by something deeper still: sharing and pursuing mutual life goals.

Even with beautiful and endearing virtues, they still might divorce due to lack of a common life goal.

I have met couples who can't agree on important - even basic - goals. For example, the wife wants a child and the husband doesn't. What are the chances that this couple will stay together if both are strongly committed to their positions? The many reasons why they got married are still there. They both have many beautiful and endearing virtues. Both are sensitive, kind, intellectual, humorous, happy and ambitious. Still they might divorce due to lack of a common life goal - in this case, having children.

Unfulfilled life goals destroy even the strongest marriages. Fulfilling one's personal sense of meaning often supersedes love. Without a shared life direction, divorce can be just around the corner.

Gail Sheehy quotes a survey in her best-selling book "Pathfinders": What do you need in your life for it to be a good life? More than 60,000 people responded, and Sheehy used this data to conclude that the number one hallmark of well-being is that people need a sense of meaning and direction in their lives.

This life-orienting need is relevant to couples as well as to individuals.

If you are considering marriage, you need share with the other person those things that are most important to you. This doesn't mean simply reporting a history of personal activities. We don't enjoy one another merely because we both love golf and Chinese food. Rather it is life's ultimate goals that we are sharing and shaping, stemming from our most cherished dreams and desires. This is what makes a marriage bloom.

I'm a strong believer in the principle, "If you're a confused single person, you'll most likely be a confused married person." Never make the mistake of thinking that marriage solves existential questions about life! Being married, even happily so, is not your purpose in being. You should know, to the best of your ability, your life's aim even before you meet your spouse. Imagine the burden on your spouse if he is your life's navigator! One's meaning and purpose must come from within, never imposed from without. We each need to be our own person - true to our principles, true to what's important to us.


Respecting one's spouse is crucial for a happy marriage. Jewish tradition teaches us that the main reason a woman respects a man is his direction in life. A woman is not impressed with a man who has "lost his rudder." A single man interested in getting married should know where he wants to go in life, and what the milestones along the way will be.

A woman should ask a man: "Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years." Listen to how he paints his life picture. Is it only in terms of financial accomplishments? Does it include marriage and family? How about involvement with his community? What about his development as a human being?

A woman should ask a man: "Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, 20 years."

Reflect on whether his dream is your dream. Remember: marriage is all about striving together toward shared life goals.

Practically speaking, if you want to get married, look for someone who is pursing and living a life dream that is in sync with your own. Don't marry into someone else's way of life. You might wake up a few years down the road and find yourself in a marriage that is heading in the wrong direction.

In short, know where you want to go and then find someone who is headed in the same direction. How can you do this? It's easy. First, make a "date" with yourself. Discover what makes you tick, what you value, what you want to accomplish with your life.

Then, and only then, start dating. Look for that special person who shares your goals. Remember, once you're clear about what you really want, you'll have a much better chance of finding the "right" person to share your life with.


Studies have shown that people who reflect upon their goals and commit them to writing, are more often than not, the ones who "make it." Commit 5-10 minutes a day over the next month to write down the following. (Trust me, there is nothing like doing this with pen and paper.)

1) Where do I see myself in one, five and 20 years?

2) In my life-review, is my spouse a part of these achievements, and in what way?

3) Make a list of the things that I respect in other people. Which of these things would I like my spouse to have?

4) Take some time and prioritize the list. Categorize the virtues into: a) "make-or-break" relationship issues, b) important but not critical, and c) "could do without, but it's great to have."

5) Discuss life direction and goals with the person you are dating. Use this compatibility factor as a measure of judging whether s/he is the "right one."

True achievement is never a one-time happening, but rather an ongoing series of correct choices. Even after spending the necessary time figuring out your aim in life, don't put your life on "automatic-pilot." You must revisit your aspirations and modify or change them when necessary.

The Jewish Sages understood this, suggesting that this contemplative process should continue throughout the year. We all need periodic "check-ups." There is the annual check-up on Rosh Hashana. Then there are 12 monthly mini-reviews which take place at the beginning of each Hebrew month (Rosh Chodesh). On Shabbat we reflect over the past week. And for finely-tuned individuals, there are two daily calibrating sessions, at the beginning of each day, and again before going to sleep.

Tweak your life direction so you're a "smooth running machine." And before you know it, you'll have a lifelong partner to share it with.

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