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Clarity Before Marriage

June 21, 2012 | by Emuna Braverman

Shared goals are the essence of marriage. Don’t take them for granted.

Wendy Paris suggests (NY Times 6/6/12) that her friends’ wedding was the catalyst for her own divorce. Not because she was envious – at least not in the superficial way of flowers, dresses, band and food. But she was, perhaps, contrasting them in a much deeper way – and hers came up wanting.

“I was comparing the gap between what my husband and I want from marriage and the compatibility of my friends’ expectations. Because having a shared vision for marriage does matter.”

Unfortunately it took years of marriage and a child for the author to arrive at this clarity. And now there is a price to pay for everyone involved.

Why isn’t the idea of what they expect from marriage discussed sooner? Especially among bright, well-educated, upwardly mobile, young men and women who seem to be waiting for the right person and not rushing into marriage?

Clearly, they too are being ruled by their emotions and not their heads. Clearly, they too haven’t asked themselves the really important questions.

In Jewish life, shared goals don’t just matter; they are the essence of marriage. As my husband wrote in his book, “The Death of Cupid,” marriage is the commitment that two people make to pursue their life goals together.

In that short sentence, there are two qualities unfortunately absent from many marriages today – commitment and shared goals.

There is a big difference between goals and hobbies or interests. If your husband enjoys golf and you think it’s the most boring sport on the planet, your marriage should not be affected. Golf is a side interest, not a life goal (or at least it should be). If you like classical music and he’s a jazz buff, you can still have a wonderful union. You can both expand your musical horizons – or go to concerts with other friends! Your goals remain untouched. The examples are endless, our interests wide and varied. And sometimes we just can’t get excited about every topic that interests our spouse (my husband keeps a dictionary of the origin of words at his bedside and try as I might…), but this shouldn’t affect the essence of our commitment.

None of these are what we mean by shared goals, a unified vision. This speaks to what we hope to create together, the kind of home we want to build. Will the focus be more material or spiritual? If spiritual, how do we want to grow religiously? What kind of schooling do we want our children to have? To what end? What type of community do we want to raise them in? Why?

These are just some of the broad topics on the list when we discuss life goals – and sharing the journey with another.

We can – and should – get more specific. And even though we will all (hopefully) grow and evolve, even though our answers may change over time, we need to assume that what you see is what you get; we need to decide if we can live with the answers as stated now. We need to evaluate if his or her answers are in sync with our own. If the answers you receive now don’t jive with your vision, it’s unlikely they ever will.

It’s amazing how many people don’t discuss whether or not they want to have children. Nothing can be assumed or taken for granted. I have a friend who was shocked to discover, after marriage, that his wife didn’t want any. All questions should be on the table. Do you want children? How many? (Yes, it’s out of our control but you want the insight into your partners’ goals and thoughts). Do you plan to stay home to raise them? Work part-time? Full-time? Do you expect your spouse to stay home to raise them?

Do you want to live in Israel? Do you want to move around a lot, travel and seek adventure? Or do you want to stay put, keep your focus on stability and routine? Do you want to live near your parents? Would you like a large home? Can you be happy without one? Do you want the children to share rooms? How do you see yourself 10 years from now? 20? What are your personal life goals and dreams? What is your plan for achieving them? Where do I fit into this plan – or do I?

And, of course, the old clincher, what would like on your tombstone? And are you prepared to live in a way that reflects that end point?

Marriage is serious business. And hard work. There is something important to accomplish that makes it worthwhile, something that transcends the marriage and the couple. But you need to know what that is. And you both need to agree on it.

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