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Recommitting to My Marriage, This New Year

September 6, 2018 | by Marshall Roth

The High Holidays are an opportunity to go all in.

This new year I'm recommitting to my marriage.

Don't get me wrong. My wife and I have been happily married for years. But I recently became more aware of areas where I was holding back, vacillating between being emotionally "in" or "out."

  • My wife has a rather obnoxious friend whom I can't stand. My wife loves to talk enthusiastically about her, and expects me to listen again and again. How much am I expected to endure?

  • If my wife is not feeling well, she expects (and deserves) a massive outpouring of compassion. Yet given her high frequency of "not feeling well," isn't there a limit?

  • When we have a disagreement, I'm willing to admit fault 80 percent of the time. But that's not enough! Having to give in again and again even when I think I’m right feels unfair.

It was clear that my resentments were creating distance and insidiously undermining the bond of our marriage. There were times I was holding back from going all in, preferring to keep some space between us.

The Marriage Dynamic

The goal of marriage is to connect so closely as to create a single entity. Where is no separate sensation of "me"; there is only "we." Where "your success is my success."

Every human is imperfect, and forgiving – even embracing – another's imperfections is the only way to fully connect. When things don't go exactly as I like, that's where the rubber hits the road: Will I become resentful, angry and frustrated, or will I instead take a deep breath, recommit 100% to the relationship, and ask: What is the message for me?

This is the great marital ying and yang. My wife is my mirror, reflecting the precise point that I need to change.

The Zohar (Lech Lecha 91b) writes that every soul is essentially a male and female aspect joined together. When the soul descends into the world, these two parts become separated. Upon marriage, these two "half-souls" reunite as one, reconnecting that original unit.

This is a paradigm shift, where marriage is the primary vehicle for personal growth. Rather than an obstacle to my happiness, all this challenging "corrective work" is a source of immense pleasure. My "unreasonable" expressions of commitment and selfless love add layers of commitment to the deepest human relationship.

Spiritual Metaphor

In the biblical Song of Songs, "passionate, devoted marriage" is a metaphor, a microcosm of a yearning for the ultimate connection to the vast beyond, to be part of the God's vast, eternal plan.

As with any intense relationship, the same rule of commitment applies: God is my mirror.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg zt"l writes:

Everything that happens to us in this world is for one reason and one reason alone: to get closer to the Almighty, to feel that "I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me." Everything God does is for our good; it is an expression of His love. Every judgment He renders – whether a windfall or a bankruptcy – is exactly what we need to grow closer to Him.

Ani l'dodi, if you love the Almighty and appreciate that He is your father, then v'dodi li, you will see that the Almighty loves you and that everything He does is for your good. But [similar to a parent who cares passionately for the child], if you don't appreciate what God has done for you and instead have complaints, you will mistakenly think He does not love you.

Yet, as much as we've felt God's intense love and closeness, we crave some distance.

  • When someone is hassling me – a neighbor, relative, or colleague – it's easier to ignore them and hope they disappear.

  • When I'm unfocused, I drift into the comfort of social media. The doses of dopamine are short-term distractions – self-medicating denial of reality.

  • When I'm frustrated that things don't always go smoothly, rather than confront and analyze the problem, I find it easier to blame and complain.

But "easier" is often not "better." Just as a track coach raises the bar to elicit growth and excellence, so too every challenge is for our ultimate benefit. It's nothing less than cosmic destiny, calling us forward.

High Holidays

The High Holidays are a great time to take stock of our primary relationships.

“Elul,” the lead-up month to the High Holidays, is spelled aleph-lamed-vav-lamed, an acronym for "Ani l'dodi v'dodi li – I am for my Beloved and my Beloved is for me” (Song of Songs 6:3). We blow the shofar in to reconnect and recommit: God is my mirror.

Am I in or out? It's time to get off the fence. To take full responsibility with no excuses.

The Maharal writes that shana (year) is related to shinui (change). Now is the time to ask:

  • In what situations and circumstances do I tend to create distance instead of connection?

  • Over the next year, what practical, single step will make a significant difference in gaining me greater connection?

Here is my new year's resolution: When confronted with situations that test my patience, I will refocus, calmly embrace the moment, and embrace this opportunity to more deeply commit and connect.

This year, I pledge to get off the fence. I'd rather be "all in."

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