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Finding the Perfect Marriage
Is there such a thing as a perfect marriage? If not a perfect marriage, how about a great marriage? Does such a thing exist?
The following story is true, absolutely true. It really happened and I have tried to write it as accurately as possible, just changing a name or two to protect the not so innocent.
Before I continue, let me tell you a bit about myself. I am an older man, married for over 40 years, most of my children are married and now my grandchildren are approaching that time of seeking their mates. I lived in both worlds: I worked most of my life in the secular world and also lived in the cloistered yeshiva world where I also taught many men. Perhaps because of my diverse background and ability to get along with such divergent people, many men seeking advice spoke to me, generally on one theme: how to get along with their wife.
Men would come to me for advice in how to deal with various problems that came up in their marriage that threatened the stability of the marriage or just plain how to deal with impossible personality situations that caused repeated conflicts on an almost endless basis. But basically the question was how to live with and improve a difficult marital situation.
And do not think that my marriage is such a hot deal either, but I know when to keep my mouth shut so I will just not speak about it.
It actually got to the point when I finally began to believe, based on what I saw and heard, that no one in my generation has a marriage that is overflowing with happiness or at least one that is stress free. I would tell my students and the men who came to hear my advice that it is normal not to have a totally happy marriage; most marriages have problems, but with the problems there are times of joy and happiness and also times of stress.
All of that was my viewpoint until one day as I was walking down the street and I passed a cafe where some of my friends were sitting and schmoozing. I dropped in and joined them. For some reason the subject turned to marriage and again each friend expressed his individual disappointment in not finding true satisfaction with his wife.
That is all except one person, whom we shall call Sherwin not his real name who sat calmly and smiling as he told us about the beautiful relationship that he has with his wife. Never a cross word, never a snarl, he related, food is always great, decisions are always made amicably, and life was just really great.
Sherwin had been one of my talmidim off and on for a while. He had a small independent business that was based on manual labor. A great mind he wasn't, but he was sincere in his nature and chubby in his manners. I liked him even though he was a rather simple person, never really intellectually understanding the intricacies of the Talmud, but he would sit in my shuir and enjoy listening to it. I do not believe he ever came close to mastering Hebrew, much less Aramaic.
So here we were sitting in this kosher cafe and only Sherwin could sit there calmly smiling and assuring us that, yes, a happy, rewarding marriage is possible. He talked so peacefully about his warm relationship with his wife and the happiness and bliss that he was blessed with that I left convinced that he, and he alone, was the only person that I had ever met that was truly fortunate to be in such a loving marital relationship. As I left my friends, my mind kept going over that conversation. Maybe, I only come into contact with people who have problems and the truly blessed people need not seek me out?
As I have an analytical mind, I spend much time going over the conversation that we had in that cafe to understand what was the ingredient that made Sherwin's marriage the one and only great marriage I had come across versus my marriage and my friends' marriages that lacked this ingredient and made our marriages so perilous. If I could find out his secret then perhaps I could understand the missing ingredient in mine and my friends' marriages. My mind thought various thoughts: perhaps since he is a simple fellow and not demanding of his wife or perhaps he just appreciates the things that she does or maybe, maybe something else that I could not put my finger on.
Bumping in to Sherwin that afternoon put a damper on my philosophy that really no one in our generation can have a great marriage; he did others also must have great marriages. For months, even years afterwards, I could still see him sitting there so peacefully, smiling and telling us that his marriage was just wonderful. That was the word he used: 'wonderful'. Dang it all, I mentally kicked myself, perhaps I am just too demanding, perhaps not understanding enough, perhaps not appreciative enough. How could it be that simple Sherwin could enjoy such a great relationship, when I, the great worker and provider, he who gave shiurim to many others, how could it be that I can not have such a great, wonderful, intimate relationship with my wife?
Years past and I never found the answer to Sherwin's marvelous marriage. I never forgot the chance meeting and it always irked me, that is until one Shabbos morning.
How it exactly came about I don't recall except that I got into a discussion with a fellow who davened (prayed) in the same Shabbos morning minyan with me. He was a new friend to me and somehow we got on the subject of mutual friends and I asked him if he knew Sherwin.
Yeah, yeah" he told me, "as a matter of fact I saw Mrs. Sherwin last week and boy she looked totally different. Really great. She took off all that blubber."
Really, what happened? Did she do the lap band surgery?" I inquired.
No, no," he told me, "I think since their divorce she has been more active and doing more things. Much happier, you know."
Divorce?" I blurted out. "Did they get a divorce?"
Yeah, yeah, last year. You know that he was a load on her and since she got rid of him she found it easier to get the blubber off."
What?" I was stunned, "What happened?" I was shocked, totally; I mean, the perfect marriage? Where, what happened?
Well you know he was on drugs..."
Drugs?" I gasped.
No, not dope. I mean like an anti-depressant. He had some real emotional or mental problems so he was living on anti-depressants. He lived in a dream world. She just could not put up with him any longer so she got a divorce."
Boing! A bubble popped in my head. A new view of life opened up now to me. An anti-depressant drug, now it began to come together. He sat there smiling, so calmly, sure if I took an anti-depressant I would also smile calmly in the face of the worse disasters. His great marriage, my believing it, it all came shattering down, but all together. There was no great marriage. His wife put on much weight under the strain of caring for this poor fellow. But the marriage, was it great or did he just have the drugged illusion that everything was great in spite of it being just the opposite. She did not share the greatness of the marriage.
There it was, the one great marriage that I had encountered had just evaporated into dust, like a vivid dream that disappears after your morning coffee and is no longer remembered. Sherwin, the clog in my theory that no one has a great marriage, that we all have to lump it some time or other, came back to reality.
That is the cold and brutal truth. A lie is better than the truth, it can present itself in the most beautiful and fantastic manner possible, but truth can only be cold and stark with nothing to modify its brutal reality The illusion of there being a great marriage was just that: an illusion.
Do others have great marriages? Maybe, but marriage is getting along with the other person, sometimes getting around the other and sometimes just lumping the other, but it is a commitment to having a family of human beings with all of their fragilities and lackings. None of us come into marriage perfect, rather we are all flawed and incomplete. Marriage is not a made-up Hollywood film where everything is great and lovely, but rather real life with real human people who have human flaws. We have to make certain that our commitment to our marriage is solid and strong enough to get over all of the human flaws that come out and develop as the marriage continues.
No, I do not believe that there is a perfect marriage nor is there a really great marriage. There may be great times, but there are also the rough times. A good marriage is one in which the two partners have worked out how to get past the rough spots; the perfect marriage exists only with drugs.
from the April 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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