On Monday evening, December 13, Rebbetzin Devorah Kigel, well-known speaker and teacher for Emet Outreach, spoke on behalf of the organization on the topic of why marriage is so hard. In her inimitable way, Rebbetzin Kigel shared wise insights and practical advice. She has had years of experience as a dating and marriage coach. She shared that her shiur was geared to the average couple dealing with normal things. She began with the following disqualifier: If a relationship is dealing with abuse or addictions, then this requires professional help beyond the scope of her lecture. She shared that she can refer people to professionals who can help with these types of situations. She added that “Torah is not a substitute for therapy.” Torah does help everyone, no matter their situation.
She shared how her single clients feel that if they choose the right person, then marriage will be what we see in movies, and they will live happily ever after. Also, married clients grow concerned when they hit their first bump and they wonder if they married the wrong person. This is totally normal. Marriage is a lot of hard work.
She taught that never communicating what bothers you is a recipe for divorce. It is never a good idea to stuff everything under the carpet. On the other hand, you don’t need to communicate everything that bothers you. You need a golden mean.
She pointed out that both single and married clients have a mistaken premise that marriage is easy. “I’m here to tell you that bumps are normal.” The Vilna Gaon taught that our whole purpose here is to work on our character traits. When there is conflict, then we are forced to work on our midos. She shared an analogy. If you work out and the next day you are not sore, then you accomplished nothing. According to the challenge, so is the reward. The harder the mitzvah is, the more the reward there is. “A challenge is an opportunity for growth. We are here to work on our character traits.” She taught that marriage is the perfect Petri dish to work on our character traits. It is hard to speak respectfully to our husband when we are stressed. “Marriage is supposed to be hard, so we can stretch and grow and become better people.”
She shared the question of why is it that at the beginning of a relationship everything seems so perfect? Hashem bestows a gift in the beginning to make it easier to build a relationship. In the beginning, we don’t see our husband’s flaws. We only see the good. After six months or a year, you notice flaws you didn’t see before. If we are not careful, we can have increasingly negative interactions and we can become critical.
When we first married, our focus was on our husband’s good qualities. After six months, we focus on flaws and ignore his amazing qualities. The key to marriage is to constantly bring your vision back to his good qualities. Keep both eyes open when dating. After the chupah, close one eye to the negative. We need to have an ayin tov (a good eye that sees the good). In a normal marriage, there will be things your husband does that annoy you. If you constantly draw your vision back to his amazing qualities, you will have an amazing relationship. This idea applies to all relationships. We can choose to focus on the good. She did note that a dating coach can help you to find a red flag that you could miss.
We want our husband to overlook our flaws. We don’t want to be overly critical. We need to find a nice way to say any criticism. Marriage in Judaism is viewed as shleimus or completeness. This is different from a secular view, where both parties compromise. The Jewish view is that under the chupah your souls become one brand new creation. You are now one soul. Physical intimacy actualizes in the physical world the reality in the spiritual world. We are already one neshamah.
This means that if one spouse wins an argument, you both lose. The proper attitude needs to be that I want us as a team to figure out solutions for both of us. We are already one. We are on the same team.
Hashem created genders to be very different on purpose. Our brains are different. We think differently and we work differently. The Jewish view is that we each have something beautiful to bring to the world to make the world a better place. It makes sense that marriage will be difficult because we are so different. We need to stretch to be compassionate, curious, and calm in the midst of conflict. We want to understand our husband with curiosity and compassion.
Just as we want to understand our husband, we want him to understand us. It is helpful to explain our feelings and reactions to him. During the first year of marriage, there is a lot of explaining about our reactions and emotions to our spouse.
You want to be calm and take it down a notch. You should try to speak in a softer, slower voice. This resets you.
We need to remember that Hashem chose to force us to stretch by creating us so different. Having the proper expectations is half the battle in marriage. In dating, also, we need to understand the traits that are important.
Rebbetzin Kigel shared that she constantly reads books to improve her marriage and constantly reviews them. Reading books and listening to shiurim moves matters from your head into your heart so you behave properly.
In any situation, ask yourself how you should react to build your marriage as opposed to destroying it. What should you do now to make Hashem proud? What choice would give Him nachas? How can I use this experience to learn something about my partner to use in the future? Can I express curiosity calmly without judgment?
As time passes, you learn more about each other. In the first year, you don’t know each other’s landmines.
She shared that marriage and children are opportunities for chesed. The world is built and sustained by chesed. Mishlei teaches that “with wisdom a woman builds her home.”
She shared how sometimes in our professional life we prepare so carefully for a discussion. This same thought and sensitivity should be put into what we say to our spouse. “The people who love us we should be most careful with.”
She shared the Oreo cookie model for requesting something. Begin with praise, sandwiched with a request, and then a thank you. This is the model for prayer. “We should speak to our husband respectfully and compassionately.”
A woman can build or break her husband. We want to use our power carefully. Contempt is the worst thing in a marriage. Always avoid eye-rolling, sarcasm, or disdain. This feeling can be communicated with tone of voice or facial expression. We want to steer clear of contempt. Our primary effort needs to be on proper expression and tone of voice. Remember that your husband is a good guy who wants to make you happy more than anything in the world. If he isn’t making you happy, it is not intentional.
If he isn’t making me happy, then you need to communicate in ways that convey that you know that it’s not his intention. A wife needs to communicate that she knows her husband wants to make her happy.
Express needs as desires and not criticisms. She gave an example. Don’t say, “You never take me out.” Instead say, “I love you and miss you. I’d love if we could go on a date.” “I” statements are good and “You” statements are not. “It would mean so much to me if you could help me with bedtime a couple of times a week.”
She concluded with the fact that “your husband should be your best friend.” Thank you, Rebbetzin Kigel, for this illuminating shiur!
By Susie Garber