As Mo & I approach our second year of marriage I can’t help but feel a huge sigh of relief. When we were dating our circumstances weren’t exactly the fairytale most people dream of. However, despite the obstacles we faced we chose each other time and again. Almost every single Rabbi we knew was pushing us to get married, the sooner the better! The two of us felt we wanted to try to work some kinks out before we got married. Those kinks weren’t ones between the two of us, so with many people saying we’re ready to get married, we just went for it.
I was terrified to get married. Marrying Mo wasn’t the scary part. The scary part for me was how would we weather the storms ahead? Will I be able to be a fully supportive wife & understand my Husband’s intense ambition or will it constantly be a battle of “Spend more time with me” and “I’m sorry but I need to work.” The two of us had so much baggage from the 23 & 21 years we’ve been alive and we never fully unpacked it all or sorted through it on our own time. We were hoarding bad habits and defense mechanisms. We were attached to these unrealistic expectations of what a Husband or Wife should be life based on society or other people’s relationships. The honeymoon stage didn’t exist, but a scary spiraling tornado of us trying to figure things out did.
We never learned how to communicate. We spoke at each other and wondered why none of us felt heard. We had insane expectations of the other and wondered why if we’re trying SO HARD the other always felt or seemed disappointed. Maybe even a little like they were asking for way too much. We were spreading ourselves thin and constantly testing each other to see if the other would pull through. Marriage is hard enough when it’s going well, so I can confidently say out first year felt like we were actually living in our own personal hell. It sucked. What sucked more was almost nobody knew. Which is good and bad. It’s good because you shouldn’t air out your dirty laundry to everyone and it was bad because we felt outside is was always fake smiles and be on your best behavior and once we got home it was back to what felt to us like a war zone.
Besides for our personal baggage weighing us down we experienced some struggles that really shook us. Family related struggles, financial struggles, friend struggles, and the very expected struggles we faced trying to balance two people in one relationship. It got so hard and I felt so anxious and depressed that I was ready to throw in the towel. Writing this out brings me to tears. I was in such a dark place I convinced myself I would be better off alone than facing what was in front of me.
I thankfully had two wonderful individuals in my life who wouldn’t allow me to give up. My Chumash Teacher from HS and my Husband’s Rosh Yeshiva from Israel. The two of them made it their mission to help us stop drowning. They met with us at inconvenient hours, for hours, to listen to us and help us hear each other. Once they felt we would be open to the concept they suggested we see a therapist together. I was SO against it. Which is so funny because I have my BA in psychology and strongly believe everyone needs a therapist but I was SO scared. I didn’t want to face the pain of how we spiraled out so much. I couldn’t imagine looking at my Husband from across a room and seeing the pain we were both feeling so deeply on his face. Looking at someone you love so much, hurt, and feel distant from is excruciatingly painful. I survived so far in my life by shutting off the feeling. I wouldn’t allow things to bother me. I would steamroll through life bandaging one obstacle until the next came along. Suddenly I had to rip all of those bandages off so I can properly heal all of those very open wounds. I hated it. I hated that I didn’t help myself sooner. I hated feeling all of that pain at once. I hated that my marriage depended on me, on us, going through more pain to ultimately heal.
Almost a year ago we started therapy. And I can say this past year truly felt like my first year of marriage. It wasn’t always wonderful but there was so much growth with us as a couple and as individuals. In a year we have learned to communicate so much better. We have learned that in a marriage there are two realities existing at once. At the same time that I may need a quiet weekend alone my husband may need a loud weekend surrounded by friends. We have figured out how to better balance those two realities instead of only living in one of them. We have figured out how to be respectful of the others needs and how to allow each other to be the individuals we fell in love with while still being in a loving couple-ship. That’s not all we have learned and it’s surely not all we’re going to learn.
I decided to share this very personal reflection with you all because many people feel like they just can’t get it right. Relationships, marriage etc. Many people end up disappointed, embarrassed and depressed when they see their first year or two of marriage isn’t the fairytale many said it would be. I’m here to say the first year was hell for me but the second year was full of growth and wonderful. It’s okay to ask for help. And it’s okay to not know how to be relational when you first get married. Many of us go into marriage lacking proper communication skills. Many of us never witnessed how a healthy marriage should really be. You haven’t failed, you just weren’t taught. We have relied on societal depictions of marriage or assumed once we left the wedding hall it would just come to us. Truthfully, relying on societal depictions of healthy relationships or hoping the tools will just fall in your lap don’t work unless you’re living in Lala land.
Many people have fences or gates put up around their home. Either enclosing both the front and back yards or just one of the two. Why? Well, the answer is pretty simple. We do this to keep unwanted people off our property. Having a fence around your home or security cameras give you a sense of security. It makes it harder for people to just approach your home and disregard your request for privacy. If someone did hop your fence or set your alarm off chances are they would be caught resulting in them not doing it again...to you. I learned many times that it's crucial to put a fence around your marriage. There are laws of Yichud which suggest that a Man cannot be alone with any other Woman who is not his wife; A Woman cannot be alone with any other Man who is not her Husband. These laws are essentially fences around a Jewish marriage. There are even laws that state one shouldn't touch the other gender if the person is not their spouse. Many people think "A hug to greet friends or Co-workers isn't a big deal" and each person needs to do what they're comfortable with. Realize, these laws are there as fences for your marriage. With instant messaging & social media growing as big as it is today, there are MANY boundaries that have become so blurry. I personally will not respond to any male followers who DM me after a certain hour. I feel like its inappropriate & disrespectful to be conversing with another man late at night, especially if my own Husband is already asleep. Unless I am surprising one of my close friends, concerned about their health for whatever reason, or wishing their Husband a happy birthday it is very rare I will message or call them. I created certain boundaries for my self, I have build up certain fences to protect my marriage. Why? I honestly am disturbed with how flexible people are in regards to marriage these days. People are getting divorced so quickly. I don't get involved in the why aspect of it all, but the divorce rate bothers me. The amount of stories I hear of spouses cheating on each other, sneaking around, or even inviting others into their bedrooms make my stomach turn. (and I don't mean giving your friends and family a quick tour of your bedroom setup) I know mentioning something like this can give me a lot of negative feedback, but barely anyone is discussing it. This is a conversation that needs to be had. Marriage was once this beautiful, unique, sacred bond. It was a bond you worked at with your spouse. It was a monogamous relationship for the most part. There were fences around marriages not too long ago. The speed of social media and society today has caused the sanctity of marriage to disappear. We're so used to things breaking and instantaneously getting new & better versions we don't see a point to work on or fix the relationships we have. Whats worse is that we fail to see we can be the issue. When I crack my phone screen over and over again, I bring it to a reliable friend to fix my screen. I buy a better case, I add a pop socket so I don't have it flying out of my hand as often. I don't immediately look to buy a new phone. I look to control myself more, fix MY actions, so my phone stops cracking. When I experience a bump in my marriage I don't say "thank you, next!". I don't act like there is someone better for me because even on the hard days, there is absolutely NOBODY better for me. I put fences around my marriage because today my "olden day" view of marriage clashes with how so many people are acting. I rather people know me as the person who is "over protective" of her marriage than someone who allows anyone and everyone inside. My marriage is sacred. I stood under the Chuppah on my wedding day facing my one and only Husband. I knew that no matter how hard it got, there would never be a day I turned my back on my marriage or family. I knew and still know my Husband would never do that either. I was always drawn to a different point in time. Watching old TV shows or movies, sitting in our 1966 Mustang, listening to songs from the 50-80's makes my entire soul feel at peace. Maybe it's because marriage was sacred back then, the divorce rates were lower, life seemed less complicated, and the media wasn't overly sexualized. My only wish for people is that they make their marriages more sacred again. It's the most beautiful thing seeing my grandparents who are still alive and Mo's grandparents who are still alive, STILL married. It's also heart warming to know the grandparents we lost were married & dedicated to their marriages until their very last days.
The most frequently asked and most dreaded question you hear once you're a newlywed. "So...nuu... how's marriage?!?" It's been over eight months and I'm still hearing it. I just don't get the question even though it's pretty straight forward. I don't get what I'm supposed to answer. Everybody says "a dream come true." "it's wonderful." "amazing!" and the list goes on and on. The list is only ever comprised of good ways to describe something. If the answer never really changes, why do people keep asking? Truthfully speaking, marriage is an adjustment. Don't start freaking out thinking I have a bad marriage just because I stated a fact. Getting married is a very big adjustment. For some people the adjustment is putting another before yourself. For other people its more of an adjustment incorporating another into their decision making process. For some it's an adjustment to share your space with another person. For some its all the above and so much more. Now just because Marriage is an adjustment and it comes with change doesn't make it bad. It's the most wonderful and amazing way to share your life, friendship, and love with another person. The mistake many people make is thinking marriage will be easy and perfect like a Disney movie. When life tries to shake your ground and you have a fairy-tale in mind, marriage quickly becomes like the conjuring or something. Marriage is filled with the most ups and downs. The best part about marriage is you have someone to go through that with. Some days feel like a beautiful walk on a beach, while other days feel like you're riding down Kingda Ka blindfolded during a thunderstorm. You need to figure out how to communicate with each other. I swear that sometimes My Husband and I speak two completely different languages. It was an adjustment for us to take a step back so we can figure out how to say things in the other's language. Learning to pretty much say it once in their language instead of five million times in your own. Its a key skill to learn so the person we're talking to understands what we're saying clearly. It's not helpful to speak your mind in YOUR language when you're trying to express to your spouse that something is bothering you. You have to explain those feelings in their language. We're still adjusting with this, but we've come a long way! Life will also hit you with some big challenges that completely shake your ground, causing you to start your plan over. My Husband and I are very good at taking care of ourselves and get so uncomfortable when it comes to asking for help. You would think asking your spouse for help would be easy, but with two stubborn people who want to do it all by themselves can things challenging. We're both so independent which made it an adjustment to find a balance of depending on each other without feeling like we're being weak. Recognizing we're both amazing problem solvers in different ways was very helpful for starting that process. Just like life, marriage is a roller coaster. It definitely has never ending ups and downs. Considering I pay to ride roller coasters, I'd say marriage is pretty freakin' good!