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Ask Sarah: Newly Married & Worried About Divorce

By: Sarah Kahan, LMSW

Published on Yeshiva World News, September 11, 2013

Dear Sarah, I recently got married and I noticed a growing trend of young couples divorcing after being married for a short amount of time. Can you give me some tips on how to strengthen my new relationship with my husband?
Signed, newly married

Dear Newly Married: Mazal Tov to you and I commend you for being proactive in your marriage. Newlyweds can expect a certain number of ups and downs during their first year of marriage. There is an adjustment when you merge two lives together. Embrace the change and know that it takes work and PATIENCE! You are both responsible for contributing to the success of the marriage.

You’ve probably spent many hours deciding what kind of gown you want to wear, where to make the wedding, what flowers you want to use, what band to hire, etc. Now that the wedding is over, you can focus on other things. If you haven’t already had these kinds of discussions, make sure to talk about long-term planning and goals and what each of you wants the other to support. Discuss the division of labor within the marriage and around the house. Negotiate things like how you’re going to spend your time and discuss finances. Expect that these topics take time to work through since you are both accustomed to doing things a little differently. Together come up with a plan that you can both be excited about.

Make your relationship a sacred place. Accept the reality that your partner isn’t you and that your partner cannot fulfill all your needs. Create a porous wall around both of you and keep others out and in when appropriate. Often in relationships, couples may find it challenging to separate themselves from parents and in-laws that are too intrusive. Make the connection with your spouse your primary connection. Gently but firmly give the message to outside family members that your allegiance lies with your spouse. This usually gets easier over time.

Marriage is a partnership. Commit to each other and to your marriage from day one, and work on your relationship every day. Wake up every morning and ask yourself, “What can I do today to make my spouse’s life better?” Deal with your spouse in a way that protects and enhances his/her self-esteem. Let your spouse know that you are proud of him/her. Build a partnership of love, mutual support and commitment to each other. Have a good balance between the things you do without your spouse and make sure you are spending enough quality time together. Too much togetherness may feel smothering but too much separateness can feel cold and distant. Find the right balance that works for both of you.

When conflict arises, learn how to reflectively listen, validate and empathize. By repeating back to your spouse what was said to you, by expressing your understanding of how difficult the other spouse must feel and by putting yourself in their shoes, helps strengthen the bond. Through rupture and repair, healing can occur. Discuss how you feel about the problem and work on common understanding. The goal is to connect emotionally since emotional connection brings closeness. Don’t attack, defend, avoid, or deny since that brings emotional distance between each other.

What is more important, being right or maintaining harmony? Many problems in relationships occur because of our pride. We often want to win and sometimes insist on having the last word. Healthy relationships are built, not by winning every argument.

Every year around Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur, the topic of forgiveness comes up. We are taught that if we want Hashem to forgive us, we are instructed to forgive others. What does real forgiveness look like? It’s when we are truly willing to forget the experience. If we forgive, but bring up the incident later on, this is not real forgiveness. When we make mistakes, just consider how much we would appreciate others forgiving and forgetting. Some find forgiving more easily than others. If you have a hard time forgiving, it might be helpful to tell your spouse “I am working on myself to learn how to forgive.”

Humor is a very powerful tool to use to keep the relationship enjoyable. Don’t take yourself too seriously and be willing to laugh at yourself. Humor can also relieve tense situations and sharing a moment of humor can often do more benefit than several hours of discussion.

Marital counseling should be considered when discussions often have a negative, accusatory, critical, or a contemptuous tone. Excessive negativity leads to a distorted perception that can affect the past, present and future relationship. Escalated conflict usually leads to one spouse tuning out the other often making it impossible to problem solve. A competent therapist can help the couple work through these issues and help the couple use more effective tools of communicating and connecting to each other in a more meaningful way.

Shana Rishona is a very special time in your life. Enjoy every moment of it and I wish you lots of luck on your journey together.

Since 1969, OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services has served as a dependable haven of individual and family support, helping people of all ages surmount everyday challenges, heal from trauma, and manage with strength and dignity during times of crises. Driven by service excellence, OHEL’s professional staff meet the myriad social service needs of the general community, while at the same time providing culturally-sensitive services to the Jewish community, including Yiddish, Hebrew and Russian speakers. Through highly-rated foster care, developmental disability, mental health, and other programs and services, OHEL provides supportive housing, treatment, care coordination, education, outreach and much more to elevate lives and strengthen individuals and communities in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Florida, California and worldwide on the web. David Mandel is the CEO of OHEL.

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