When the honeymoon is over and reality sets in, when the guests all go home and the two of you are sitting in your house alone, the question arises: What are you going to do for the next 50 years together?
Human beings need meaning like they need water. Married couples need to share something meaningful together in order to create a strong marriage bond.
The old joke is you can pick out the married couples in the restaurant because they’re the ones who aren’t talking to each other. Why? They aren’t talking to each other because they don’t have anything important to talk about.
Brandeis University did a study fifteen years ago in the Jewish community to determine if there was a correlation between types of shared experiences and divorce rates. They found that couples, who shared more meaningful values and goals, had a lower divorce rate. For example, Jewish couples who shared something as simple as going to High Holiday services together were 25% less likely to divorce than couples who did not. Couples who shared a “high” level of Jewish observance were 40% less likely to divorce than couples who shared a “low” level of observance.
Conclusion: couples who share meaningful goals form a stronger emotional bond between them.
In our society, to the degree that a couple shares something meaningful, it usually is focused around building a family together. Having children and raising a family are certainly meaningful experiences to share. But take the time to consider other, perhaps even more meaningful goals to pursue beyond having children. The “empty nest syndrome” — when couples divorce once the kids leave home — is the result of a marriage whose sole meaning was the children. This is why it is so crucial to go beyond children, and certainly beyond that which is materialistic, and share deeper moral and spiritual values and goals.
FIXING THE WORLD
This need to build a marriage upon something meaningful is implicit in God’s imperative to Adam and Eve, not just to be “fruitful and multiply” but to “fill up the land and subdue it” — that is, to take responsibility for the garden of Eden “to work it and manage it.”
God directs Adam and Eve to do nothing less together than to take responsibility for the world. Now this is a shared life goal with meaning!
There is a well-known insight based on the Hebrew words for man and woman that captures this idea in a powerful way. The word for woman is ishah and the word for man is ish. Each word shares two common letters, aleph and shin. They each have one letter that the other does not have — yud and hei. Yud and hei spell one of the names of God. AlephM and shin spell “fire.” The sages tell us that when God is removed from the relationship between man and woman, what is left is fire. Without shared life goals to focus their energies upon, the passions of a man and woman will devour and destroy each other.
If would like to explore some ways to add meaning to your lives and build it into your marriage, here are some practical tools and suggestions.
- The most important question anyone can ask him or herself is: “What am I living for?” The key to finding meaning in life is a function of trying to figure out if life has some ultimate purpose or not. A related question is: “What is the greatest good that I could achieve in this world?” Judaism maintains that everyone wants to be good. If so, then it makes sense to figure out what is the greatest good and then plan how to achieve it.
- Another approach is to ask yourselves as a couple, “Do we share a common mission in life?”
Ask yourselves: “How can we help our community? What do we feel strongly about? Is there some social ill that we feel we’d like to take on as our personal responsibility? With a little exploration, I’m sure you will come up with many options.
- Lastly, explore the meaning that is inherent in being Jewish. What aspects of Jewish practice and observance could you incorporate into your family. Certainly, one of the most meaningful observances is the celebration of Shabbat. Why not explore the deeper meaning of the Shabbat and the impact it could have for your family?
George Bernard Shaw wrote the following about the importance of having a mission in life:
“This is the true joy in life: the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a might one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die … Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for a moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”