What Are You Committing To? Some pointers for discussion

When you reach the commitment phase of dating, you are both committing to live up to the ideal and values of marriage. But what are those?

Hopefully, you would like to hold a discussion at this critical juncture about what you are hoping your married life will be like. But you may be struggling about how to even bring up or approach the topic.

Marriage is much more than simply wanting to live with someone. It is about building a unique type of bond based on true respect and compassion. To enjoy a successful marriage, both parties have to dedicate themselves to doing things right.

Here are a range of helpful tips for what it takes to have a successful marriage. These are short points to consider, not instructions for you to take or leave.

The ideas are divided into three categories: building a home, effective communication, and nurturing the relationship.

It is not possible to create a website for each individual person, so the advice here is inevitably generic. It is quite possible that some points will not relate to everyone.

Building a home

A marriage is called a “binyan adai ad” – an everlasting structure. Like any structure, a marriage and a home need to be built. And like with any structure, its strength and durability will be highly influenced by the effort one makes and the quality of the materials one puts into it.

Earn respect – Just because you are married, this does not mean that you do not need to earn the respect of your spouse. Remember that she wants to be proud of her husband and he wants to be proud of his wife. Don’t quit making an effort because you are no longer dating! open a sefer in her presence, so she sees that you learn. Share with her something you have learned, so she is reminded that you care about learning.

Be helpful – You may be able to get away with a great deal, but don’t be tempted. Volunteer to help out if your spouse could use a hand. She may not impose on you to wash the dishes, but your willingness to help her out will build up good will. He may not expect her to help with putting up the succa, but being a good sport and offering to get involved will go down well. Every day there are dozens of opportunities, big and small, to make the point that you are not out for yourself – take up as many of them as you realistically can. Love is not just about nice word and affectionate acts; it is equally in the small acts of caring and support.

Keep a civilized home – A chaotic home is often a sign of a chaotic relationship. While some people are not “neat freaks” who are obsessive about cleanliness and order, it is generally a good idea to ensure your home is in a dignified state. If something is broken, fix it; if something is a mess, straighten it out. Of course, many of us lead busy lives and it is not always possible to be on top of every detail. However, often it is more about laziness and a lack of concern than a shortage of time. Maintaining an orderly home should add dignity and civility to your lives.

Get things done – One of the most common complaints in marriages is that “my husband/wife never gets around to doing the things I need him/her to do.” Some people have a problem with procrastination, and for them it is a genuine struggle to resist finding a reason not to complete tasks. But, even people without this problem are often prone to pushing things off. Their spouses have to ask them multiple time to get the task done, which leads to discontent and tensions in the relationship. If you intend to get the task done, say so and agree a time by which it will be completed. Why does it have to become a source of distress and discord?

Take your Shabbos Table seriously – For many people, the Shabbos Table is a prime opportunity to bond as a couple and as a family. It is also one of the main formal occasions in couple and family life. It is important that both spouses come dressed looking the part. Yes, many people like to feel comfortable and relaxed during their Shabbos meal, but always come dressed Shabbosdik. Wearing a sweatshirt or Crocs does not particularly honor Shabbos, but it doesn’t honor your marriage either. Everyone will have their own way to make Shabbos special as a couple, but polishing the silver, buying flowers, coming prepared with interesting divrei Torah are just a few examples.

Effective communication

Don’t assume – Many of us feel that we know our spouses well, and thus know what they want and need. If that were truly the case, we would have far fewer misunderstandings in marriage. It is generally best to ask your spouse, even if you think you don’t need to, rather than risk getting it wrong. Of course, there are cases where there is almost total certainty about their preference – say, he always asks for chocolate flavor, or she always wants ibuprofen. The problem is that we way overstate how reliable our knowledge is, leading to both parties getting frustrated. In almost all circumstances, it pays to ask.

Express appreciation – Shouldn’t this be obvious? If so, why do so few people publicly thank their spouse at the end of a meal that he or she worked so hard to prepare? I am not in people’s home to see that they do and don’t do, but it seems that many people are not in the habit of regularly thanking their spouse for the things they do for them. If your spouse folds and puts away your laundry, that deserves a thank you. If your spouse, restocked the fridge with milk and orange juice because it was running low, that deserves an expression of gratitude. Saying “thank you” is a lot easier than saying “I’m sorry”!

State your needs – Don’t assume it is obvious what your needs are. While it may be a plus, it is not a condition of marriage to be a mind reader! If you have a need for something, pluck up the courage and say it. Please don’t imagine that it is self-explanatory and that you should not have to say anything. In an ideal world, perhaps your spouse would pick up on your needs without you have to point them out, but in the imperfect reality in which we live people don’t always realize. Some people feel uncomfortable asking for their needs to be met, but this often leads to resentment and frustration. 

Understand mood – Human beings are emotionally volatile, subject to different moods depending on circumstances. Before reacting to something said to you that has not filled you with glee, ask yourself if what was said was the product of your spouses’ mood. Time of month or a bad day in the office is more than enough to cause a person to “not be themselves.” This is not to justify hurtful words at any time, but it hardly makes sense to overreact to a person who is not in the best frame of mind. The rabbis (Bava Basra 16b) long stated that “a person should not be seized upon for what they say in a state of distress.”

Honesty has its limits – While we are told (Shemos 23:7) to “keep our distance from anything false” and to “guard our lips from speaking falsehood” (Tehilim 34:14), some people can take being honest too far. If you are about to leave to a bar mitzvah and your wife asks you if she looks good in her dress, the answer is always “yes, dear.” If your husband is going to a job interview and asks his wife what she thinks his chances are, the response should always be positive. That is because those were never real questions intended to elicit a factually correct answer. They were a request for reassurance and affirmation. 

Nurturing the relationship

Respect privacy – Some make the mistake of thinking that because they are a married couple there is no longer such a thing as privacy. Tzinus applies in marriage too. Knock on the door before entering – even your own bedroom if your spouse is changing. It’s called decency. There are few occasions when it would be appropriate for you to be reading your spouse’s private correspondence. It is fine to be curious and inquisitive, but it is problematic to demand to know every detail about every matter. Give your spouse his or her space. You may be married, but you are still two individuals. Get to know your spouses’ comfort level when it comes to all things relating to privacy – and learn to respect it.

Maintain honesty – One would have thought this was obvious, but sadly it needs to be said. Being untruthful causes great harm to the relationship. Don’t tell your spouse you are going shopping and then go to a friend’s house – besides for the prohibition against lying this also violated the prohibition against being stupid! This kind of behavior is a first-class way of ruining a relationship. Sometime, one may feel the need to be “economical with the truth,” but that should be extremely rare and only with a genuine justification. If your spouse knows you lie, why should they trust you? And when there is no trust, there can be no love.

Respect their right to a view – A couple do not have to agree on everything. If your spouse doesn’t agree with you on a particular matter, let it be. A married couple should have a lot in common – but it will never be everything. So, give up on the idea that a difference of opinion is a problem and that it is your job to ensure that you and your spouse are brought into alignment. You will never achieve full agreement, so there is no point trying. So, you disagree about the integrity of a particular politician or you differ about the interpretation of a particular passuk – discuss by all means and then respect each other’s right to their own view.

Don’t ignore – When you enter a room and your spouse if there, make a point of acknowledging her. For the extra few seconds it takes, offer a greeting, check how he or she is feeling, or make physical contact. Obviously, if you have just been in the room moments earlier, or if you are in a genuine rush, there is no need for this. It is amazing how quickly a couple develop the habit of passing each other by without as much as an acknowledgment. It doesn’t normally take a lot to make your spouse feel loved. Given how easy it is, there is really no justification for ignoring your spouse.

Always offer to share – Make a decision in your mind from day one that whatever you do for yourself, offer your spouse. You went to the refrigerator to get a glass of orange juice? Ask your wife if she would like a glass too. You are stopping at the post office? Ask your husband if there is anything he needs from there. If you feel this is too obvious to be written, I am glad you feel that way. Hopefully, this is self-understood by most people. Needless to say that if you know your spouse doesn’t like something (say, you are opening a bag of chips, which she won’t eat), you do not need to offer to share.

Make attention undivided – Giving someone your full attention minus any distractions is not just a better way to relate to someone, it is of a totally different order of magnitude. When you focus entirely on another person, you are creating a soul experience. You are making your spouse feel that he or she is your world, not just one component of it. We communicate and relate to all kinds of people – the car mechanic, accountant, cashier, etc. – but when engaging in meaningful communication with our life-partner, it must be a higher order activity of a kind we share with no other person.


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