Many of us hold unrealistic fairytale expectations about marriage which result in disappointment with a spouse or with the institution of marriage itself. Both were true for me when single. Now happily married for 30 years, I still now and then need to remember that I live in a real world, not a make-believe one.
Like many adults whose parents divorced while they were growing up, I was conflicted about marrying. Cinderella found her perfect prince, as did just about all the heroines of romantic novels and movies. So why shouldn’t I expect to find mine and then live effortlessly happily ever?
Why shouldn’t I? Like most children, I trusted that my parents would stay together, I was thirteen when they divorced.
While dating different men, I think my unconscious was keeping me safe from experiencing something similar. My pattern was to reject any man once an imperfection surfaced, and I excelled in finding imperfections. My prince was out there somewhere; he just hadn’t found me yet.
A happily married co-worker told me when we were both in our twenties: “You don’t marry a prince. You make him one.” Great advice, though it took me a very long time to implement it.
Over the years, I found many other marriage mentors among friends, clients and others, including rabbis.
Advice from Three Rabbis
I was newly married when I heard that Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon Maimonides, a renowned twelfth century physician and sage, stated that a wife should treat her husband like a king.
What? I thought, my feminist hackles raised when I heard this advice at a lecture. Some other women present had a similar response — until the speaker added that Maimonides also said that a husband should treat his wife like a queen.
Okay, this was sounding better, but how does it happen?
Manis Friedman, a contemporary rabbi who lectures about marriage around the world, gives an example of how a couple can argue while treating each other like royalty. What if one wants to sleep with the window open and the other wants it closed? The argument goes like this: each spouse insists that the window be positioned the way the other wants it.
Rabbi Joseph Richards, a younger contemporary, provides an offbeat way to treat a partner like royalty when he quips: “People are annoying, so find the person who annoys you the least and marry that one.” If we remember that we’re not always a picnic to live with, we can take minor annoyances in stride, or at least not blow them up into catastrophes.
A Board Member’s Wisdom
Another one of my marriage mentors, “Mindi,” was a board member of the family service agency where I served as executive director. Both in our thirties, she was happily married with two young children and I was still single. She knew I wanted to marry. She told me, “I’m not in love with my husband. I’m very fond of him.”
“Not in love!” That sure was different from my version of a good marriage. I fell crazy-in-love sometimes, with the emphasis on crazy, because I would lose my grounding and because such relationships are not reality-based or lasting.
Fondness was a new concept. I think Mindi loved her husband as a real person with strengths and imperfections. She wasn’t crazy about him every second, because that’s an impossible state to maintain, and not a desirable one,
I am grateful for my marriage mentors. Crazy-in-love is a fantasy, but “in love” can be a reality. As Mignon McLaughlin says. “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times … always with the same person.” Fondness needs to be there for this to happen, as does the kind of thoughtfulness that fosters it, which is what happens when we respect each other’s wishes and needs, as though they were royalty.
I hadn’t seen Mindi for a long time when our paths crossed at a celebratory occasion for the agency we had both served. I was married and a mother. When I introduced Mindi to my husband, she smiled and said, “I see you’ve found your prince.”