A Roadmap to Love that Endures - the Isaac and Rebecca Story
When Does Happily Ever After Begin?
There's a saying that you can make bad wine from good grapes, but you can't make good wine from bad grapes. That it begins in the vineyard. And so, the best bet to achieve a happy ending is to pay attention to how the story begins.
The Beginning of the Isaac and Rebecca Story
Many of us are familiar with the story of the search for a suitable bride for Isaac. Not only would she have to have the right lineage, but for Isaac, his wife would have to possess an uncommon depth of kindness.
When Isaac met Rebecca and saw the return of those miracles that had only been present while his mother, Sarah, was alive, he knew Rebecca was the right fit to be his wife as well as a Matriarch of the Jewish people.
Head First – Heart Second
Once Isaac knew that Rebecca met the requirements to be his life partner and soul mate, he married her and allowed himself to open his heart and fall in love with her. That progression – head first/heart second - the Torah tells us, is the recipe for creating a foundation of love that endures for a lifetime. But it's not a guarantee either.
While you need good ingredients to make good wine, you also need to know how to make wine. Similarly, the most promising and happy beginnings don't assure a happy end. You need to understand how to create a good marriage along the way.
Who Is This Person Sleeping Next to Me?
One of the most common marital complaints I hear is that people feel they have been duped and that the person they dated and fell in love with is not the same person sleeping and snoring soundly in their beds.
A friend told me of a recent incident where she was surfing Netflix for a movie and came across an interesting foreign film, but then her husband rejected it out of hand. “I'm not watching anything with subtitles,” he said dismissively. “Hold on,” she answered back, “aren't you the guy who used to take me on romantic dates to see foreign films that we would discuss over dinner and a bottle of wine? You never complained about subtitles then. Were you pretending to be someone else? Or did you change?”
The truthful answer to those questions is both yes and no.
The Biology of Dishonesty – Heart First and Head Second
Curiously, the expression "to dive headfirst" into something means to be reckless or impetuous and impulsive. Then, it seems to me that the phrase "diving headfirst into love" really means the opposite – that when an emotional need drives us, we dive in heart first and hope the head follows.
From an early age, that is how society primes us. To be happy. And to feel good.
Have you ever wondered why it feels so darn good, why you feel so buoyantly alive and ecstatically euphoric when Cupid's arrow pierces the heart? Biology knows. During the romance/infatuation period of a relationship, a potent cocktail of oxytocin, phenylethylamine, serotonin, and dopamine – known as the "love drugs" – are pumping madly through your system - and you are like an addict getting high.
What's even more dangerous is that in this quasi-dream state, your perceptions are altered. The expression, "love is blind" is right, as these love drugs act like a distorted filter to reveal, magnify, or even imagine those traits that make you feel good and happy while blinding you to the faults and negative characteristics of your prospective partner.
During this phase (unless someone has a mental disorder), it's not that we are intentionally dishonest about who we are, but that we genuinely want to be that version of ourselves that will make our beloved happy. At the same time, we keep hidden those parts which could jeopardize the relationship before it solidifies. Were it not so, chances are we would never book that wedding venue.
The Pain of Withdrawal
Eventually, however, whether it's weeks, months, or even a few years, the drugs wear off, and the head comes back online. While it's true that some people do radically change after marriage, more often, after the initial romantic phase of love is over and the power struggle begins, we view our spouses with new and highly critical eyes.
During infatuation, you could see no faults; now, you can only see the flaws. Where you saw similarities, now you only see incompatibility. The answer to the painful question - Who is this person - seems simple and obvious - Why can't our spouses simply go back to being the person we fell in love with? Then all would be well once again. Their refusal to do we, we reason, is because they won't, and what's worse, we believe, they don't even care.
Is it a Case of Bad Grapes?
For some couples, however, this can be a healthy development. Suddenly, they can see what their best friends and family saw along. Finally, their eyes are open to the danger and warning signs that were there all along, and they can take responsibility for having chosen someone as a life partner who is not marriage material or suited for them. You know – a case of bad grapes.
Or is it a case of bad gripes?
Welcome to the Power Struggle
For those couples who don't understand this struggle as a necessary development in their marriage's overall context, this phase can be the beginning of the end. This lack of awareness can lead to serial dating or a succession of failed marriages, as people are stuck in the perpetual cycle of "I'm so in love - she/he is perfect - wait she/he is not perfect - oh this is painful - must have made a mistake - I'll end the relationship – and pick someone this time who really is perfect." Rinse and repeat.
Other couples don't break up but resign themselves to a marriage more characterized by an endurance test. Or they appear to the outside world as a couple but lead such parallel and disconnected lives that they have an invisible divorce.
Breakdown to Breakthrough
By learning to communicate about difficult topics in a kind and compassionate way, healing old wounds, learning to repair emotional disconnections, learning to share power, and most importantly, learning to accept and appreciate each other's differences with mutual respect, some couples break through the power struggle in a transformed way.
For some, this process happens naturally. However, most of us have to find a way to learn the tools, skills, and relationship habits that make us and not break us. Along the way, we must learn the art of letting go.
When you stop trying to change, fix, or reset your partner but accept and love them as they are, you enter a new phase of stability where love returns – not to the romance/honeymoon phase – but a deeper and more connected level. Unlike passive resignation, this is the powerful stance of unconditional love. And it changes you.
Here's the Crazy Truth
When you can honestly love and accept the totality of your partner - the good, bad, subtitle hating, warts and all - then you can love fully. And that's when the magic happens. It is the most ironic and paradoxical truth I know that real acceptance precedes change and growth, for it is only in the space of loving acceptance that that which needs to be healed can be healed. From that place, new possibilities exist.
Isaac and Rebecca didn’t have a problem-free marriage. He was other-worldly while she was very much of this world, and this difference impacted their approach to their enormous family challenges. And, as we know, communication was hardly their strong suit. How would such a couple likely fare in today’s world?
I want to think that they were an example of opposites uniting for a bigger purpose and that is it not just us reading their story who understands their mission but that they saw their life together as part of a divine plan. They accepted each other for who they were. And they didn’t break.
The road to happiness is bumpy, jarring, and filled with obstacles. Some couples opt to get out of the car. Some stay stuck at a roadblock or drive around in circles for the rest of their lives. And some couples stay the course, do the work, and continue to build a love that endures happily for a lifetime.