The Divorce Moments Every Marriage Has - Even Good Ones
A Solid Start - Love in the Garden
It started out so well. Even by today’s standards, no marriage could have a better foundation based on partnership, equality, and respect.
In the Beginning – Lonely Adam
G-d created all the species as categories: creatures that fly, creep, swim, etc., but without further specificity or description. G-d then tasked Adam to look into the essence of each creature and name it. G-d then invited Adam to take from any of these named creatures a suitable mate. And without hesitation, Adam rejected the idea.
Having been given dominion over the entire animal kingdom, by definition, no animal could be his equal, and Adam instinctively knew such an imbalanced relationship would never satisfy him. For example, I adore my little dog. I enjoy her companionship and value her loving, loyal and sweet nature. But, despite the moniker “man’s best friend,” she is not my best friend.
My best friend is an equal, someone I can talk to about anything and share every aspect of myself on a deep and intimate level. My equal can also offer criticism, see my greater potential, and help me grow. My equal also has an independent journey and mission, the ability to set boundaries, and the right to say “no.”
Yes Has No Meaning Without No
In any relationship with an unequal power hierarchy, the underling has no dissent, no right to say “no.” Once you take away the ability to disagree and the right to say “no,” there is no value to their “yes.” That is why leaders who only surround themselves with “yes-men” are reckless at best, in that they have no one to provide valuable feedback and perspective. What’s bad for business is also bad for marriage.
So, what went wrong?
Despite the best of intentions, you could say that when push came to shove, Adam and Eve didn’t have good relationship skills. After all, as the first couple in history, they were brand new at the game. They had no experience in facing challenges and inner conflicts or taking responsibility for their actions. And like so many couples today, they had no idea how to tackle their challenges as a team.
Midrash, Jewish commentary, explains that when G-d made the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge off-limits, G-d spoke to Adam only, after which Adam conveyed the prohibition to Eve. However, Adam amplified the ban with a detail of his own. Thinking it would make it harder to transgress, Adam “added a fence” around the original prohibition and told Eve that in addition to being forbidden from eating from the tree, G-d had also commanded them not to even touch it, at the pain of death.
Adam could have been forthright with Eve and told her what G-d had told him. And together, if they thought it would be helpful, they could have designed strategies to make it harder for them to transgress. While Adam’s intentions may have been good, the consequences were disastrous.
I know this may sound provocative, but by going outside the circle of his marriage for a solution that would impact them both, and not including Eve in his thought process, it’s as if Adam momentarily divorced his wife.
And Then She Returned the Favor
As we know, the cunning serpent knew about Adam’s amplification, and to create conflict, the serpent pushed Eve into the tree. Imagine Eve’s shock when she fully expected to die on the spot – and nothing happened! Rather than let Eve in on the secret that Adam made up that rule, the serpent convinced Eve that G-d was trying to prevent them from becoming god-like.
Sometimes, I have to prevent myself from rolling my eyes when I put out the most trivial suggestion or request to someone and get the response: “I’ll have to check with my husband/wife and get back to you.” You would think that in making the colossal decision to transform the very nature of humankind forever, Eve might have checked in with Adam to discuss this. And so, when she made her unilateral decision, it’s as if Eve divorced Adam.
The final legal termination of a marriage is not the only type of divorce there is. Many couples (who may or may not ever divorce) have a "silent," or "emotional" divorce, where they are disengaged, or they lead separate lives – even as they live under one roof and may even appear to the outside world to be united.
The Divorce Moment
But even solid couples who are genuinely happily married can unthinkingly engage in behaviors that are akin to a “divorce moment.” In his book, Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore, Manis Friedman described a couple at a store cash register, where the clerk said the charge was $19.00, and the wife handed him a ten-dollar bill, thinking it was a twenty. When the clerk pointed out her error, the wife got flustered as she hunted for more money in her purse.
The husband rolled his eyes and snidely remarked to the clerk about how his wife often makes this kind of mistake and how embarrassing it is. Thinking he was creating a sympathetic alliance with the clerk, a stranger whom the husband would likely never see again, the husband threw his wife under the bus. In that moment, says Friedman, it’s as if this husband had divorced his wife.
Just because the holidays are over doesn’t mean that we no longer need to self-evaluate and think about where we need to improve. The story of Adam and Eve is an opportune time to do an internal check and raise your consciousness about the divorce moments common to many couples, such as:
- not problem solving as a team
- hiding their inner reality/fears/dreams
- instead of keeping the problem the problem – making each other the problem
- being sarcastic, demeaning, or contemptuous
- being defensive and unable to hear their spouse’s legitimate concerns, fears, or pain
- causing others to be sarcastic towards or belittle the spouse
- rolling their eyes when their spouse speaks
- betraying a confidence
- “outing their spouse” by choosing a public forum to bring up something the spouse didn’t want to talk about, but now can’t avoid
- seeking solutions outside the marriage
- failing to notice or accept bids for connection
- unable to genuinely celebrate the victories, successes, or positive experiences of their spouse
- shutting down, shutting out, or stonewalling
Marriage expert David Schnarch defines marriage as a “people-growing machine.” No marriage is conflict-free, but the very purpose of conflict is not to disconnect but to grow closer. And so, these little divorce moments will show up from time to time in the best marriages. The point is to become aware of them, and to make sure they are infrequent and temporary, lest they become habitual and lead to a prolonged disconnection - or worse.
As we begin this new cycle of the Torah, learn from the mistakes of this “First Couple’ and commit to creating your own fences together to avoid those behaviors that destroy your peace of mind, and the peace of your home.