Marriage Enrichment: An Educators’ Perspective

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The OU’s JLIC (Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus) program places Orthodox Rabbinic couples to serve as Torah educators on local college campuses in conjunction with Hillel. Now on fifteen campuses in North America, JLIC educators strive to enhance the learning opportunities available to students, and also bolster an infrastructure for Orthodox life to flourish. Educators offer weekly shiurim, classes, guest speakers and campus events as well as enabling the meaningful observance of kashrut, chagim and shabbat.

As the OU’s JLIC educators at Brooklyn College, we believe one of our top priorities is to help students and alumni move on to their next stage in life. Not only do we give shiurim, organize chavrusas, and coordinate events, we are also involved in establishing programs that create an opportunity for our students to meet and socialize via shabbos meals, matchmaking websites, and old fashioned shidduchim. This, however, is just the beginning. We then help our students prepare for marriage by laying the educational groundwork: teaching the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha (family purity) as well as communication/conflict resolution strategies and other relationship navigational techniques.

Acting as teachers and role models in this capacity can be extremely satisfying as a professional challenge, but it also carries the weight of tremendous personal responsibility. The underlying assumption is that we “practice what we preach”. For this reason, my wife and I felt very privileged to attend the OU’s Marriage Enrichment Retreat (July 15-17). The word “enrichment” is a key adjective; the weekend provided a welcome and wonderful opportunity to work on our marriage, spend some quality quiet time together, and of course, to build our skills in service of our own relationship and the community of students we mentor.

Needless to say, the meals were sumptuous and the tearoom was a rare treat (not being Pesach resort vacationers, this was a special experience for us). But, the real meat came from the many exciting classes that we attended.

The sessions were enlightening and incredibly relevant, particularly the session led by Dr.Pelcovitz on coping with financial crisis, which was especially apt given current economic conditions. Dr. Pelcovitz didn’t merely present research and statistics; he also offered vignettes along with specific coping mechanisms. Equipping our students, as a whole, to deal with financial hardship and bumps on the road of life is necessary on an individual basis, but it becomes crucial within the context of life partnerships.

We then attended a class with Dr. Bailey, who opened with the Gemara’s explanation regarding the laws of Taharas Hamishpacha – a spiritual growth strategy that creates both physical and emotional ways for a marriage to renew itself. The need for renewal is essential in all points of life, but to look for opportunities to do so within an established relationship often becomes difficult within the context of busy lives. Dr Bailey gave us practical tips on keeping the honeymoon-like feeling throughout a couple’s years together.

It was a fascinating revelation to hear Rachel Pill LCSW explain, “What happens during the day affects what does or doesn’t happen at night”. This allowed us to consider framing lessons for our students in the early stages of exploring intimacy as a solid basis for helping to establish a variety of aspects in their relationships. She also coined one of our favorite phrases of the conference, “Well, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” This is a vital approach in working with couples where one partner always needs to be right, or believes that conversation is a competitive sport.

Rabbi Weil spoke in depth about the results of the OU’s groundbreaking Marriage Satisfaction Survey and the areas that routinely cause tension in our marriages. Boruch Hashem, the survey showed that the overall review of marriages within the Jewish community’s mindset are seen as positive, but we need to strengthen areas of communication, time management, boundaries with in-laws, issues of intimacy and resolution of religious differences. As premarital educators, we strive to address these aspects of relationships with our students on a regular basis

We found Lauren Roth’s sage advice regarding the need for both trust and vulnerability in a relationship particularly significant for today’s young adults, who often come to marriage at a later age and with a prior history of disappointing dating or relationship experiences.

“If you allow yourself to be real during your marriage, if you allow yourself to implicitly trust the person you’re trying to make a relationship work with, you might get your heart broken, and you’ll probably get hurt. But you’re also giving yourself—and your spouse—a chance at finding true, deep love. This is especially hard for anyone who’s been hurt by loved ones before. And, of course, that’s all of us. We’ve ALL been hurt before, by our parent, or parents, by our sibling, or siblings, by our friend, or friends, by our spouses. So this ‘BE VULNERABLE TO YOUR SPOUSE’ prescription is a tough one to follow. But, if we can bite the bullet and bear the pain, it’s one that will produce tremendous rewards of love and connection to our husband or wife.”

As it happened, we were counseling a certain couple shortly after the conference weekend, and the kallah admitted her fear of allowing her chatan to have the last word. She thought that if she did, he would walk all over her, similar to the situation she’d observed in the relationship between her parents.

Relying on what we’d so recently learned during the Marriage Enrichment Retreat, we began discussing one’s ability to trust, and the difficulty of exposing vulnerability to one’s partner. We then shared some of the strategies, techniques and exercises we had acquired during the previous weekend. We hope to continue sharing our knowledge and wish to express many thanks to Frank Buchweitz, his team at OU’s Department of Community Services, and the presenters for an “Enriching” Shabbos!!

Rabbi Reuven Boshnack is the OU/Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC) educator at Brooklyn College Campus and a Mental Health Counselor (limited permit). Shira Boshnack is the OU/JLIC educator at Brooklyn College Campus

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.