A skills-based continuing marital education program is of critical importance in assuring the enduring success of Jewish marriages, and rabbis have a wonderful opportunity to strengthen marriage in their communities. This was the message of Frank Buchweitz, Orthodox Union National Director of Community Services and Special Projects in a recent session for rabbis on implementation of the Aleinu Marital Satisfaction Survey, a project of the OU.
“Marriage education is ongoing through life – it is the best prevention against divorce and it can take place in your synagogue,” he informed the rabbis. “We at the OU are looking forward to building the community. As rabbis in the shuls, you have the position to empower your community to strengthen positive attitudes in their marriages.”
The Aleinu survey, conducted online in early 2009, received 3,670 responses from around North America. It found that overwhelmingly Orthodox Jewish marriages tend to be happy, more often than in society as a whole, with three-quarters of spouses saying they would marry the same person again. However, there is a “perception” that the divorce rate is rising, and there is a marital satisfaction “down-period” starting well in advance of 20 years of marriage and leading up to 30 years, that may precede an “up-period” in which fulfillment and happiness become more common.
In addition, a number of concerns and stressors were identified by the survey, which impact upon marital satisfaction. These stressors include financial issues, communication, intimacy/sexuality, time together and in-laws.
In a fervent presentation to the assembled rabbis, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil called on the rabbis to take on activist roles in their congregations to help couples navigate their way through the stresses that could harm their marriages; these stressors include the financial burdens imposed by yeshiva tuitions (which he termed “the Orthodox tax”), synagogue dues, tzedakah (charity) in general, and the other expenses involved in living an Orthodox life.
“Human beings have a strong capacity to rebound from stress,” Rabbi Weil said, “but when it’s month after month, year after year – it’s hard to rebound. Chronic financial stress can destroy a marriage, it takes its toll, and that is a major stress in marriage.”
Declaring that “communication is the primary concern in our marriages,” Rabbi Weil said, “Wives may sometimes feel abandoned or neglected. Too much communication (of the wrong type) is an issue. The husband thinks he knows it all – as a Mr. Fix-It to solve the wife’s problems without listening carefully to her or her problems. Communication is extremely significant for us in terms of how we counsel our couples.”
The OU will present another in its series of Positive Jewish Marriage retreats for couples of all ages, in which the programming will be based on the findings of the Aleinu survey. The retreat will be held at the Woodcliff Lake Hilton in Woodcliff Lake, NJ, July 9-11. As a new departure, and in response to the survey, a special programmatic track will be presented for couples in their first years of marriage.
“Healthy marriages are the backbone of healthy families, healthy communities, and the basis of healthy congregations,” Frank Buchweitz, who coordinated the Aleinu survey, told the rabbis. “A skills-based marriage education program can make a powerful and positive difference in strengthening the Jewish family, community and synagogue. While marriage preparation is a good first step, its benefits diminish after a few years. Therefore, marital education should continue through a couple’s lifetime. “
Such a program, he said, “can keep the relationship fresh by fostering new skills and renewing community support and spousal commitment.” The program should emphasize marriage preparation, marriage enrichment and marriage assistance.
Frank Buchweitz suggested the following steps to make the program possible:
• Arranging professional development sessions for new and younger pulpit rabbis;
• Presenting continuing education programs, perhaps online, in marriage education for rabbis;
• Developing a list of qualified therapists for referrals for couples with marital issues;
• Developing educational classes/workshops for couples preparing for marriage to help get them off to a good start; these can be stand-alone or part of chosson/kallah classes for future brides and grooms which they take without their future spouse;
• Expanding Positive Jewish Dating/shidduchim (introducing singles) programs for students as well as parents;
• Developing pre-marital role playing video scenarios with mental health professionals;
• Follow-up by rabbis, perhaps quarterly, on how newly married couples are doing;
• Online skill-based classes in key areas of marriage;
• Mentoring of couples in various stages of marital life by the rabbi or mental health professionals; this can be done in a group setting, perhaps in a Shabbat dinner/dessert atmosphere. Groups may include: newlyweds; young couples with and without children; 10-20 year married couples; empty nesters, etc.;
• Additional mentoring in which lay leaders will be trained to mentor newlyweds in their first year of marriage;
• Weekend marriage retreats and synagogue marriage strengthening programs. Frank Buchweitz informed the rabbis that the OU will work with them on designing and implementing these programs.
For more information on the OU Marriage Retreat, or to register, contact 212-613-8188 or visit www.community.org.