How Can I Help My Son/Daughter Have a Successful Marriage?

Margaret E. Retter, Esq.

Regardless of the level of your observance or where you live or the amount of years that you have been married, we are all human and no one’s marriage is perfect. We all have challenges during our marriage…. some big and some small to navigate. The idea is to learn how to navigate these issues with your spouse in a healthy manner and environment. Regardless of your background, many of the issues are the same.

For the past 17 years, I had been dealing with legal issues arising from serious problems in marriages that caused couples to seek a get and civil divorce. But in the past year two years, the calls that I have received are from young women and men who had been married from one month to two years who just wanted to “get out”. Many times, their Rav told the person that they had to “get out” or divorce from a halachic standpoint, but most often it seemed that the marriages could and should be saved.

So we decided to speak to Rabbonim, experienced mechanachot/therapists, counselors, chosson and kallah teachers, in Israel and the United States, to see if we could figure out what common problems there were for these young couples and how it can be prevented many cases.

What was the common thread that caused young people to want to leave within the first few years? Please take note that I am not a therapist, but an attorney taking phone calls at all hours of the day and night from young marrieds, their parents, Rabbonim who asked us to represent one side or another for a “quick amicable divorce. ” Here’s the trend that I am seeing.

Many of the problems of shana rishona are a result of what was not talked about during the engagement period. A lack of conversation, understanding, and communication between the young couples themselves and their parents. It involves unreasonable expectations and reality.

Today, in the shidduch world, every young man and woman has a resume where all pertinent info is written, whether it deals with family background, yichus, education, background, character traits, skinny, pretty, rich, yeshiva, which shiur, which seminary, etc. Mothers are pouring over resumes, trying to get pictures. Only when both sets of parents are satisfied can the couple be engaged.

Mazel Tov…Your son or daughter is engaged. The parsha is over for that child…The vort was ten minutes ago, and the first thing that is discussed is the date for the wedding. Everyone is in a cloud of euphoria…fluttering around in a balloon of love, kisses and hugs, talks of dates for the wedding, halls, THE GOWN, dresses, apartments, the SHEITEL, when and where…excitement all around…Meetings between machatanim are made to discuss details of the wedding, amount of guests, the whys and wherefores, where the couple will be living, the apartment.

But just remember most frum couples are quite young and are not economically independent. So, who is going to SUPPORT them?

(I)     Finances:

The young woman who is to marry must change somewhat from the shy, quiet, unquestioning young woman to in many cases to the breadwinner. She must become a knowledgeable wife, an employable wife. In a matter of months she is adjusting to being a wife, working full time, and perhaps, becoming pregnant shortly thereafter. Can she handle it? What happens when she does become pregnant? Perhaps she feels great, but maybe not. Who then brings home the “bread”? How are they going to manage? The young chosson, is at best lost but hopefully compassionate, at worst, not so sympathetic and perhaps resentful.

If you are like most people, thinking about money is stressful. Financial planning is stressful. Most probably, prior to the engagement, the two sets of parents have discussed “support” of the young couple between themselves. But has the young couple been made aware of the financial support that they will be given in detail? Is there a plan? Will they be moving to Eretz Yisrael? Is she working or not? Is she the sole breadwinner? Are they paying their own bills? Who can they rely on in times of need?

When do you tell your children to give back their credit cards that are attached to their parents’ accounts? Will there be “separate accounts”, co-mingling of funds, gifts? Will there be savings?

A couple needs to understand two basic concepts:

(a)     Budgeting: Everyone needs a budget. It’s a map that gets you from point A to point B. Parents need to teach their young couple how to make a budget. Have them answer these questions: what happens if you need to spend more on food than you thought? What happens if you extra money in your bank account one month – do you spend it or save it?

(b)     Needs v. Wants: needs are nutritional foods, transportation, decent clothing, shelter and insurance. Everything else is a want. Do you have extra money to spend on wants? Do you really need it or should you save the money for the future or an emergency?

The couple should have a conversation with their parents: Be open with how much support they are getting from each side. What t “extras” will the parents help them? If the wife cannot work, who pays and for how long? Who pays the rent? Who pays for plane tickets for visits? Who helps set up the apartment?

When does it END? And there should be an end.

(II)    Personal Relationship

Marriage begins after the last guest goes home and the door closes to the honeymoon suite. Truly alone, the couple will completely reverse the trend they lived with for years of no touching, no negiah. As a parent, have you prepared your child?

It is wonderful how very much time and effort parents invest in their children’s wedding preparation. Everything is planned down to the last detail to make the evening a success. But one of the highly important matters not given the amount of attention it deserves is the subject of intimacy.

Most parents, if not all, have a difficult time discussing this subject with their children, mothers with daughters and fathers with their sons. This is understandable.

For your DAUGHTER, the choosing of a kallah teacher who will assume the responsibility of preparing the kallah for marriage and intimacy is of utmost importance. In many instances, the kallah herself chooses someone with whom to learn, perhaps by a recommendation from a newly married friend. While friends may be a wonderful source of help and support, they may lack the information and perspective needed to make the right choice for your daughter. And, the ramifications of poor and inadequate preparation are detrimental.

Some young women are lucky. They learn with excellent teachers who become a “go to” person for many months after the marriage begins and are available to provide answers to delicate questions in a discrete manner.

But for kallahs who are not given adequate preparation, marriage is tough. Perhaps they were only taught halacha from the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch but don’t discuss how to be an effective communicator and issues of intimacy. They may have been given little or no skills with which to tackle the everyday challenges of married life.

It is recommended that every mother make inquiries regarding the teacher and the course that will be given. If possible, meet with the teacher to see if she would be a good role model for her daughter. Ask the teacher questions: how many times will you be meeting? Is she explaining the differences between halachos and chumros? Tell your daughter to tell you if she feels that the level of teaching or her kallah teacher is inappropriate.

As for your SONS, there are many chosson teachers who are aware and knowledgeable of the issues they must discuss with their chassonim besides halacha, e.g., intimacy and communication. They may also be working together with their wives who are kallah teachers.

Because of my many discussions with many enrich chasson teachers in the Litvish, Chasidish, and Yeshivish communities, they have told me that because they are involved with the problems that chasseing face during the Chides Rison and Shana Rison, they have basically decided to become more comprehensive in their teaching of chasseing prior to marriage.

Reputable chasson teachers spend quite a bit of time with their chassonim and ALL that I spoke with stay in touch with them. The teachers give their cell phone numbers to them and tell them to stay in touch any time for the first year at least so that any problems can be nipped in the bud. They all agree that the young men need a warm, understanding and knowledgeable, “go to” person to be a mentor and prevent problems that may arise.

If your son or daughter learns how to properly communicate with their spouse in a respectful manner, then many issues can be discussed and resolved without hurt or blame.

(III)  Sign a prenuptial agreement

The prenuptial agreement is something most people do not want to think about until it’s too late. It seems odd to think of divorce when two people are in love and planning a wedding. Unfortunately, the risk of divorce cannot be entirely discounted especially when the statistics for divorce of Orthodox Jewish marriages is at 30%.

The answer lies not in a suspicion that any particular couple’s marriage will end in divorce but rather that each couple signing the agreement is giving respect to their spouse. By signing a prenuptial agreement, each person is stating that there is no place for religious blackmail if their relationship breaks down. They are promising each other that they will treat each other with the same respect they had for one another on the day of their wedding even though they will no longer be married.

What is the prenuptial agreement?

The goal of the agreement is to insure that the get will be given or accepted within a timely manner. The couple agrees that they will appear before a particular Beis Din and will abide by the decision of that Beis Din with regard to whether a get should be given.

However, if the husband refuses to give the get, then he is obligated to pay a certain amount of money each day to support his wife from the date he receives written notice from the wife of her intention to request a get until the date a Jewish divorce is obtained.

These two provisions insure that a get is given in a timely manner while providing incentive for the husband to abide by the decision of the dayanim with respect to the timing of the get.

That is all it says. So, please respect your kallah/chosson and sign the prenuptial agreement.


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