The motivation to write about marriage for the past few weeks stems from its inherent importance, as well as from the parallels drawn in our Jewish literature to the relationship between a person and God. This recommended book, The New Rules of Marriage by Terrence Real, deepens our understanding of this parallel. The blurb on the back cover reads, “Modern Marriage has undergone a revolution. Never before have we wanted so much from our relationships – and yet we lack the skills to succeed. Today’s women want more emotional closeness than many men have been raised to deliver, leaving both sexes feeling frustrated and unheard…This generation wants to be more than companions. We want to be lovers and friends.”
Think about the parallel idea regarding modern man’s numerous desires from religion. We want religion to engage us philosophically, entertain us ritually, deepen us spiritually, provide us a sense of well-being emotionally, and of course offer assurance that we and those we love will be o.k. And yet, here too, we lack the skills to succeed. In both our marriage and religious relationship with God, we need consistent hard work, the courage to be vulnerable, active listening, to own our stuff, and have a willingness to be wrong.
There is one passage in The New Rules of Marriage that highlights this parallel glaringly. “As a grown up, how do you work on a relationship? You start to think relationally, systemically. You are not above your relationship working on it, the way a mechanic works on a car. You are working on yourself inside the relationship. You are a part of the system. You move within in. You move with humility.”
The New Rules of Marriage is not an easy read in the sense that gaining from its deeply thoughtful insights requires reading it slowly and deliberately. It necessitates seeing myself, not my partner, in its dialogues, scenarios, and suggestions.
And, deeply applicable to marriage and religion, “Real relationships are an endless negotiation between closeness and distance. Both are important. But there are responsible ways to take distance and there are irresponsible ways to take distance. Withdrawal is irresponsible distance taking – the one who withdraws is either silent or screaming. By contrast, responsible distance taking is neither unilateral nor provocative. It allows you space while still remaining accountable and engaged in the relationship.”
May we all be blessed this coming year to continue navigating the most important relationships in our lives with humility, kindness, and a commitment to be forever learning and evolving.