The marriage bond

Romantic expectations are not what build a strong marriage bond. It goes much deeper.

Rabbi Avigdor Miller ,

Rav Avigdor Miller
Rav Avigdor Miller

Loyalty in Marriage

Be Clingy

When G-d created Chava (Eve) and brought her to Adam, He made a statement that - although it doesn’t yet apply to everybody here, someday it will-: עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ – A man will therefore forsake his parents, וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ – and cling to his wife.

Now, what that means we think we know already – it’s just telling us a fact of life; every young man moves out of his home, leaving behind his mother and father, and begins to build a new home together with his wife. That’s the way of the world; if you’re going to make something of yourself in Olam Hazeh, sooner or later you have to fly the coop and set out on your own.

But to think that this is all that the verse is telling us is a big error because actually it’s much more than that. These few words are intended by G-d to teach us the foundation of what constitutes a successful marriage: “And he should cling to his wife,” is not a statement of the way of the world – it's a program for the married couple.

It’s a command, a tzivui – he must leave his parents and cling to his wife! A husband and wife must cling to each other; that’s the program G-d set down for all people in the matter of marriage.

No Romance

Now, if we’re going to understand that it means for a husband and wife to make a career of clinging to each other, we have to first make a clean sweep of one gentile ideal that has no place among us – not only because it’s false but more importantly because it undermines the whole career of marriage. And that is the false idol, elil hasheker of Western culture, the false god of Romance.

I understand that it’s not going to be easy to uproot an ideal that has permeated the literature for a few hundred years but in this place we're accustomed to talking factually. And the facts are that you have all been bamboozled; actually, there’s no such thing as romantic love. You’ll please forgive, be moichel me, for stepping on your toes but it’s too important to be left unsaid because when people marry for unreal and imaginary concepts they are bound to be disappointed. That’s why for so many people, marriage turns out to be unhappy – because it never was going to be what they were hoping for.

Lower Your Expectations

You can’t expect that it’s going to always be smiles, always joy. You must be prepared for the fact that many aspects of marriage will be quite commonplace; nothing glamorous. Any other idea you have is only a rosy soap bubble. And you know when it bursts? It bursts right after the chupah. Like the world says, as soon as you marry, romance flies out of the window.

What happens? People marry and the day after the wedding, when they both begin using the same bathroom, the romance begins to fade. When the grpom, the chosson looked at his bride, the kallah, he imagined a lifetime of this emotion that he was experiencing then. And the kallah, perhaps, also.

But when you have to live with a person every day, even at first if you had a certain admiration, it’s not too long before the superficial expectations disappear. You settle down to real living, real marriage, and then you begin seeing things you didn’t expect. You’re marrying a human being after all, someone who has certain important elements of greatness in him — every person has greatness in him — but you must expect ordinary characteristics, too.

A Clarion Call

At first everybody looks nice and talks nicely. But when you get down to living together, it’s not so simple. Of course you have to look before you leap; make sure to choose the one you think you’ll be able to like. But in most cases she’ll be deceived by him and he’ll be deceived by her. At first he tells me, “Ah, Rabbi Miller! My bride's character traits! My kallah’s middos! Ay yah yay, her middot are so special!” Later he discovers what her middot really are. I deal with people and I always have this experience; that’s how it always is.

The same with her wonderful chosson. She imagined him to be Prince Charming but now she calls me on the telephone almost every week about this problem he’s causing and that problem. She’s not so impressed with his middot anymore.

That’s why it’s important to issue a clarion call to all young adults: Do not live in a world of make believe! Don't imagine that marriage is the answer to your quest for happiness! Because you know what’s going to happen? You're going to discover it is not. You're going to end up crashing on the rocks of life. And don’t say it’s not so.

The Primrose Path is Sullied

A man once told me he wanted to marry a certain girl because she was the perfect one; he thought that “together they’ll walk hand in hand down the primrose path of life” – which means he’s living a fairy tale, a bubbe maaseh!

Hand in hand?! Each person has their own duties in life. When you get married your wife has her ideas about what to do in the house, and you have your dreams about the beis medrash or your business, or profession, or whatever you have to do.

Don’t think your wife is going to share all your ideas, forget about it! Nashim am bifnei atzmanWomen are a separate nation. It means that men are a separate nation too. Don’t think your husband is going to think along with you.

How Do We Stick Together?

And therefore we have to explain what it means when the Torah says cling, “v’davak”. Because if there’s no romance and they’re not even going to walk hand in hand, so what kind of dveikus, what kind of connection is there in the marriage? What does it mean when it says that you’re expected to “leave your father and mother and cling to your spouse”? What is the program for a husband and wife to cling to each other all their lives?

And the answer is like this: עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ doesn’t mean that you fall out of love with your parents and fall in love with your spouse. No such thing! You’ll always honor, be michabeid, your parents and you’ll always love them; that will never come to an end. But “you shall cling” means that the focus of your loyalty changes now. You cling to your spouse by means of loyalty. And how loyal do you have to be? So loyal that יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ – in some respects you’ll have to even say goodbye to your parents if you’re going to cling to your spouse with true loyalty.

Loyal on Locale

Let’s say you married a woman in a different country and you settled there in her hometown. So the halakha is that unless you said clearly beforehand, “We’re marrying on condition that you’ll come back to my hometown,” you’re bound to her forever. Let’s say you want to go back to your parents now. Your mother calls on the phone, “Shaifeleh, please move back. I want to see your sweet face again.” Nothing doing! If she says, “Look, you married me here and this is where I want to be,” so it says, עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ –he should forsake his father and mother and he should be with his wife. That sacrifice you have to make for your wife!

It’s a tremendous thing! This halakha is quoted (Even Haezer 75) as an example of how loyal a husband must be to his wife — even more than his loyalty to his parents. Once you are bonded to your wife, it’s a bigger bond than the bond to your parents! You can forsake your parents out of necessity, but you can’t forsake your wife out of necessity! Your wife is like your own self - Ishto k’gufo – just like you can’t forsake yourself, you can’t forsake your wife.

The Most You Can Say

And of course a man should never go and complain to his parents about his wife. Even in jest, he should never say a word to his parents about his marital affairs. If a man complains about his wife to his mother, it’s a tremendous sin he’s doing; he’s breaching the marital contract. The wife too. It’s a fatal error for a woman to confide to her parents that her husband upset her, that he did this wrong or that wrong. She should never tell her parents anything. Make it your business never to say a word.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this principle. When it comes to discussing your marriage, never talk to your parents about your marriage. Unless you want to say, “Chaim is an excellent husband.” That’s the most you can say. Or, “Sarah is a good cook, she’s a wonderful balabustah.” That's all; nothing more. Anything more than that is a breach of the bond of loyalty.

Yom Tov Guests

Take a man who wants his parents to come for yomtiv but his wife is overworked; she says it’s too much for her. In that case, her husband must put her first. He can be kind to his parents and explain to them b’chol minei piyus, with all kinds of excuses and apologies, but whatever it is, his wife comes first.

Now, if the wife can swallow the hurt, if she’s looking for a great mitzvah that will help her to be worthy of the World to Come, zoicheh to Olam Habo, then she should tell her husband to invite them. Because li’fum tzara agra – “the reward will be commensrate to the distress” and she’ll be perfecting her character too. But if she’s not willing, then he must obey his wife and not invite his parents. He has no right to cause her distress by putting his parents first.

And that’s what the Torah is stressing: עַל כֵּן יַעֲזָב אִישׁ אֶת אָבִיו וְאֶת אִמּוֹ — Even your mother and father to whom you owe your life; you owe them everything – even so, the bond of loyalty to a spouse overrides that. In order to create a successful Torah marriage, “a man must forsake his father and his mother, and of course everyone else, and he must stick to his wife with the glue of loyalty.”

It means that at all times you feel that you are responsible for the welfare and the happiness of your mate.

Be ready to go through fire and water for your husband or your wife. It’s not a matter of love; it’s a matter of duty, of loyalty.

The Proper Attitude

Such an attitude can only exist when a man and woman understand that they’re not marrying for romance. Instead of marrying for love and ‘pie in the sky’ dreams, they marry for avodas Hashem. They marry for the great institution of matrimony which G-d commanded them to fulfill.

G-d created marriage as a most convenient arrangement in life for happiness. You marry to have a wife and a husband – a wife and a husband are an excellent component of life. They help out in the struggle for existence. It's very hard to get along in life and you must have a spouse.

You'll excuse me for the comparison – I don't mean the literal comparison – but you must have a refrigerator in your house. You need lights and you have to have walls and you have to have a ceiling. You need doors. You need a lot of things. And in order to live properly a man must have a wife and a woman must have a husband – they need each other. The companionship, the solace, the assistance; there's no end to the compensations of married life.

And so v’davak doesn’t mean you have to ‘fall in love’ romantically with your husband or with your wife; if you have affection and caring, that’s good enough. And then all your life, starting from the day after the wedding, both of you begin practicing how to show that affection and it will be an affection and caring that continues to grow always. It grows into a companionship of nobility and kedusha and dedication to each other – and it all grows from the seeds of loyalty. Of course, you’ll have to water the seeds with other things too, but it’s from the seeds of loyalty that a successful marriage grows.