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Marriage Isn't Complicated

Marriage Isn't Complicated

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One of the consequences of living in a small town like mine is that everyone knows what I do - which means that people stop me in places like drug stores and ask me for advice.

Well, I got on the bus the other day, sat down in a window seat and prepared for a sorely needed, deep sleep. But just as I was drifting off into Never-Never-Land, I heard a male voice say, "I'm so glad that no one took this seat before I did." Huh?

I opened one eye, hoping that it was Captain Hook and I had arrived at my intended destination after all. No go. I recognized my new seat-mate as a grad student named Matt, who got married last year and moved in across the street.

"Really," was my profound response, as I opened my other eye.

Luckily, Matt took no notice of my valiant efforts to re-access the world of the woken.

"Yeah, really. There's a question I've been wanting to ask you."

"Shoot," I answered, now fully with-it.

"Why is marriage so complicated?"

I was somewhat taken aback. "Who told you it is?"

Matt looked at me as if I'd just arrived from another planet (actually, I had). "What do you mean? No one has to tell me.

I've been married for over a year now, and I know it for myself."

I felt the painful twinge inside that I always feel when these young couples come to me for advice after being married for such a short time. "OK, so I'll rephrase the question. What makes you feel that it's so complicated?"

"Everything!"

"Could you be a bit more specific?"

Matt was getting a bit frustrated. "You're the marriage counselor. You should know what makes marriage complicated more than I do!"

"Matt, I don't think that marriage is so complicated. Actually, I don't think it's very complicated at all." Matt wasn't thrilled with my answer. "If marriage weren't so complicated, you'd be out of a job."

I smiled. "You have it backwards. People come to me because they've made their marriages complicated, and I have to un- complicate it for them."

Now it was Matt's turn. "Huh?"

"Let me tell you something, Matt. Marriage is not deep, and it's not complicated. I'll tell you what it is: it's hard. It takes effort. But it's not complicated."

Matt thought about that for a second, then asked, "Well, then, why are the divorce statistics so high?"

I sighed. "Honestly? Because people aren't always willing to work hard."

Matt disagreed. "With all due respect, I think you're wrong. When Laurie and I got married, I told myself that no way are we going to become another statistic. But, to be honest, things aren't going so well. And I'm thinking, ‘So many couples are divorcing. Why did I think I would be any different?'"

"So then why do you think it's hard?"

"Just look at the statistics. They're totally against you."

"Matt, marriage isn't hard because the statistics are against you."

He just looked at me. I felt bad for him.

"Look, you're a grad student, right?"

"Yeah."

"OK. Let's say that I'm the professor, and you have to take my course. So you come in, everyone sits down and then I say, "Welcome to my course. Before we begin, I just want you all to know in advance that some of you will fail this course. Most of you are not going to do well. The amount of students who are going to get good grades is minimal. What are you going to think about my course? I'll tell you. You're gonna say, ‘Man, these odds are terrible. I'm getting' outta here.' Right?" Matt laughed. "You bet."

I continued. "But what if I told you that 100% of the students who failed, didn't study, and 100% of the students who studied got good grades? Would you still quit?"

"No way."

I looked him in the eye and said, "Matt, it's the same thing with marriage. The statistics look horrible. The odds are against you. But I'm telling you that 100% of the people who put their all into it have great marriages. It's not deep. It's not complicated. And the only reason it's hard is that you have to really want it. You have to be prepared to work for it. You have to get used to not being selfish. And all of that is hard. But it's worth it. Understand that a good marriage comes from focusing on the other person's needs more than on your own, on taking care of your partner and letting your partner take care of you."

I could see that Matt was letting it sink in. "All of that makes sense. But then why is there so much marriage advice out there?"

"Because people are looking for deep and complicated answers. You know, I once did a Google search on the words ‘marriage advice.' Just for the fun of it. Guess how many references came up?"

"How many?" Matt grinned.

"18,100,000."

"What?!"

"You heard me. 18,100,000. And I looked at some of the sites. Some of them were good, some were inane, and some were downright harmful. But none of the ones I saw told the truth: That marriage isn't deep or complicated. You just have to want it. You just have to be committed to showing your spouse that you love her, in every way. And she'll respond, Matt. Anyone who's not disturbed responds to love. Laurie's not disturbed. She's probably looking for deep and complicated answers, just like you are."

"Were," Matt smiled.

I grinned back at him. But as the bus approached my stop, I realized that I had left out an important point. Hurriedly I said, "Now, that doesn't mean that there's nothing to say about marriage. There are all kinds of what I call ‘enhancers' that can help you make your marriage great. But they're all based on the same idea: You have to decide that this is the most important thing in your life. You have to be ready to sacrifice, to be a giver, to stop being selfish. It's hard. But it's so worth it. Because the ironic thing about marriage is that the more selfless you are, the more you put the other person first, the more self-satisfying your marriage will be."

I said goodbye to Matt, and got off the bus.

A week later I got a card in the mail. It read: "Marriage may not be complicated, but ours is now deeper than ever before...in love. Thanks for showing us the true odds. Matt and Laurie."

This article is based on and adapted from Rabbi Shimon Green's audio presentation from Keep The Ring.





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