Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Unhappiness Rate in the Frum Community

I've heard the orthodox Jewish community lauded to non-Jews and non-frum Jews alike for the fact that the divorce rate is far lower in the community than it is in the secular world (where it approaches 50%). People suggest that the rest of the world should take a lesson from us on how to be a good spouse, and maybe this could lower the secular divorce rate. If only they could look at a frum family and see the way the husband and wife interact - or so the argument goes.

I argue things aren't so peachy.

I'll be the first one to tell you that I have no statistics to back up my thoughts; only personal experiences and stories from others. While there is no doubt the divorce rate in the frum community is significantly lower than it is in the rest of the world, I (and many others who predate me) argue that the unhappiness rate among frum couples is at least that of the non-frum world, if not higher. I believe the only reason that our divorce rate isn't at the level of the rest of the world is because, in the frum community, there is a tremendous stigma against divorce. We are taught that marriage is REALLY "till death do us part", and those who do divorce can be viewed as outcasts, aside from the obvious fact that it decreases the chance of getting another shidduch significantly.

So why all of the unhappy marriages? I believe that this is the case because frum people allow themselves to be influenced by too many outside sources, and are concerned with things far too petty. Essentially, potentially good marriages are "aborted" before they are even "born" because a compatible couple often never makes it to the first date. The family isn't wealthy enough? Forget it, you can't date him/her. The family will only give X amount of dollars in support, instead of 2X? Forget it. Their uncle went off the derech? Forget it, you can't date him. Ba'al/Ba'alat Teshuva? Haha, good one - forget it. The mother doesn't cover her hair? Forget it, you can't date him/her. She takes a hip-hop dancing class? Forget it, she's not tznius.

It's obvious that one needs someone of a similar hashkafa and outlook on life. However, all of the aforementioned reasons that dates get cancelled say absolutely NOTHING about the person themselves or their current situation. Sure, maybe her mother doesn't cover her hair, but maybe her daughter says "Tehillim B'Simcha", making her one of the frummest people in town (jest). Too often are potentially compatible people not allowed to date one another, for reasons entirely outside the scope of the individuals themselves. And thus, we have people that date because their families and their shadchanim want them to; we have people that date because both families use a white table cloth on Shabbos; and we have people who date because their families are both willing to give X amount of dollars. All this, on top of the fact that there is such pressure to get married (more so for girls) upon returning from Israel, leads, many times, to young kids getting married to people that their parents want them to as much as they want to. Unfortunately, at 19 or 20, I believe the communal pressure to get married, combined with the parental pressure to date a certain person can cloud a person's mind to marry someone that may not necessarily be the best fit for them. All in all, it is plausible that their bashert was lost in the tablecloth, money, or yichus "shidduch filters".

Ahh, but you say, "Hashem will provide", or, "Have Emunah and Bitachon that Hashem will help couples on their path." Why don't you take that tell that to couples whose children see them fight on a nightly basis that they need to have Bitachon; why don't you take that Bitachon to the women at the CHANA shelters and tell them that they need to have some? Frankly, take that Bitachon and shove it. Now, I'm all for believing in Hashem, don't get me wrong. What I'm not into is relying on Bitachon alone instead of making sure that our teenagers (!) are marrying people that they want to marry and not people that the community or their parents want them to marry. A little hishtadlus on our part would go a long way; don't be so petty about turning down shidduchim, and don't tell a girl she's "over the hill" at 23 or else all you'll have left is Bitachon (sans a happy marriage and well-adjusted children).


Blogger aishel said...

Regarding the Bitachon issue, I highly recommend you read the book Off the Derech by Faranak Margolese. She says over and over again that the only way to send the appropriate message to your kids is if you believe in that message yourself. If you're going to expect your kids to have bitachon, you have to truly have bitachon yourself. If you have any doubts, even if you don't express them, those doubts are still transmitted to your kids.

Darn, I forgot where I was going with this.

Either way, is it really that common that people will be fighting at night over bitachon? I agree that people fight over trivial things such as if they cover their tablecloths with plastic or by asking what size waist the mother is (really happened). But is this the root cause for unhappiness?

I'll agree that the first year of marriage is probably the hardest. This is when the couple is getting to know each other and when you're not used to the others upbringing. Almost every married couple I've talked to told me that the first year was very difficult. But once you can iron out all those details, I think it leads to much more happiness.

7:51 AM, July 18, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

I'm sorry if I wasn't being clear, but I wasn't saying that parents argue at night over bitachon. My point about bitachon was that it isn't fair for parents or communities to screen potential suitors so vigorously and put pressure on youngsters to date at a young age, with the excuse that "everything will work out because we have Bitachon in Hashem." This, I believe, is the problem.

Bitachon is something we believe in and rely on, but only when the proper hishtadlus is done beforehand. Simply relying on bitachon isn't enough.

8:37 AM, July 18, 2006

Anonymous peninah said...

I agree with Alan on the Bitachon issue. Bitachon is a necessary thing in life- especially when things get difficult-whether it be illness, money issues, or marital/child problems. But all the Bitachon in the world will not help if the slightest bit of hishtadlus is not put in. It is a great foundation to help us get through the hishtadlus we put into our every day lives, but Bitachon will not pay the bills, it will not rectify a marriage, and it will not keep your children healthy, happy and on the derech.

8:56 AM, July 18, 2006

Blogger Danny the Manny said...

There are certain issues where I try hard to understand the other side. It's a struggle at times to put aside my preconceived notions and opinion in order to view the issue from a different perspective. In fact, I recently heard a dvar torah reflecting this difficulty: to truly understand a machloket in the gemara, the person said, you must first establish your position on the matter. After that, you have to work to understand why the other side believes what they do so much so that you become eventually convinced to join their side and you wonder why you ever beleived the other way in the first place. Too often, we fail to meet these standards as we form our opinions and merely label anyone from the other viewpoint to be "an idiot."

It's important for all of us to try to reach that level both in learning and in life, as we can eliminate so much bickering just through understanding the other side better.

That being said, this is not one of those issues. I don't see the other side on this issue because I don't consider it "real." Granted, there are those who would argue with AlanLaz over his hierarchical system of values that led him to post this. It's not just that I agree with AlanLaz here, but I don't accept the other side of this issue to possess any type of "values." A person who rejects or dismisses AlanLaz's stated opinion here must do some real soul-searching to discover why his or her life is devoid of sensitivity, compassion, kindness and forgiveness. Someone who holds those "values" true is, in my opinion, not a Torah Jew. Therefore, I'm willing to accept that people out there may exist on the other side, but I dismiss their opinions as nonsense. To argue against what is presented here is to entirely miss the point of not just Judaism, but religion as an institution to better people's lives and to grant them hope.

10:43 AM, July 18, 2006

Anonymous Sara said...

I agree with basically everything you have said except
I believe the only reason that our divorce rate isn't at the level of the rest of the world is because, in the frum community, there is a tremendous stigma against divorce.

I really don't feel divorce is such a stigma; many young divorcees are marrying again, relatively quickly, and mostly to never-marrieds. I think the biggest obstacle to a woman seeking a divorce is the agunah issue and how her husband can wield so much power over her. There are so many horror stories out there...

12:36 PM, July 18, 2006

Anonymous Elise said...

Excellent post!

Ba'al/Ba'alat Teshuva? Haha, good one - forget it. (Can relate)

12:50 PM, July 18, 2006

Blogger Jewboy said...

You have some god points. I must say that most of the couples I know seem to be happy. Of course, it is true that one never knows wha tgoes on behind closed doors. There are the horror stories. I've heard of several young Jewish couples getting divorced after one or two years. One of these cases was people who were high school sweethearts and had been married for around five years when the husband cheated on his wife. they are no longer married. I also heard of a girl from my hometown who was dating a guy very seriously when the guy's parents informed her parents that in order for the shidduch to proceed, they would have to provide $3,000 a year for the first three years. To me, this would likely have been reason to call it off, but shockingly, the girl's older sister anted up and agreed to provide the money. So this kind of stuff exists, I just don't know if it's so prevalent that we can say a lot of Jewish marriages are unhappy.

1:21 PM, July 18, 2006

Blogger AlanLaz said...

Sara - it just seems to me that you never really hear much about divorces in town - they're kept pretty hush hush and unspoken of. I assume this is because of a stigma, although divorcees certain can and do get remarried. Perhaps the divorcees bashert is out there, but the suitor's parents may not let them date the divorcee simply because of the divorce.

Jewboy - the only comment here is that, like you say, we have no idea what goes on behind closed doors.

1:50 PM, July 18, 2006

Anonymous Greg said...

It worries me somewhat that you are posting this after having driven my wife to work...I hope she wasn't complaining about me (again).

1:21 AM, July 19, 2006

Blogger SephardiLady said...

I posted this elsewhere, but it relates here so:

I personally don't want my own daughters to date straight out of seminary. I used to be a proponent of young marriage, but I think that for most people the life experience that is built while learning a trade/college and the life experience that is built while in the working work is valuable for learning more about oneself and learning how to "read" other people.

It seems that a lot of the failed marriages (and unfortunately failed marriages don't just happen to the very young) fail because of important factors that were overlooked or ignored.

Our children need to learn how to communicate in order to date. They need to learn how to deal with each other face-to-face. And, they need to learn to read in between the lines and not accept everything at face value.

Research cannot replace face-to-face interaction and communication, and it is mistake to try and (over)research to keep the dating process as short as possible in this day and age. I believe couples are better served by long hard discussions between themselves about a variety of topics (religious, family, children, financial), before engagement and during engagement.

As for Aishel's comment about the first year of marriage being the hardest. . . I actually had the opposite experience and found the first year relatively easy. But, we were a bit older and more established, and had dated longer, which may have contributed. I can't say things are at all difficult now, but once kids are in the picture, there is more to discuss and work out on that front.

8:28 AM, July 19, 2006

Anonymous Anonymous said...

For young couples that get married without extensive dating experiences the first year is definately the hardest. While dating and engagement are wonderful and blissful they are far removed from the realities of living with somene of the opposite sex on a daily basis (especially if you are fresh out of yeshiva/college dorm life). Young couples need to be taught that it takes tremendous effort, focus, and sensitivity to REALLY get to know and understand a spouse. It is also important for couples to be allowed (by parents and siblings) the proper space needed to develop and cultivate the relationship. The best advice I heard before I got married was "You won't know what true love is untill you are married for 10 years" While that number is obviously different for all, the concept is profound.

9:59 AM, July 19, 2006

Blogger SephardiLady said...

Well, I wouldn't call our engagement blissful. We had to negotiate a lot between the parents regarding the wedding and coordinate a lot of things.

I know that there is a theory that the engagement should be as easy as possible for the couple (Read Rabbi Falk's book, The Chossen and Kallah during Engagement), so as to prevent unnecessary fighting and break-ups.

I guess I take the opposite approach which is let the couple go face to face and have a part of planning their future lives during the dating and engagement periods, at the risk of an unnecessary break-up.

Unfortunately, I've seen a number of quick divorces now and I think it is an honest question to ask if the dating period was different, if these couples would have discovered sooner, rather than later, that they were not cut out for each other.

3:42 PM, July 19, 2006

Blogger The Fades said...

i know nothing about marriage or women.

1:10 PM, July 30, 2006


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