Sunday, August 15, 2010

Successful Marriages

An article published in last week’s intrigued me. The title or the article is: Do more intelligent women have a harder time getting married? The article went on to give some great advice about dating people with intelligence disparities.

Should intelligence disparities be a factor when setting people up? I think it should. But as the article suggests two people do not have to have equal IQs in order to click. There are so many factors that goes into choosing one’s life partner that it can intimidate people right out of considering marriage at all.

My wife and I have unfortunately been unsuccessful at making any Shiduchim. Not for a lack of trying. It’s just that they never seem to work out. Far be it from me to try and talk two people into continuing a relationship. But sometimes I wonder if we do not give up too easily. And just how much compatibility is needed? What are the basics that will enable a relationship to flower into a successful marriage?

I can’t really answer that question. But I thought I might put together a list of items that I feel are basic requirements for a successful marriage.

Not that it is impossible to have a wonderful life together when two people do not have that much in common. I know of plenty of successful marriages where people will say about them, ‘Who put them together – they’re so different!’ But I think that is more the exception than the rule. And it’s also very likely that there are compatibilities between them that are not apparent to the naked eye.

Which characteristics are important? I can only answer in my own biased way. What is important to me may not be important to others. Off the top of my head - here is my list.

Values. I believe this is the single most important factor in successful marriages. If a couple does not share the same basic values - the marriage is doomed from the start. Everything else is of little consequence in relationship to that. This does not mean there can’t be differences. Indeed it is almost impossible to meet someone whose values are identical to your own. But the core values have to be the same. Other value differences need to be the same but ought to be respected. They need not impede a good future for this couple.

Maturity. If it isn’t a core value than compromise will prevail - with give and take on both sides. That takes a certain degree of maturity. And that is a very important factor too. Letting your spouse win a non core value dispute will go a long way toward enhancing the marital relationship.

Religious observance. The level of religious observance should be more or less the same. And there should be willingness to compromise in either direction by both sides – as long as a leniency doesn’t violate Halacha and a stringency doesn’t cause undue hardship.

Hashkafos. These are important too. But there is a bit more latitude here. For example I don’t think there is anything wrong with a right wing modern Orthodox male dating a moderate Charedi female – or vice versa. At the same time I would not put a left wing modern Orthodox male with a very Charedi female.

Raisning children. The philosophy of raising children is an important factor too. A couple should have a more or less common approach to raising them. Such as what kind of disciplinary measures to use. There should also be a common approach to educating children with more or less common goals for them. If for example one parent wants their son to be a Charedi Gadol and the other would like him to be a university educated professional, there are going to be big problems. Of course this relates to Hashkafos too.

Personality. It is always a good idea to have similar personalities. They need not be identical but they ought to be ‘ballpark’. I would not for example put together a cheapskate with a spendthrift.

On the other hand I have seen many couples where one is somewhat introverted and the other is a bit more extroverted. As long as there is room for compromise that shouldn’t be too much of a problem. On the other hand if one is so shy that they shun all social contact and the other is a people person, that could cause huge problems.

Physical attraction. This is a very important factor and in no way should be over-looked. If one is not attracted to a potential mate, the relationship should end there. There has to be at least some physical attraction for any marriage to succeed.

Intelligence. As noted above intelligence should not be a factor if the differences are not to great. I would generally not put a genius together with person who has a below average IQ. But as long as there can be intelligent conversation between the two, it should not be a problem. It’s probably never a good idea to measure even one’s own IQ anyway. What’s the point?

Knowledge. This is a tricky one. And I may come off as sexist here – although I don’t mean to be. If a woman knows substantially more than the man she is dating that it will embarrass him. I would not put them together. On the other hand the reverse is not necessarily true – to a point. For some reason which I admit is not entirely fair, society is more accepting of a man knowing more than his wife than it is of a woman knowing more than her husband. And societal attitudes do impact on the way people behave.

Not that the knowledge has to be equal. That is a virtual impossibility anyway. Not that a man cannot marry a woman who is a bit more knowledgeable than he is. But if the disparity is too great the marriage will never work in my view. The reverse however is not as true. A man can be significantly more knowledgeable than his wife and they will both feel fine with it. But if the disparity is too great it will not work either.

Shared interests. If the areas of interest are radically different, there can be no real relationship. How can there be? There will never be any shared time together. One must be able to be friends with one’s spouse and that can only happen when there are shared interests.

There are some exceptions to this I think. If a man is very knowledgeable in one area to the exclusion of his wife and his wife is knowledgeable in another area to the exclusion of her husband -that can work fine. It is all about feelings of inferiority. As long as neither spouse feels inferior to the other such knowledge of disparate subjects can even be a plus.

These are some of my random thoughts. I’m sure there are many exceptions. I’m absolutely certain I missed out on a few important components that will make for a successful marriage. And I’m equally sure I missed out on a few points that can sabotage a marriage. But I hope the ones I did point out make sense.