As a divorce attorney for over a decade, I spent most of my married life under the misconception that I had a successful marriage. After all, I was never the one on the other side of the attorney’s desk seeking a divorce or being divorced. On the contrary, I was the sagely attorney advising my misdirected clients how to see beyond their wants and desires and focus on their children or to let go of their anger and desire for revenge.
Almost daily clients came through my office complaining that they no longer love their spouse, the spark is gone or their life lacks excitement – all of which, of course, was their spouse’s fault. Some clients were in a rush to legally severe their marriage, so they could marry their new soul mate who was definitely “The One” (these were, of course, repeat customers). In order to gain cooperation in expediting the divorce process, these people would suddenly become kind, generous and giving and very accommodating to their soon-to-be ex-spouse. This always left me wondering, “If you have the ability to be Mr. or Mrs. Nice Guy to your spouse, why not just employ this attitude in your current marriage and build a successful, happy life together.” However, I was always jolted into “reality” when my client would explain to me that this new mate was a match made in Heaven (To this day, I am convinced that these clients had directional dyslexia and confused Heaven for He--).
Speaking of purgatory……….one afternoon a potential client walked into my office dressed like she just came from a festive ball at the local cemetery. No, it wasn’t Halloween (or even Purim); she was a genuine Satan worshipper sporting a lovely triple 6 tattoo to round out her ensemble. She was very concerned about losing custody of her children to her soon-to-be ex-husband due to the court not looking favorably upon her chosen religion. I told her that visions of live animal sacrifices and other macabre rituals could certainly be an obstacle in gaining custody, and Catholicism would certainly make the judge feel more comfortable. She apparently was not prepared to give up such a fine deity for her children and, needless to say, did not retain my services.
The monster movie theme continued when one of my clients hired me to obtain a restraining order against her husband who was allegedly abusing their children. Although her complaints seemed believable, imagine my surprise when she told the judge that if her husband is left alone with the children he will suck their blood (not all of their blood, mind you, just a little snack). When the judge inquired of my client the basis for her belief, she looked at him incredulously and explained to him very matter-of-factly that her husband is a vampire and craves blood. Well, the judge must have been wearing his cross and garlic scented after shave because he didn’t seem too worried about Count Dracula being in his courtroom. Thank G-d he was a vampire and not a werewolf because I don’t think any of the guards at the court house had a silver bullet. (Funny - my client never seemed too worried about her blood sucking husband while they were living together all those years. Maybe he was in VA – Vampire’s Anonymous - while they were together, so he was able to control his cravings. Or maybe she was just trying to punish him by taking away the kids, even though that would be purely selfish and vindictive.)
As you can see, most of my clients were full-fledged, card carrying members of the Me Generation, where marriage is simply a disposable arrangement for fulfilling one’s own desires, so it never really dawned on me that my marriage only seemed successful because my measuring stick was grossly contorted. After all, at least I cared about the needs of my wife and children (well, at least in theory).
Then about five or six years ago, I bought a book from Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt'l, on marriage called “A Career of Happiness”. In the back of a book was a section entitled "The Ten Commandments of Marriage", and as I read each commandment, I found myself repeatedly saying, "Well, I blew that one." The fact that I did not have a perfect marriage was no surprise but the extent of the imperfection was quite an eye opener. From then on I resolved that I would improve as a husband and a person, and I really meant it.
The problem was, I had no idea how to correct what I was doing wrong or why my actions were improper. I had a Rebbi who constantly told me to treat my wife special and always do little things for her that showed you were thinking about her. Unfortunately, I had no idea what my wife wanted and life always seemed to get in the way.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't conducting my life like a blind man wildly flailing his cane in a china shop. I knew that in order to improve as a person I had to become kinder, more giving, more caring and less self centered, and I was improving on those things. Unfortunately, I still had no idea what my wife wanted. When I thought I was doing something good for the family, like learning or working extra, or trying to make helpful suggestions to my wife about parenting, running the house or hashkafa issues, well it often had a negative effect on my marriage. I knew I wasn't perfect but I truly thought that if only my wife would understand me or see things my way, things would really improve. And as an attorney by profession, I was always out to prove my case and I was not going to lose to my "adversary", especially if she was wrong and would certainly benefit from seeing the "truth". What I didn't realize is that my wife understood and saw way more than I ever did and was the one who contributed most to the stability and peace in the home.
One night I purchased a book called "The Garden of Peace - A Marital Guide For Men Only" by Rav Shalom Arush. This book transformed my marriage, my life and my relationship with Hashem. It laid out in simple and logical fashion a practical guide to shalom bayis based on two fundamental principles deeply rooted in the Torah. It was so simple but yet so deep, it seemed too good t be true. I started implementing these two principles and the results were almost immediate. My relationship with my wife was transformed- she became happier and more content and began to comment to her friends how nice I was treating her. She even encouraged me to keep reading the book and told all of her friends to buy the book for their husbands. I finally had real sustained peace in my home and the problems that used to constantly plague my marriage started to fade away.
I wanted to share the power of this book with everyone, so I started telling my friends and family about the book and encouraged them (and sometimes begged them to read it). However, I felt that I was not doing enough to help bring marital peace to every Jewish home. One day, Hashem put an idea into my head – to start a Va’ad Shalom Bayis, a group of married men dedicated to building a truly successful marriage using the Garden of Peace as the framework. This va’ad is a community for learning and growing that utilizes the strengths of the people in the group, both individually and collectively, to enhance each individual efforts for growth by focusing on strengthening and encouraging each member of the group towards reaching true marital peace.
During the va’ad sessions the group examines the purpose of marriage, the differences between men and women, the proper tools to attain shalom bayis, the exalted state of marriage, the benefits of shalom bayis and more. Most importantly, however, the group takes practical and concrete action towards improved shalom bayis by adopting and putting into action a simple and effective plan that can be implemented immediately.
It has now been nearly twelve weeks since the group began in Ramat Beit Shemesh, and thank G-d, the group members are really seeing a marked difference in their marital peace. True, some of their wives were a bit weirded out by the sudden appearance of compliments, attention and open displays of love and gratitude but they quickly became accustomed to it. In fact one of the wives asked her husband if she had stepped into the Twilight Zone. The group members also have developed a new strength of character that allows them to look beyond their desires and concentrate on the needs of their family. In short, each member has created a more positive, giving, intimate and loving relationship with his wife and ultimately with Hashem.
With the success of this first Va’ad Shalom Bayis group, I would like to share the gift of marital peace with others by starting other groups in Israel and around the world. If you are interested in joining one of the new groups that we are forming please contact me at email@example.com
. It is only one hour a week, but the benefits are immeasurable.