15 Kislev 5781 / Tuesday, December 01, 2020 | Torah Reading: Vayishlach
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Growing Up Together    

Growing Up Together

No other person in life will provide you with so many opportunities for personal growth, not even your kids! After they leave home, you'll still be there with that one person...


It's so interesting to get a glimpse of what God may be thinking. I see it with married couples. Like who in their right mind would put these two people together? And of course, it was Hashem.


My marriage is no different. Even my kids wonder how it came about. “Ma hakesher between you and Abba?” they once asked. (What's the connection?)


The answer is that my husband has the key to my soul's desire, which is to heal itself, to repair its mistakes and to become whole in its service of God.


We all need a partner who is going to poke at our insecurities, challenge our preconceived ideas and make us crazy until we learn to understand each other. With God's help that will get us the results we want. And even in troubled marriages that do not work out, tremendous spiritual growth is possible.


It is crucial to understand that marriage is supposed to be challenging. That doesn't mean that something is wrong, it means that you have to put on your thinking caps and get busy relating in a more productive way. Look at arguments as opportunities to refine your communication skills.


As my father used to say, “Everyone needs someone to fight with.” My father and mother were a mismatched pair if I ever saw one but very happy most of the time. However, their marriage came after a lot of thought on my father's part so when I was dating I asked him, “Daddy why did you choose Mom to marry? What was it about her you admired so much?”


“Her looks,” he answered.


“DAD!” I replied.


I made a shiva call this morning to a man whose wife died last week. They had been married over sixty years and had raised three children.


My daughters made a shiva (condolence) call a few days ago. Their friend's husband died suddenly during a flight to Miami. The couple had been married just over sixty days and was going on a belated honeymoon.


Don't ever take your spouse for granted. Who knows how long you will be together?


No other person in your life will provide you with so many stimulating opportunities for personal growth, not even your kids, because after they leave home (G-d willing) you will still be there with the one person who's got your number and can drive you up the wall.


Ideally we grow up with our spouses. We start out as immature youngsters and hopefully end up as astute senior citizens. Together we can go through so many stages of growth and development. God willing our love deepens and becomes more refined as well. It's an ongoing process - you are never too old to have your maturity level tested and your priorities redefined.


Yet with a devoted spouse you are forever young. A part of you will always be youthful if the romance can survive the vicissitudes of life.


No one can make me feel young the way my husband can. He looks at me and says he sees the same young woman he met forty years ago. He can also make me act young. Sometimes when he offends me I have to control myself from smarting off like a teenager and stomping to my room. And there is always that urge to throw something if I suspect he's smirking.


On the other hand we can act really stupid together and it stays between us. Almost like having another identity.


The man I just visited had a complicated marriage. He was born in Spain and has a flamboyant and provocative personality. The life of the party, Benny was a successful businessman with loads of friends. His wife Evelyn was born in Germany. She was elegant, practical and low key. Their styles had clashed for most of their married life. When Benny had a stroke fifteen years ago Evelyn stepped in calmly and began taking over. It was very difficult because Benny hated being impaired and it made him bossy, irritable and even more stubborn than he normally was.


At the time, I ran a support group for women who were caring for husbands with handicaps and Evelyn used to complain how hard it was to gain her husband's co-operation in anything. He was depressed and she was often the target of his pain and frustration. She was exhausted and beginning to resent the burden of caring for him. She felt uncomfortable going swimming and to the library when he could not. He had never been an easy man but now he was impossible. She couldn't even take him anywhere because he wouldn't stop telling her how to drive.


We worked together to formulate a strategy for Evelyn. She slowly learned how to set limits with Benny and how to take care of herself. And slowly he came to let himself lean on her and to be grateful not only for her care but for her tolerance of his mood swings. In the end he accepted his limitations and rebuilt his life and she learned to live as a healthy woman, without guilt.


When Evelyn got sick everyone was surprised. She seemed so hearty compared to Benny, no one ever thought she would be the first to die. But by the time she did, she and Benny had reached a good place together. He had learned from her how to give and in the end he was there for her. He flirted and teased her and made her laugh until the very end. And the kids watched and were comforted. They knew that their parents' marriage had been far from perfect. But Benny's and Evelyn's differences had ceased to be a problem. They were united in their desire to spend the last years of their marriage happily. And they succeeded.


Your spouse can be the greatest catalyst for your spiritual growth if you allow it. Husbands and wives are gifts that keep on giving.


But you have to agree to grow.



* * *

Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen began her career as a Crisis Intervention Counselor in Silver Spring, Md. in the seventies. After moving to Israel, she worked as a marital mediator and social skills instructor for kids. Following the death of a son, Rebbitzen Channen became a certified bereavement counselor and worked with young mothers who had suffered loss. Most recently she worked at the Melabev Center for the memory-impaired, as an activity director and group facilitator for families coping with Dementia.  The Rebbitzen has written for numerous magazines and newspapers and recently led an interactive creative writing course called Connective Writing. Yehudit Channen is the wife of Rabbi Don Channen, Rosh Yeshiva of Keter HaTorah.  They are blessed to have nine children and many grandchildren and live in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Today, Rebbitzen Yehudit Channen is a certified Emuna Therapist for Breslev Israel.

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