What is The Marriage Initiative?
The Marriage Initiative is a program that aims to encourage better marriages through better education on the many facets of the subject.
How did the program begin?
Throughout my 25 years of teaching and following up with chassanim, I have seen many couples struggling with difficult situations. It is apparent to me that most of the problems men face are rooted in a lack of education about marriage and relationships. Earlier intervention and better education could have saved these men and their spouses from much pain and suffering. To help address this issue, The Marriage Initiative was formed about four years ago, working towards the goal of better marriages through better education.
What would you consider your specialty?
My specialty may simply be helping men understand relationships. So many men walk into a marriage under the assumption that “I’ve figured out lots of things – I can figure out this marriage thing, as well.” Some do, but many struggle. They are simply unfamiliar with a woman’s world, unfamiliar with the dynamics of the couple relationship, and try to apply the rules and concepts from their singlehood experience to an environment that responds to different approaches; and in which different, unfamiliar concepts apply. This can be very bewildering and frustrating.
I try to bridge that gap, to introduce men to the world of a woman and a relationship, allowing them to understand it and better apply their natural strengths and wisdom.
What should a person look for in a life partner?
A very important trait in a successful relationship is the ability to take responsibility for one’s own actions and issues. Someone who is constantly blaming others is unlikely to be willing to make the effort to work on the inevitable issues that arise in every marriage. Issues are not disasters, nothing is insurmountable as long as you have a partner who is willing to invest the effort to rise above it.
Additionally, someone who accepts responsibility is someone who will take care of their spouse.
What expectations should one have when going into a marriage?
Expect the unexpected! Marriage will be different than your preconceived notions. It will not necessarily be better or worse, but it will be different. The pictures we paint of what married life will be like are based on our general concept of marriage and what we know about our future spouse. Both of these assumptions are based on a lack of information! Most single people base their concept of marriage on media depictions and what they observe about their friends’ marriages. Media depictions of marriages are a definite fairy tale (or nightmare), and the reality of other peoples’ relationships takes place behind closed doors- one does not know anything about the true experience.
Our understanding of our spouse before marriage is largely based on the dating experience. When people are dating, they are focusing strongly on putting their best foot forward, we are generally seeing the best this person has to offer. That is not a sustainable situation- a spouse cannot be in “dating mode” throughout an entire marriage! Married life will be different than dating life. Keeping these two thoughts in mind will allow young married people to stay grounded and avoid unrealistic expectations and disappointment, a key component in the early days of a growing relationship.
What should a chosson and kallah do before the wedding, to best prepare for marriage?
It is vital to have a mentor. Beginnings can be challenging, and it is so important to have someone wise, trustworthy, and confidential with whom you can share concerns and fears. No one could take an office job in an unfamiliar field with no training or assistance, and be expected to figure everything out on his own. It should be plain that everyone needs someone to help “show the ropes” in the beginning. Yet, so many people walk into the most important time of their life, expecting to figure it out on their own. Some do, but many struggle. As a couple (or part of it) struggles in silence, challenges become entrenched, deeper, more painful, and more difficult from which to recover. When both members of the marriage have someone to talk to from the beginning, someone who can guide them through the early challenges, the initial bumps in the road can be navigated without too much damage or hurt.
Many newly married couples found themselves suddenly caged at home when coronavirus struck. How has that affected shalom bayis, and what would you advise couples struggling with quarantine?
I have found an interesting phenomena. Couples who had healthy shalom bayis before the lockdown reported that they really enjoyed Corona time at home with their spouse. Couples who had rocky or strained relationships found that coronavirus quarantine exasperated a painful situation. I think that the corona era presents a powerful diagnostic tool for a marriage. It helps bring problems into focus, showing couples the underlying strength or weaknesses in their relationships, and revealing what needs work. Coronavirus is an opportunity for a marriage, smart couples will grow from the experience. The collapse of schedules also provides time and opportunity for those in need to seek help.
What would you say is the secret to a good marriage?
We need to remember that a person needs to “check-in” before they “check out.” Take a good, hard look at yourself, and ask yourself what you can do better. Don’t focus on changing or finding fault in your spouse- look for the changes you can make in yourself. Trying to change others is a frustrating, insulting, and painful experience. Oneself is the place to start. And when one makes improvements in himself, the cycle of mutual understanding is launched. It is the best way to see changes happen in others.
Criticism makes people defensive, not different. Blaming one’s spouse is likely to start a bitter argument while vowing to do better is likely to bring reconciliation.
How can couples work on long-term strength in a marriage? Sometimes, people are happy initially, but later complain that their “spouse has changed,” or is “no longer the same person they married.” What would you say is the key to keeping a marriage strong?
Chazal tell us, “All beginnings are difficult.” Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zt”l, was asked: Beginnings are usually when things are easiest! The first daf of a masechta is usually the one best learned – what did Chazal mean? Rav Scheinberg answered that the true beginning is when difficulty sets in. Until the trouble starts, one has not yet begun!
Couples that appear to be very happy in the early days of marriage may be confusing happiness with infatuation. Infatuation can be fun while it lasts; but it is invariably short-lived, and when it fades, the challenges set in.
These challenges are not a sign of existential trouble or problems, it is a sign of the maturity of the relationship, the passing from the stage of infatuation to real connection. Infatuation is not a basis for a real relationship, and it must transition to a truer, deeper connection. A real connection needs two real people, who are able to slowly reveal their whole self and be loved and accepted for whom they are.
How can readers access your classes?
During non-pandemic times, I traveled to the US to present classes about once in two months. These included one-on-one classes as well as group series’, with a new series beginning each trip and existing ones receiving continued installments. I also held continued classes via Zoom or other similar platforms. I have spoken for Chazaq and other organizations and events, some of these presentations can be found on themarriageinitiative.org.
The website also includes letters of recommendation from Rav Noach Orlowek and Dr. David Pelcovitz; as well as other information.
Do you have a final message for our readers?
Shalom bayis is worth the investment and effort! The Steipler said that 50% of chinuch is shalom bayis (the rest is tefilla). Even one who does not yet have children, or has an empty nest, stands to gain greatly from improved shalom with his spouse. If your shalom bayis is good, make it better! If it isn’t, invest whatever you can fix it- it’s possible, and it’s worth it.
Rabbi Weisberg is the Director of The Marriage Initiative, which aims to facilitate greater Shalom Bayis through in depth hadracha. Rabbi Weisberg teaches hadracha to Chassanim as well as newly married men who never got proper hadracha. Rabbi Weisberg lives in Israel, but also gives classes over Zoom and tries to visit the US frequently. One can find out more by going to themarriageinitiative.org or by emailing Rabbi Weisberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org