Since the late 60s and early 70s, we've been living in a "me generation," which breeds and idolizes selfishness and egocentrism. People are commonly blinded to the impact of their behavior on another human being. Society's values are materialistic, which diminishes human priorities and human worth, and makes people callous, contemptuous and insensitive. Human qualities and virtues are overlooked or disparaged. We lose sight of - and drift far away from - "basics" such as warmth, tenderness, courtesy, consideration, responsibility, integrity and the ability to care about another person.
What person goes to school to learn - and what school offers to effectively teach - the fine art of being a human being and the fine art of being a "marriageable entity?"
We are bombarded with societal values and influences. We are fast-paced, stressed, tense, self-indulgent and impatient. We want instant, effortless and total gratification. We throw away disposable containers when we're done with them. We throw away disposable people when we're done with them. We're highly efficient, expedient, pragmatic and functional. So are our relationships.
A good Torah education is designed to instil good values, attitudes, behavior and character traits. Some educations are better than others, and each individual has the free choice to assimilate or resist the good qualities and behavior that even the best education could instil. To the extent that one receives a good Torah education, to the extent that that education penetrates effectively and to the extent the the individual works on refinement, the individual can be insulated and saved from the negative and alien forces of society.
In Torah observant circles, males and females are kept apart because of modesty and morality codes. So, children grow up learning that males and females mean: parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers. That's it.
Boys go to yeshiva. Being boys, they rough-house. A boy slams his "shtender" (book podium) and calls his learning partner an "idiot" for proposing or understanding a different p'shat (meaning) in the Talmud. He sleeps on the top bed of the yeshiva dormitory bunk bed and when he climbs down, he thinks nothing of putting his foot into the mouth of his sleeping roommate on the lower bed. Boys will be boys. One fine day, this same fellow is declared ready for marriage. He now has a new roommate. No one told him not to slam the shtender, scream "idiot" or put his foot into her mouth. No one told him that wife-roommates are different from yeshiva-roommates.
Girls go to Bais Yakov schools. They chit-chat to no end with the other girls. They marvel over a recipe or a flower or a hair style or a dress. They are taught that men are things that you can't touch nor be alone with. No one told them that boys can't go on for hours about a recipe or a flower or a hair style or a dress. No one told her that boys are rough creatures that slam shtenders and carry on. No one told her that boys think nothing of dropping socks on a livingroom floor and all they say to anyone who complains about it is, "What's the big deal?"
These boys and girls have no idea of what the other is. They have no preparation for dealing with the reality of the other. They are not taught how to be together. We take one of these boys and one of these girls, bring them, unsuspecting of the adventure that's in store for them, to a chupa (wedding canopy) and say, "Have a nice life!"
And to the extent that there is any failing or weakness in the individual being refined by a good Torah education, the less "equipment" there is for the necessary "bridge-building."
Avoid the lines! Make your reservations early at divorce court!
As if ill-preparation weren't enough, what about when there are psychological problems? Some of the issues that effect marriage (partner selection and/or behaviors) include:
* fears (e.g. rejection, disapproval, failure, danger),
* compulsive disorders,
* narcissistic disorder,
* blindness or callousness to the injurious effect of one's
behavior on a spouse,
* excessive shyness or introversion,
* emotionally closed up,
* non-expressive of feelings,
* and others.
Divorced, absent or dysfunctional parents can typically be, in some form or fashion, the origin of these problems. Among the causalities in parents that can effect the ability of offspring to select and maintain a serious relationship include:
* providing no role model for "sticking it out" or building a
strong and wholesome marriage relationship,
* vicious and punitive abuse,
* emotional rejection or disapproval,
* meddling into the marriages of their children,
* tension between the parents,
* non-responsiveness between the parents,
* holocaust survivors with emotions or personality functions
severely damaged during the Nazi era,
* a substance abuse (e.g. alcoholic),
* emotionally unavailable,
* physically unavailable (workaholic, father works out of town
fairly steadily, one or both parents deceased and surrogate caretaker[s] cannot adequately emotionally compensate, non-custody parent lives far away after divorce, etc.),
* focus on externals in raising their children,
* fighting / hostility between the parents signalling that
marriage is terrifying, adversarial, repugnant, not worth bother nor the loss of freedom and privacy,
* inadequate emotional nurturance and support,
* inadequate psychological validation,
* violence causing emotional trauma
* and others.
Then, besides the psychological spheres, other factors - such as character or relating deficiencies - that can effect marriage partner selection, behavior and/or "track record" among spouses include:
* actively selfish (want to be a taker),
* passively selfish (refrain from being a giver),
* thoughtlessness / inconsideration,
* values leave too little room for considering a spouse
precious and deserving of care, time and effort,
* never having been trained how to be a mentsh,
* can't deal with male-female differences,
* uncontrolled temper,
* unrealistically high or egocentric expectations,
* can't handle religious observance-level or religious-
* refuse to face or work on personal shortcomings,
* refuse to go for outside professional help as needed,
* and others.
These and other character, emotional and societal ills have been growing more and more widespread, coming out of the closet, and seeping into the Jewish world. At singles events, growing numbers of the attendees are divorced. Children of divorce and children in homes with unhappy marriages are growing up with varying degrees of psychological problems, owing directly to the unavailability of a normal, secure, nurturing, functional and healthy family environment.
The kind of home a child grows up in plays a considerable part in forming the kind of home that the child has when he grows up. The children grow up with anger, resentment, guilt, "institutionalized (i.e. sanctioned) immaturity," emotional suffering, diminished self-concept, mistrust, love starvation, cynicism, impatience, intolerance, superficiality, bitterness, self-centeredness, relating difficulties, defensiveness, rejection, tension, anxiety, inner lonliness (which relationship can't sooth), social clumsiness, abruptness, etc.
Now that the "relationship crisis" is in its second generation, and the commonness of divorce almost gives it a tinge of legitimacy (or, at least, it's something "normal," or it's OK to rush into without hesitation or deliberation), I see children growing up from divorced or troubled homes.
I know one woman who has been divorced twice. Both former husbands were quite rough on her and were quite poor. Since neither divorce left her with any financial settlement of consequence, she is basically broke. And, she is quite skeptical about men and marriage. She is sending a daughter to college so that the daughter can learn a profession. Why? She expects that when the daughter gets married, she can anticipate getting divorced, and after the divorce, she is going to have to support herself! The daughter MUST learn a profession. With this conditioning, what do you think that daughter's mind-set about marriage is going to be?
To be sure, not every child from an "imperfect" marriage is damaged or disabled. For sure, not every child with difficulties necessarily comes from a broken home. I have seen cases in which children of divorce or children who are missing a parent turn out to be well-adjusted. The caretaking parent, in such cases, went to great length and unselfishly sacrificed to provide security and to protect the child(ren) from the ills that arise out of a bitter divorce or out of widowhood.
In any event, home life generally does leave its mark - for good and for bad. All other things being equal, it is a significant factor. I see angry, maladjusted, unhappy, confrontational, insecure children who are growing up into a crop of candidates for divorce or for a marital misery-factory. Just add time and a chupa.