Not all of my relationship counseling is restricted to married couples. A part of my practical counseling work is with single couples who are trying to evaluate whether they are right for marriage to eachother. When single couples come for counseling, there are recurring issues which I see, and I believe writing about some of them will help couples who are confused, have mixed feelings about their prospects for marriage or a complex package of positives and negatives.
It is not unusual for couples to have differences. Mature people who can work through their differences can end up even closer and more attached than they were before. When there are differences, I am more concerned if their approach to differences is hostile (vicious, sabotaging, critical, malcontent, confrontational, unstable, explosive, punitive, etc.) or "resolution?oriented" (calm, peaceful, honest, compassionate, patient, supportive, compromising, respectful, etc.). Further, if differences appear which indicate to me that both partners want something from eachother which will help them both grow, I take this as a good sign that the couple can be "basherte" because this means they each can bring eachother to "shlaimus (completeness as a human being), which is an important component of healthy marriage.
One of the techniques I use to advise singles who find it difficult to decide who to marry is to make a thorough and brutally honest inventory of their positive and negative attributes as an individual. Starting with the positives (e.g. "I am kind, communicative, adaptive, caring, sensitive" etc.), consider these as a basis for relating standards. How does the person you are interested in compare? Is the person capable of appreciating you and exchanging on a compatible two?way basis? Would giving yourself to this person be a waste or a reasonable investment of your time, interest and qualities?
I want to caution the reader about the person who is "sensitive." Some people are sensitive about THEMSELVES while they can be sadistic or irresponsible to others. Such "sensitivity" is unhealthy and destructive. Sensitivity is only of value in a relationship when the person 1. is AT LEAST as sensitive, preferably more, on behalf of the other person than for self and 2. never uses the sensitivity to cost or hurt the other person!
Now list your negatives. Divide them into two categories. Are any of them destructive, neglectful or harmful to others? If so, I would not recommend proceeding because no relationship should harm either of its participants and these negatives must be worked on. Although it would be logical to put this question (of harmful negatives) first, some people get too defensive or closed about their faults. They may deny that they have faults or become angry. Mentioning their positives FIRST is more likely to put the mind at ease and convey that this is a fair and balanced exploration. People are often more PSYCHOlogical than logical!
Then, we can inventory the non?harmful negatives that make us human and I will ask what kind of a person can help you grow out of your faults, accept them or compensate for them with their strengths? Make a similar inventory of the person you are in the relationship with (as well as other past relationships, if a pattern or sabotage?
condition is indicated): list each person's 1. positives, 2. harmful negatives and 3. neutral "human negatives." Then we can compare the results of all this exploration with what the Torah, as well as helpful guidelines for psychological health, indicate; and we can consider what this indicates about the individual's readiness for marriage and prospects for a workable relationship with any other particular individual. The person or couple generally can have some useful tools for evaluating prospects in a committed, intimate and sustained relationship. Bear in mind that this is one tool and any given case may require others.
Another thing which I believe is vital for the marital success of the frum Jew is to only marry someone committed to halacha. Find out early on before marriage if the person has one or more rovs who (s)he goes to for halacha and life questions. Find out from the rov(s) if the person obeys faithfully; especially when doing so is a test of will, character or self?discipline. If you would only marry someone who has A CONSISTENT HISTORY of uncompromisingly and steadily obeying halacha and daas Torah, and of having derech eretz and refined midos; the chances are much greater that you will never be abused, abandoned, a moreddess, an agunah, emasculated, tormented or think that you need a prenuptial agreement; because the Torah tells the mature person truly devoted to the will of G?d what to do in every single situation of life.
HoRav Shimon Schwab ztz'l, former leader of the German Jewish community, once told me, if one wants a "segula" for success, let what (s)he does be completely leshaim Shomayim (for the sake of G?d).
One of the great keys to specialness in a match is giving what each has to offer in accordance with what would please and benefit the other. We only have our Jewish people because Rivka gave unhesitatingly to Eliezer. He asked for some water for himself and she gave to his entire entourage and animals, fulfilling what Shammai says (in Pirkei Avos), "Say little and do much;" which she RAN to do and which she did politely and with a good attitude! It is the trait of diligent, constant giving for the good of the other person which creates love for that other person (Tractate Derech Eretz Zuta); and only when this is practiced mutually between man and woman can their marriage have happiness and satisfaction (Michtav Me'Eliyahu]. And it was only after marriage that Yitzchok loved Rivka [Genesis 24:67]. We see that we do not love by taking nor by "trying" to give casually without marriage. The "system" only works when the two evaluate before marriage their ability to give to eachother what they each individually need from the other, as well as what spouses are objectively responsible to give in marriage. DEMANDING KILLS RELATIONSHIPS. The time during dating must be used to concentrate on exploring the couple's ability to relate in serious domains such as these. Yitzchok could exchange love with Rivka by their making COMMITMENT to give to the other and to accept what the other gives. Only when this is applied steadily can the couple truly develop love for eachother and be happy and satisfied. When a couple is able to establish and to trust that they are both willing to work together and "custom tailor" each one's giving to please and benefit the other ongoingly, theirs will be a marriage that will endure and be "special" every day for a lifetime.