||FOR WHEN YOU SUSPECT YOU ARE DATING A
- Thursday, November 16, '00 - Parshas Vayeira 5761
Every person is an individual, so I
never like generalizations. From my counseling experience, it is very common for those who
grow up exposed to dysfunction of any kind to be impacted by it. If the negative behavior
was between the parents, the child can learn to relate to a relationship partner the way
he saw his parents relate. If, as a young person, he saw dysfunction between parent and
child, he can be trained that way too (learning distorted and destructive ideas and
behavior about how to treat and raise one's children).
Often, the impact can be in terms of "emotional association," so the
relationship between the person's history and his behavior might be less seemingly direct
or obvious, and it might require training to recognize. However, people grow up to
understand reality according to their perception of their upbringing. Some people are deep
enough to see that destructive behavior is not an option and they decide that they will
not treat a spouse or child abusively BUT, they might manifest this in extreme or
distorted ways that can be unhealthy in some other aspect. For example, they may go to
another extreme; or turn off and be emotionally unavailable to a spouse or children
because of fear of failure, insecurity, defense against inner trauma or as if "doing
nothing means I do nothing wrong."
For example, a grown up can be a workaholic so he provides generously for his children
- but is never there for them emotionally or is constantly not physically present when the
child needs a parent there. He has not stopped his family's "tradition" of
emotional starvation of its children. He has only switched its manifestation from
emotional abuse to emotional deprivation. He hasn't escaped his history. He has just
modified its expression. His children could grow up to pursue dysfunctional or futile
relationships. I had a case in which a young woman sought dysfunctional men, one after the
other, because she desperately needed to feel validated, since her "nice" but
workaholic father was never there for her. Her father provided for her materially but she
was starved for love and self-worth. All of her father's money didn't address this for
her. By trying to "rescue" losers who were incapable of love or commitment, she
hoped to earn or extract a man's love and recognition for her. It was unattainable and she
ran from futile relationship to futile relationship. She emotionally associated
dysfunctional men with her own intense and misguided quest for meaning and her intense
need for fulfillment.
Often, it takes deep therapeutic counseling to heal and resolve such issues, and this
only is possible in any real way when there is more motivation to change than to maintain
one's habits and patterns. When this happens, it is often, unfortunately, after the person
has had one or more seriously painful and disappointing relationship failures. If it is
catastrophic enough, the person is forced to see that what they do and the partners they
select don't work out, and they have to reconsider and explore what is going on within.
I find as a counselor that people from troubled backgrounds typically bring childhood
trouble with them to their being a spouse or parent. But if a person is motivated,
substantial, honest and courageous enough; they can fix their issues; learn what is wrong
and unhealthy; and be satisfactory as spouse and parent.
But, generally it takes hard and painful work, and the percentage of people who
actually complete and succeed their work in these areas is not very large, as a matter of
making healthy and successful marriages. So you have to investigate very carefully and
When possible, ask your rabbis, rebitzens, mature friends to investigate by obtaining
and contacting references. Cross-check information to detect half-truths, cover-ups,
deceit and/or contradictions or other "red flag" signals to worry about and
further investigate. It is legitimate to ask about a shidduch all that is reasonably
needed, even if only for a vague but genuine suspicion.
Often people are attracted to dysfunctional relationships as if people have antennas
for relating partners who feed into their issues, often with some kind of irrational and
rigid co-dependence and unjustifiable defense of the relationship.
On the one hand, it is great to get out before marriage but it is better not to get in
with someone dysfunctional, in the first place.
I do not believe that everyone is automatically entitled to marry. They must be
basically free from harmfulness, irresponsibility, immaturity and other destructive or
unfair characteristics; as each has no right to hurt or shortchange another. If one isn't
ready for the obligations, responsibilities and duties of marriage; one should not be
allowed to marry. Unfortunately, it is a status symbol and marriage does not always
represent itself in its own right. People want the status, non-loneliness, someone to
control or possess, or other irrelevant or neurotic things. As marriage partners, they are
If one finds him/herself attracted to dysfunctional people repeatedly, the person needs
professional attention. If one is duped once, the person needs better investigative skills
and techniques; and perhaps the help of others who can do some diligent investigation,
looking for verification of or contradictions within information.
One must also have a balanced view: there are no perfect shidduchim so each must
evaluate what (s)he can live with, who (s)he might be able to be supportive and accepting
of and compatible with, and what another person's good points are. Some people have
strengths or patience that enable them to widen the range of people they could manage with
[as long as the other person is never damaging or neglectful]. Some people come out of
dysfunctional homes alright and some people come out of functional homes "relational
disasters." Some people are impacted intensely and other are impacted only slightly.
You have to take people one by one.
If a person has very good midos, a strong striving for truth and to generally behave as
a "mentsh" [decent, mature, honorable human being], considerable and authentic
will to work on him/herself and the ability to do tshuva [lasting and reliable repentance]
for wrong conduct; the person who had a rough history might be able to fulfill the role of
spouse and parent satisfactorily. Do not make a decision about such a person or
relationship alone nor hastily. Investigate thoroughly so you "go in with your eyes
open," and obtain da'as Torah and the advice of wise, mature, objective and concerned
people. The more that you have suspicion, the more you should obtain information and
verification of that information.