Marriage and What It Means Now

The A-Z of Intermarriage, written by Rabbi Denise Handlarski, an intermarried rabbi, is part story, part strategy, and all heart, as well as a coming together of religious source material, cultural context, and personal narrative. In this post, Denise offers us all some advice that can help us through these difficult times.

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One of my favourite things about being a rabbi is when I get to be a witness to the love people share. People come to me in moments of joy (weddings, baby welcomings) and also moments of pain (funerals, memorials), and they talk to me about their deep feelings of love for their partner or family member. It is such a life-affirming and beautiful experience.

Right now we are in a difficult time. No one really predicted that we’d be in enforced social distancing, which means that we are separated from some of our loved ones and cooped up with others. There is a lot of tension in our homes and relationships right now. I include myself, because my family is also figuring out how we do this whole home-schooling-while-working-while-parenting-non-stop thing.

In my book, The A-Z of Intermarriage, I offer some advice for dealing with difficult conversations and moments. Some of it may be helpful now (whether or not you are intermarried or married at all):

H is for Hearing:

People suck at listening to one another. Very often we are distracted when our partners speak to us. Or we are thinking up the next thing we want to say (especially if we’re in an argument). Once I was with an intermarried couple. The woman’s mother had just died. The woman’s partner was trying to be supportive but kept suggesting things she didn’t want at the funeral. I’d say something like, “We can light memorial candles,” and he’d say, “Oh, that’s a nice idea,” and she’d say, “Honey, I told you already, I don’t want anything like that.” This happened a few times until finally she turned to him and said emphatically: “Please. Heeeeeaaaaarrrr me.” What a moment! This is so often what we are feeling inside: the need to be truly heard. Learning to hear each other is a real skill. Consider the different connotations of the words “listening” and “hearing.” Which one suggests more intention and focus? Which one will enable both partners to feel best understood?

Q is for Quicksand:

Sometimes being in a relationship feels like sinking. Things spiral downwards fast. You can feel a little like you’re losing yourself. People don’t like to talk about that stuff but it’s true for all the married people I know. Here are some tips for getting out of quicksand (literally) that I think apply nicely to the quicksand of marriage and intermarriage:

  • Make yourself as light as possible. With real quicksand that means ditching your coat, bag, and so on. In marriage, it means lighten up: share a joke, take a break, go on a date, share a kiss. These small gestures can make the moment feel less heavy.
  • Try to take a few steps backwards. In real quicksand, it’s better to go back than forward to get out of it. Sometimes in marriage we need to walk a conversation back when it’s going too far into the realm of hurt. Sometimes reverting back to how things were for a while opens up space to chart a new path.
  • Reach for a branch or someone’s hand. Sometimes we need help to get out of something. This is when to talk to a rabbi or a religious leader or a therapist or a good friend and get perspective.
  • Take deep breaths. Enough said.
  • Move slowly and deliberately. With quicksand, fast movements exacerbate the sinking. In relationships, sometimes when we’re upset we make quick and impromptu decisions or say things without thinking. This rarely helps us out of the quagmire.

L is for Love:

L is for love because that is at the heart of things (excuse the pun). Remember the love when things get challenging! Love your partner wholly and fully for who they are… I wouldn’t say “love is all you need”; love is a necessary but insufficient condition for a successful relationship. Relationships also require commitment, compromise, communication, and kindness. But love should fuel it all.

Especially right now during the pandemic, let’s focus on love. Love the people you’re cooped up with! Send love out to those you can’t see or touch right now – care packages, notes, check ins, and phone calls. Send love out to strangers too via a smile, an encouraging message, a note of thanks. We all feel a bit like we are sinking in quicksand during these uncertain times. But as I think about how people speak to and about each other in their milestone moments, it’s all love. Humanity is beautiful and complex, and we really do thrive on loving and being loved. There is beauty in it, and that is what is getting me through.

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Interested in finding out more about The A-Z of Intermarriage? Click here to read an excerpt from the book.

Click here to order your copy of The A-Z of Intermarriage.