Dear Rabbi Bernath,
I’ve heard that when couples have more in common – background, goals, – the relationship has better long-term prospects. This can be easier for younger couples in their 20s, but I find it more difficult as young adults progress into their 30s and 40s and individuate more fully. So what is really necessary to keep a relationship secure, despite having differences? What core values are really needed?
Thank you for your clearly articulated question. As a matchmaker, I frequently run into this problem: it becomes very, very difficult to match up older singles because of their ingrained individuality. But this is not to say that it’s impossible – those matches are my proudest accomplishments. Yet let’s be really honest here: it gets harder and harder to start a relationship as time goes on. I know so many men and women in their 50s who have just given up.
Your question also concerns couples who marry young, yet grow apart – how can we predict the future of our own relationships?
Amongst Jews, the typical age when people have married has varied widely. Historically, some aristocrats would marry as young as 13, while others tied the knot at ages we would consider typical. Today, some Hasidic Jews still marry off their kids at 18 or 19.
In my own life, marrying relatively young has been overwhelmingly positive. I feel that my wife and I have been able to develop together, and encountered so many important parts of life as a couple – almost like we grew up together. So as we do individuate, we often become more similar than different.
But as we all know, it doesn’t always go that way, hence your question: what are the keys to growing together instead of growing apart?
I believe that it’s a mistake to think that you always need to marry someone exactly like yourself. One of the best parts of marriage is learning how to see the world from a slightly different angle.
But everyone has at least one aspect of their life that is very important to them – so much so that they will want their partner to be alike in that respect.
The key here is self-knowledge: do you know yourself? If you don’t know yourself, and you get married, you will certainly prioritize the wrong things and eventually grow apart.
If you do know yourself, ask: what aspect of life is really important to me?
I try to teach people to have defined values and to make those values the centrepiece of their lives. If you’re like that – if your values are really important to you – then you’ll need to find someone who has the same ones.
But if your values are not so strong – i.e., you’re open to compromise – then you can marry someone with different values. Even if their values are much stronger than yours, you’ll just compromise and all will be well.
It’s the same thing for other dimensions of life. If your life goals are very important to you, you’ll need someone who has similar goals. If your looks are the most important thing to you, then you’ll need someone who prizes their looks, as well. You’ll look great together for a few years and then hopefully age at the same speed. (You can infer that this is not a very good idea in the long term, but some people are like this).
If you and your spouse have something really integral and passionate that you share, you’re going to grow together, not apart. But you don’t need to share absolutely everything in common and thinking that you do is a huge mistake to avoid when you’re dating.
I hope this helps.