Untangling the Divorce Crisis

Rifky, like many young women, always envisioned her wedding day as the start of a blissful journey together with her chosson. The anticipation was tangible as she meticulously planned every detail, from her exquisite gown to the intricate floral arrangements. Her face beamed with happiness as she spoke about the life she would share with her future husband, whom she believed was her soulmate. Friends and family shared in her joy, eagerly awaiting the wedding of a seemingly ideal couple. However, beneath this facade of happiness, a fragile reality was brewing, unbeknownst to Rifky. Never in her wildest dreams could she have imagined joining the growing divorce crisis.

The stark reality of married life began to reveal itself shortly after the wedding. The man Rifky thought she knew was an illusion, crafted from brief, superficial interactions and a mutual desire to fulfill societal expectations rather than a genuine connection. Within days, the red flags became impossible to ignore. The dream of building a home together crumbled as Rifky faced the heart-wrenching decision that staying in this marriage was unsustainable. Devastated, she wondered how the hope and dreams that had filled her heart had evaporated so quickly, leaving her to piece together her broken heart alone.

The Heartbreak of Our Divorce Crisis

Marriage can, and should, be the ultimate union, a harmonious blend of two souls embarking on a lifelong journey together. However, a concerning trend in the frum community is unraveling this idyllic image: the rise of early divorces among young couples. Each week, we hear of more young men and women returning to their parent’s homes after a few short weeks or months. This phenomenon has seen a significant uptick. The Lakewood Beis Din alone is averaging three Gittin a week for couples married less than 3 or 4 months.  This is greatly disturbing, prompting a closer look at the current divorce crisis causes, consequences, and potential solutions.

Why Young Couples get Divorced

There are countless factors that contribute to couples ending their marriage in a frum divorce. While every case is individual, some of the reasons could include distorted expectations, a spoiled upbringing, a lack of commitment, and a lack of willingness to put in the work needed to make a marriage not only survive but thrive. In this article, however, I want to focus on three issues that, as a shidduch dating coach, frum relationship coach, and Kallah teacher, I’ve seen most often contribute to the demise of marriages so early in a couple’s life together. 

#1: The Veil of Silence Around Mental Health and Addiction

Let’s face it: the road to the chuppah is often paved with expectations, from finding the perfect match to living happily ever after. Many believe that marriage is the cure for all problems and pretending issues don’t exist will magically make them disappear. This faulty thinking is like trying to fix a leaky roof by just painting over the water stains on the ceilings. Yet among the hushed whispers in our communities are the stories of those battling mental illness or addiction in silence, their struggles neatly tucked away, and not spoken about.

In the quest for marital bliss, the omission of one’s mental health struggles or battles with addiction from discussions during the dating stage is a ticking time bomb. The rationale behind such concealment often stems from fear of judgment or rejection, yet the fallout is invariably more devastating. The issue here isn’t the battle, but the lack of disclosure before marriage. When these challenges inevitably surface, the unsuspecting spouse feels betrayed, hurt, and unable to cope with the situation, often lamenting, “I did not sign up for this.”

A Parent’s Assumption

Some parents wrongly assume that if their child gets married, they won’t have to deal with their issues anymore, so they tuck them away and hope no one will realize. They hope someone else will swoop in and take over. The problem is that the new spouse will learn quickly that something is off and will too soon recognize that this wasn’t part of the plan. Like a sweater that begins to unravel from a single loose thread, a marriage can start to come apart when the truth about one’s mental illness or addiction issues begins to surface. The initial concealment might seem inconsequential, but as the reality unfolds, it becomes clear that the fabric of the relationship is compromised, leading to a sense of betrayal and the eventual breakdown of the marriage.

The Lesson Here is Unequivocal

Honesty is not just a policy but a foundation for a healthy and sustainable marriage. Disclosing your struggles during the dating process acts as a filter: It ensures that only someone who can deal with your challenges and be a supportive spouse will stick around. If someone rejects you because of it, they are not compatible with you.

#2: A Tale of Two Selves: The Lack of Authenticity

The pressure to conform within the frum community can sometimes cause individuals to lead double lives, masking their true beliefs and practices. Many young men and women may feel compelled to hide their true selves and present a false facade when seeking a shidduch and writing their shidduch resume. While highly effective in many ways, the Shidduch system can sometimes emphasize compatibility based on external criteria over personal connection and mutual understanding. This system can incentivize presenting a more “marketable” version of oneself and hiding essential parts of yourself. Individuals may fear that revealing their true selves would drastically reduce their pool of potential matches. This fear can be particularly motivating in a tight-knit community where marriage is a significant milestone.

Lack of authenticity or being genuine can manifest in various ways and significantly impact marriage. Society has established well-defined expectations regarding behavior and lifestyle. People might fear judgment, rejection, or ostracism if they deviate from these norms. The desire to belong and be accepted can lead some to conceal their true thoughts and feelings about certain things, especially religious observance. In extreme cases, a person may present as being Torah observant when, in fact, they are not.

Build Honest Foundations

While these behaviors might be motivated by a desire to fit in or find a compatible partner, they can lead to issues in marriage, such as lack of trust, communication problems, and emotional distance. Marriages built on a foundation that does not fully reflect the true selves of both partners can face significant challenges. Pretending to be someone we’re not, like acting more religious than we are or hiding our true selves, is like building a house on sand. Sooner or later, the tide comes in, and the foundation crumbles. The revelation of such duplicity can shatter the trust and foundation of a marriage, leaving the affected spouse feeling disillusioned and full of regret.

The Takeaway

Being genuine is not just liberating; it’s essential for building a marriage that can withstand the tests of time. Hiding one’s true self only leads to heartache, discontent, and a deepened divorce crisis. Remember—it is better to be a genuine penny than a counterfeit dollar.

#3: The Pressure Cooker: Rushed Marriages

Navigating shidduchim with parental involvement can come with its challenges. Parents strongly desire to see their children married, which can lead to them pushing for a match even when their child has reservations. Sometimes, a shidduch is encouraged more for social status than real compatibility. The fear of their child becoming an “older single” can sometimes overshadow the child’s feelings about the suitability of a potential spouse. Parents feel societal pressure to marry off their children, which can lead to them dismissing or minimizing their child’s concerns or even pushing their child to get married before they are ready.

Shadchanim occasionally also contribute to the pressure felt by singles. Their status and influence in the community, combined with their own motivations, can lead them to encourage singles to proceed with a shidduch even when there are hesitations. Some shadchanim may prioritize making a match over the couple’s actual compatibility and long-term happiness.

Needs Can’t be Overlooked

In the rush to make a match, significant issues may be overlooked. Red flags, such as differences in values, communication problems, or even more serious concerns like emotional or verbal abuse, can be ignored. Sometimes, the single expresses that they need more time, but so many unspoken shidduch rules dictate when and how the couple should get engaged, regardless of one or both of them not having clarity. This can be particularly problematic when the single person’s concerns are dismissed by those who are supposed to support and guide them.

Think about it like being in a fast-paced cooking competition, where you are pressured to whip up a gourmet meal with ingredients you neither like nor know how to cook. This is how many singles feel when being pushed into a marriage with someone they are not compatible with or aren’t ready to commit to. The consequences of entering a marriage under such pressure can be severe. Believe your child if they say they can’t do it!

The Key Point 

Respect for singles’ autonomy and well-being should take precedence over societal and familial pressures regarding marriage. This will ensure that matches are based on genuine compatibility and readiness rather than external expectations.

The Emotional Toll on Frum Divorced Singles

Imagine the excitement and joy of starting a new life with your husband or wife, only to find yourself back where you started, in your childhood bedroom. This reversal of progress can be emotionally and mentally devastating for young men and women. It is like a bird who just learned to fly and has his wings clipped. The aftermath of early divorce can lead to emotional turmoil, social stigma, shame, frustration, and a profound sense of personal failure. These feelings often lead to severe depression and anxiety or an even worse repercussion. If shidduchim were difficult before they married for the first time, it would be brutal after a divorce in the frum community.

The Road Forward: Solutions for the Rising Jewish Divorce Rate

So, where do we go from here? The solutions to this divorce crisis begin with a collective shift in mindset. As a klal, we need to do what we can to prevent any more broken hearts, broken homes, and broken spirits. We can accomplish this by:

  • Encouraging and normalizing seeking help and treatment for mental health and addiction issues before marriage.
  • Promoting a culture of openness and honesty, where disclosing one’s struggles is seen not as a weakness but as a strength.
  • Champion authenticity and individuality, encouraging singles to be true to themselves and resist the façade of perfection over genuineness.
  • Advocate for personal agency in marriage decisions, emphasizing the importance of trusting one’s instincts and not being easily swayed by others.

As we grapple with these challenges, it’s important to remember that the strength of our community lies not in the absence of struggle but in our ability to support one another during this divorce crisis. By creating a more understanding, authentic, and compassionate environment, young men and women can be encouraged to delete the thought that everyone else is perfect. They can openly share their struggles with their dates, and seek help when needed.  We can help ensure that marriages are built on solid ground and that young couples are equipped to weather life’s storms together.

Together, We Can End the Divorce Crisis

While some face mental health struggles, others would simply like more time to get to know their dates. Every single is highly unique and what works for some won’t work for others. However, there are many individual things that we can do to end the divorce crisis. Contact Miriam Zeitlin if you are pre-marriage and looking for a shidduch dating coach, or post-marriage and seeking a frum relationship coach. Together we can work to ensure no more frum divorced men and women.

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