Fix Your Marriage


Dovid and Rachel have been married for eight years and have three young children, a boy and two girls. Dovid is a architect in a successful business and is looking to move up the management line. Dovid’s wife Rachel, although also qualified as an architect, has chosen the hard job of a house wife/mum.

Unfortunately Dovid and Rachel are having a hard time and the arguments between them seem to have increased over the last several years. Both parties feel that their spouse is not taking responsibility for their obligations in the relationship which is causing resentment between them. The way that they speak to each other has become more antagonistic as time has passed which itself can be the start of an argument. Dovid and Rachel both complain about their spouse’s childhood upbringing and express with a tinge of anger, that the way that they were brought up has caused their spouse’s problems. Each is blaming the other for the problems in the marriage.

John Gottman is a professor emeritus of psychology at the university of Washington and the co- director of the Seattle marital and family institute He was recognised in 2007 as one of the 10 most influential therapists in the past century. Gottman in his book “The seven principles for making marriage work” (2007) claims to describe why most marriage therapy fails and to help problematic relationships . He claims that most marriage therapy is based on problems in communication and learning to resolve conflicts. Gottman backs up his claim from a study conducted by Dr. Kurt Hahlweg who found that even after employing different communication techniques distressed couples did not benefit.

Gottman then goes on to describe seven techniques and principles which he claims will help a couple to overcome their problems. However, Gottman himself has been criticised for his work as the results of his work have been shown to be questionable[i]. One principle which Gottman does not mention but which could change the whole dynamic in a relationship and therapy is explained in this week’s Torah portion:

The Torah describes in this week’s portion of Vayigash how Joseph finally revealed that he was alive to his brothers and father. When he finally hugs his younger brother Binyomin the verse states that he “fell on the neck of his brother Binyomin and he cried, and Binyomin cried on his neck”. The Talmud[ii] states that Joseph cried because he saw with divine inspiration that the Two Temples (which are hinted by fact that he fell on the neck of his brother[iii]). Joseph cried because the Two Temples which would be in the future portion (in the land of Israel) of the tribe of Binyomin would be destroyed. Binyomin cried because he saw with divine inspiration that the travelling Temple which would be in future stationed in the portion of Joseph (in “shilo”) would be destroyed.

The reason that the neck hints at the Temple is explained in the Midrash[iv] which quotes the verse “like the tower of David is your neck”, which refers to the Temple. What is the advantage of the Temple being described as the neck which is not the highest part of the body and lower than the head? Surely if the Temple (the holiest site in the world) is compared to the highest part of the body then the head would be a better comparison?

The answer is that the function of the neck is to act as an intermediary between the head and the rest of the body. The general life of the person and their intellect is found in the head and is drawn down through the neck to the rest of the body. The advantage of the neck over the head is that specifically the neck brings into actuality the purpose of the head. From the head through the neck the limbs of the body receive their life and are directed according to the intellect found in the head.

The same is true of the Temple which acted as an intermediary (just like a neck) between G-Dliness and the rest of the physical world. When the Temple stood, people were much more aware of spirituality and G-Dliness which is not so much the case when we find ourselves in exile.

As our Rabbis have explained[v] every Jew has to make an effort to become like the Temple. This would mean that the divine soul found in every Jew should not remain aloof but involve itself with the mundane matters with which a Jew comes into contact. This would also include trying to refine any coarse characteristics which the person possesses through applying their Torah knowledge and deciding the most appropriate action to take. The Jew then becomes a place where G-Dliness is evident just like the holy Temple.

This is why Joseph and Binyomin fell on each other’s necks and they did not hug in a way that their heads were next to each other. The purpose of a Jew is to serve G-D by making the world a G-Dly place which is the intention for which G-D created this world. This is achieved by refining one’s body, natural tendencies and portion in the world through learning and putting that learning into practice. The main thing is then the neck within the spiritual makeup of a Jew, the point where the Jew takes their understanding and puts it into practice, which is reflective of the function of the Temple in the world.

This is why Joseph and Binyomin cried on each other’s necks (which represents their spiritual Temple) and not the head. Firstly there is no need to cry concerning the spiritual head of a Jew i.e. their G-Dly soul. Concerning the G-Dly soul it is stated that even at the time of a sin, it still believes and is faithful to G-D. Secondly the purpose of a Jew is not to just be involved in the divine element within them for itself. The purpose of the Jew (which is hinted at in the neck) is to draw down their G-dly element to have an effect on their body, their coarse tendencies and portion in the world. The brothers cried when they saw that their brother was not translating their G-Dly potential in actuality.

The question is though why did Joseph and Binyomin just cry about the destruction of the Temple in their brother’s portion? Why did they not cry about the destruction of the Temple in their own portion?

The explanation is that the reason that people cry is to relieve some of the emotional pain which they are experiencing. The person crying does not fix anything which is causing them pain by crying but the crying just helps relieve the emotional pain. It is self understood that if someone can fix something then crying is not enough but they need to do something about it.

When a person sees the destruction of his friend’s “Temple” he should feel his pain and cry but the correction of the situation is actually dependent on his friend (not him). The individual is obligated to try and help his friend by means of prayer etc. but to take away the actual situation which their negative deeds have caused is dependent on their friend.

When an individual has done all that they can to help their friend and after all the help their friend’s “Temple” is still destroyed then they should cry about it. However, when an individual sees the destruction of their own Temple, then they cannot be satisfied with sighing and crying. The individual has to fix and build from anew their own Temple as crying might actually weaken their resolve to fix the situation. The individual might say to themselves “I have already tried to do everything by crying etc.”

This is why Joseph cried about Binyomin’s Temples and Binoymin cried about Joseph Temple. The lesson for us is clear that what we need try and resolve and fix any issues that we posses. However about another person’s situation we need to empathise and feel a frustration for them since they are in a bad situation. If we can help our friend then we must try but if we cannot then it could be appropriate to cry.[vi]

Back to David and Rachel

Gottman has some good points in his books and lectures but the main thing is missing in his lessons which is the personal obligation to try and fix our own problems. Therapy will not help a couple if it is always the other person’s fault. It is rare to find a situation where it is 100% one sides fault, instead people usually will admit that the fault is 80% to 20% or 60% to 40% between them and their spouse. It is not enough to feel sorry for ourselves and in fact one side fixing their own issues can change the whole dynamic of a relationship.

David cannot fix Rachel’s problems and vice versa, what they can do is to work on their own issues, which will help to create an environment which will make it easier for their spouse to also change. There is no one who cannot improve themselves and each one of us needs to realise that we have the ability to fix our issues. Concerning our spouse or friend, we must empathise (in fact we have an obligation of “loving your fellow Jew”) and to feel the pain when they are in a bad situation. Once this premise is in place then the marriage or if necessary therapy can work.

The above article is a general structure for people but for specific problems a qualified therapist should be consulted.

Yitzchok Kaye BA, Pg. Dip., Msc is a trained, qualified Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, who also specializes in other therapies. He helps individuals and couples with their challenges and issues. He has been a practising therapist for a number of Counselling Organisations but now has his own private practice. He is available around the world via Skype. He can be contacted at Yitzkaye@gmail.com

[i] Building strong families program impact report, Mathematica policy research, May 2010

[ii] Megillah 16,b and Rashi on the verse in the Torah

[iii] The actual word for the neck of Binyomin which Joseph fell on, is in the plural which hints at the 2 Temples

[iv] Shir Hashirim Rabba 4,6

[v] Shelah shaar haosios os 30, Reishis Chochmah Shaar Haavah close to its beginning

[vi] Lekutei sichot 10 vayigash


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