November 13, 1997
Ruth Bernhard's "Dead Sparrow, "1946. Photo from Pacific Dreamscatalogue
I am 16 years old. My parents haven't spoken toeach other in over a year, although they do not talk about divorce.The problem is that they make me and my little sister pass messagesback and forth for them. Sometimes, they say some unpleasant, evenmean things, and then they end up yelling at us. My sister and Ithink that divorce would be better than all this constant fighting.We don't like to come home from school, and we dread the weekends.Also, I don't accept a Shabbat invitation unless my sister has one,because I do not want to leave her alone with them. My parents readyou, so we thought you could help.
When will parents learn to leave their childrenout of their own nasty messes? Please know that you should not, mustnot, be in this position, and that it will take courage anddetermination to change things. First, your sister and you should,together, inform your parents that you are on strike. You refuse everto pass another message back and forth between them. They simply willhave to figure out how to communicate on their own. Tell them thattheir fighting is making you and your sister miserable and makingyour home an unbearable place to be.
If they ignore your words and actions and do notchange their behavior, speak with your grandparents, an aunt, uncleor rabbi -- whoever you trust -- and let them know what is going on.Sometimes, secrets are not good for anyone, and your reaching outwill finally force your parents to deal with their problems. Goodluck -- and please keep me posted.
I am 27 years old, have been married for six yearsand have a 3-year-old daughter. Although I was born in America, myfamily comes from a Middle Eastern country and is part of a closelyknit community from the old country. In our community, girls areexpected to marry young and only to our own kind. We are not allowedto date "outsiders," and I married someone I'd known all my life -- afamily friend.
My husband is a good father, provider, friend andhusband, and we are very well-off. Although I love him, I have neverbeen in lovewith him. I just did what was expected and prayed that it would workout. Also, I couldn't wait to get out of my parents' home, with theirstrict rules. It would have been unheard of for me to move out as asingle woman.
Things were fine for a few years. Then, six monthsago, I became active in an organization where I met a man with whom Ifell in love. He is American, non-Jewish, blue-collar and older. Heloves me, and is also married with children. We have never slepttogether but are having a hard time not doing so. We steal away timeto talk and fantasize about a future.
I finally understand what all the business aboutromance is about -- I never knew before. It is intoxicating. I can'teat or sleep, and I am filled with guilt and desire. I am angry withmy parents for basically forcing me into this life. I adore my childand do not wish to harm her, and my dear husband would be destroyedif I left him or if he found out.
Deborah, I cannot talk to a family member, rabbior even a friend about this. Can you help me?
Your anger over being trapped, your confusion andyour fear about the repercussions are understandable. Passion canfeel like awakening after a long, cold hibernation to something sowarm, so bright and irresistible that it is a wonder the two of youhave exercised the restraint you have. In order to have done so, youmust be a very responsible person who takes her commitmentsseriously.
Let's examine your choices. First, you could leaveyour husband and start a new life with this man. Clearly, you foreseemost of the problems -- the pain it would cause your family, yourchild, his family and so forth. Also, of course, surely, you haveconsidered the problems concerning this man not being of yourculture, faith or economic standing. And, of course, there is thedistinct possibility that if it does not work out with this man, youmight find yourself quite alone -- your family and friends may nolonger be there for you if you leave the fold.
Perhaps the only element of which you are unawareis that passion is no guarantee whatsoever of future happiness.First, most married people do not maintain a steady diet of passion,because a good part of this dizzying, drug-like state has to do withthe un-known. When you wash a person's socks, get to know his/herfoibles, when the unknown is revealed, day after day, week afterweek, year after year, well, passion becomes beside the point. It's awonderful and welcome bonus but, in and of itself, not a greatindicator of marital success.
Another choice is to stay in a passionlessmarriage for the sake of family unity. Sadly, you moved from one trapto another, no matter how loving and well-intended your parents orhow comfortable your marriage has been. Perhaps you can work on themarriage in counseling or through a good couples seminar and make itbetter. But, from the sounds of it, passion will probably not be anelement here if it never was. You would have to accept this and busyyourself with other aspects of life, perhaps finding meaning throughsome new activities. But now that you have tasted passion, it will bedaunting because your expectations of marriage have altered.
Neither of these choices is heartening, but thereis another, less obvious yet far more challenging choice. You couldbreak off this affair, knowing that it would lead to certaindisaster, stay put in your marriage for a time, living with the truthand uncertainty, and no longer pushing your feelings aside. Findingsomeone with whom to process this, such as a therapist, wouldhelp.
Your pursuit of the truth may ultimately lead youto decide to leave the marriage and accept the pain it would causeyour family. The pain, however, might result in a conscious life inwhich you are squarely facing your choices as an adult and not as achild who forever fears repercussions. If you move slowly,deliberately and responsibly, perhaps the damage will not be asdevastating as you think. Your restraint has proven that you have thecharacter to live with doubt and ambiguity while you search for thetruth.
Deborah Berger-Reiss is a West Los Angelespsychotherapist.
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