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The Truth About Jewish Cats & Dogs

by Michael Aushenker

February 7, 2002 | 7:00 pm

"Beyond The Chuppah," by Joel Crohn et al. (Jossey-Bass, $17.95)

The sad truth about matrimony in the 21st century is that about half of all marriages fail. Dr. Joel Crohn, a psychotherapist based in San Rafael, has a book and a curriculum that he hopes will help reverse those statistics.

"Beyond the Chuppah," co-authored by Crohn, Howard J. Markman, Susan L. Blumberg and Janice Levine, is designed to help couples recognize the signs to avoid conflict, identify when a relationship is resilient and help it weather confrontation.

"My wife and I were arguing where our kids would go to school on our first date," Crohn said. "Next week, we'll have been married for 22 years."

"People go into relationships thinking, 'We're so special, we're not going to fail,'" said Crohn, a 55-year-old Chicago native. "The biggest problem is that the skills and behaviors that predict divorce aren't recognized early enough."

"Chuppah" is based on the principles behind the book, "Fighting for Your Marriage," by Markman and Blumberg, which has been available in 52 countries since 1984. Since then, different versions of the book have appeared, customized to various cultures, demographics and marital situations. The publishers of "Fighting" chose Crohn to help create a Jewish version of "Fighting," because of a book he co-wrote called "Mixed Marriages," about interracial and interfaith unions.

In addition to "Beyond the Chuppah," Crohn is working with community leaders, such as Rabbi Mark Diamond of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, to implement a curriculum based on the book at synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

"Our goal is to offer workshops four times a year in the region," Crohn said. "The workshops would run all day on a Sunday, plus two follow-up sessions over two weeks with homework. The goal is to make a couple [self-]sufficient."

According to Crohn, the book's curriculum has already been widely used, including in the military and among Norwegian oil platform employees, who spend time away from home on two-week intervals.

"Here in America," Crohn said, "we don't need to live on an oil platform. Just living here is stress enough."

"Chuppah" cites a study of American Jews, The Jewish Family and Jewish Continuity, which reveals that while Jews used to pride themselves on their low divorce rates, now they are quickly catching up to national norms of 50 percent. "Half of all Jews marrying today will intermarry. Of those marriages, more will end in divorce than marriages between Jews. Even more disturbing, increasing numbers of Jews will not marry at all," the book says.

A big problem with Jewish relationships, Crohn said, is that people tend to see members of the opposite sex in negative Jewish stereotypes. However, the doctor is quick to point out that cultural self-loathing mechanisms among the sexes transcend Jews.

"There have been a lot of Asian women, for example, who have said, 'I'm proud to be Asian but Asian men are not very sexy, they're too this, too that.'"

Crohn said what is specific to Jewish-American culture, is that "Jewish men are more likely to be depressed than non-Jewish men. Jewish men tend to use more humor." But, humor can be "like a pinch -- sexy, friendly, but the more you apply pressure, it becomes painful," he said. "You cross a certain line, and you're hurting somebody."

The author also said that Catholics have had better fortune than Jews with programs designed to save relationships.

"The critique is that Catholicism is so hierarchical, so regimented," he said, "but they can institute programs in a very structured way. We don't have that central system."

Speaking from his own experience, Crohn observed, "One of our kids is in Jewish day school. The majority of parents have divorced by the time [their kids] were in the fourth grade. This is an upper-middle class, suburban neighborhood. One would think that this would be a more stable environment, but it's not."

So are marriages improving or worsening with each generation?

"Both," Crohn said. "I've seen people throw away good marriages, and some stick with bad marriages."

Sure in the good old days, marriages seemed to go the distance. However, staying together does not necessarily indicate a happy marriage, he said.

"The younger generation tells you more," Crohn said, "because there's less inhibition. It's not like a shtetl. When young people stay together, there's a reason."

He believes that younger Jews are more confident about their Jewish identity. At the same time, it takes several generations for the repercussions of traumatic cultural events, such as the Holocaust.

"It's not just Judaic history that gets passed on, but emotional history gets passed over the generations," Crohn noted.

Over time, such events perniciously reside from generation to generation in the form of a persecution complex, he said.

"That was a different generation, but it is still there," Crohn said. "That reverberates. We're a more anxious people."

By the time a couple marries, they are pretty much set in their ways in terms of behavior. However, Crohn said people do still break bad relationship habits.

"What we try to teach people, is not to mind read," Crohn said. "I think of it as a box. We occupy 20 percent of that box. While I think we can't get out of our structure, I think there's much flexibility within that box."

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