Sunday, March 22, 2009

Are we allowed to ever change?

On another skeptic blog, JA made the comment "Why is it always the less religious parent who has to hide his beliefs and practices?". I thought about his comments through the lens of my situation and that of my fellow skeptics. Since most of us were ostensibly religious at the time we got married, it is us who is changing the dynamics of the relationship. In this light, I believe it is reasonable for the still religious spouse to be bothered by this change in our beliefs/actions. Likewise, I don't think it is fair for a spouse to become religious when both partners were irreligious at the onset of their relationship. Of course, from an OJ point of view, this is obviously seen as a positive move and it is the non-religious spouse that needs to get with the program.

This is not just true when someone undergoes a religious transformation. I think the same thing would hold true for anyone who significantly changes the dynamic of a relationship from the understanding they had at the onset. Such cases like someone who suddenly decided they wanted to quick their white collar job and live the life of an artist or someone who decided they no longer wanted to have any children. There are no right or wrong side of these issues. Rather, if they deviate from the understanding that one spouse has initially, then it is reasonable for them to be bothered when a change occurs.

So does this mean that nobody is allowed to change anything from the time they get married until they die or risk divorce? In short; no, they really aren't. Well, at least not in a significant manner without the buy-in of their spouse. Whenever we look for a partner, we are looking for personality, intellectual, religious, physical traits among others that appeal to us. So it should not be hard to fathom that by changing one of our core traits, out partner will have to adjust accordingly. Sometimes these changes can be accepted, other times they are just too big of a change to accept.

In a nutshell, I feel that this is the basis behind my fear of coming out fully to my wife about my religious views and practices. I love my wife dearly, but realize that some changes are just to great for a partner to accept and fear that this may be a deal breaker for my wife. My marriage isn't based solely on our common religious views that we shared, but it is certainly was one of our common views initially and one that my wife considers important. .

29 comments:

jewish philosopher said...

"Why is it always the less religious parent who has to hide his beliefs and practices?".

Why is it always the less sober parent who has to hide his habits?.

Anonymous said...

Rich,
I'm not exactly sure what kind of a response you're looking for because no one can or should tell you what's appropriate for your situation, although the blogging seems like it could be an appropriate outlet for your feelings.

On the other hand, and I know this is slightly OT, but your post reminds me of why I can't stand Billy Joel. He had a song years ago that went "Tell her about it. Tell her all your crazy dreams."

That song used to infuriate me-- and it still does. I always used to think, who is he to to tell me how to conduct my relationships? What does he know about it? Is he going to take the consequences?

Ichabod Chrain

Garnel Ironheart said...

Hey Rich,
Why is it that you're the one who has to hide your feelings? I can think of a couple of reasons.
One is your social milieu. Assuming you still live in a frum community, by abandoning Torah you're going to stick out and it'll have ramifications on your family. For better or worse, that doesn't happen when the opposite situation - a non-religious parents goes frum - happens. No one in secular society is going to say to that person's kids: We're not going to play with you anymore 'cause your daddy found God. But your family would suffer if your little secret came out.
The second is based on the first. The bottom line is that secular society has no standard other than "I'm all right Jack, just don't bother me." If my neighbour goes frum, then who cares as long as he doesn't come over to kasher my kitchen against my will? But religious society does have standards and leaving those behind has social ramifications.
It's not fair but as you're discovering, neither is life.

Anonymous said...

I very much relate to this post. It's so difficult, because the reality is that people DO change.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Allow me to play the heartless realist for a moment.

Yes, people change. But imagine the following situation: you sign a contract with a company to work for them. They assign you a certain set of duties. You perform them well and take home your paycheque.
Over time you grow. You educate yourself. Suddenly you realize you're qualified for a much higher position in this, or some other company.
You start to chafe. The job you liked a short time ago is now beneath you. Work is lousy, unfulfilling.
But when you try to leave you discover an inconvenient fact: You signed a contract and it hasn't come up for renewal yet. You signed on a dotted line, gave your promise to perform the duties of your job faithfully for a fixed term and the term's not up yet.
What do you do?
In Western secular liberal culture, there's a great saying: Where's there's a will, there's a lawyer. Western secular liberal culture tells you to break the contract and go seek out more suitable employment elsewhere. Will you be leaving the company in a lurch? Will you be betraying the faith everyone there has in your? Who cares? YOU'RE NOT HAPPY and the most important thing in the world is your personal sense of happiness. Dutiness? Pheh! Responsibility? Pshaw! Those qualities are for fools, or for smart people who are happy where they are. But not for you. Nossir, you don't have to honour the contract you signed. You're not happy.
So you're changed? So what? You have responsibilities, obligations, things that are bigger than you. The difference between an adult and a child is simple: the children gets tired of his new toy, throws it down and demands another trip to Toys R Us. The adult either tries to find a legal way out of the contract while accepting responsibility for his actions or sucks it up like a real man and says "Well, I signed a contract, now I have to keep my end."

onionsoupmix said...

Yeah, if your wife would remain completely static as she was when you married her, you might have a point. But here's the kicker- people change all the time. Your wife isn't going to remain the same person, not in perspective, not in looks, not in personality, not in health. You might discover unflattering things about her that you never knew before you got married. Are you going to divorce her over them? No. It's ridiculous to expect people to stay exactly the same over a whole lifetime. Yes, both people likely will have to compromise and figure out how to make it work, but don't feel guilty about being the one to change. I felt that way for a while and got over it recently when I realized how much my husband had changed from my first impressions of him.

Garnel Ironheart said...

But there's a difference between onionsoupmix's type of change and the one Rich is going through.
In onion's case, these changes are natural. Any man who marries and then says to his wife after 30 years "Hey you got old and fat!" is an idiot. But a man who marries and then says to his wife "Hey, you don't believe in God anymore!" has a valid complaint.
Yes people naturally change over time but in subtle ways. Paradigm shifting changes aren't part of the expectation when two people hook up.

Rich Perkins said...

Garnel - How much of my post do you actually read? I the third paragraph, i concede the fact that i really can't change without destroying my marriage. that is precisely what makes this whole situation so difficult. If I was single and my decisions only effected myself then it would be a no-brainer.

Onion - Some changes are minor and some are major. Yes, someone's appearance could effect one's marriage, but i do not think it is as drastic as dropping orthodox judaism.

if we were talking about a different religion with limited actual practice, then thinks might be different. With OJ, every aspect of life is intertwined with the religion so losing OJ definitely would count as a major change.

Garnel Ironheart said...

So instead of coming to such a drastic conclusion, why don't you research Torah Judaism all over again? Consider: we just might be right.
I'm not asking you to go to some rabbi to hear some comforting lines. You're too intelligent for that.
Rather, start reading. Leave the Chareidi community stuff and read Torah literature from the rest of the observant fold. Read stuff by the Rav, by Rav J David Bleich. Hell, read the Guide to the Perplexed and the Kuzari. Before deciding there aren't any answers, go look at the sources that actually provide them.

onionsoupmix said...

yeah, some changes are major and some are minor. If your wife became ill, would you leave her? What if she became really, really sick? Would she now have to feel bad for it too and hide and keep it a secret, lest you find out and divorce her? What if she decided she has to live in the most environmentally-friendly way possible, complete with veganism and growing your own food? Would you split then? It is unreasonable to expect people to stay the same in their outlook on life from the age of 20. People will change, that is inevitable and you can't make them feel bad for it.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Onionsoupmix, you have to differentiate between external and self-imposed changes.
A person who would leave his/her spouse because that spouse became ill from an unforeseen illness is an ass. The spouse didn't choose to become ill and part of one's marital duties is support through good times and bad.
A person who wouldn't leave his/her spouse because that spouse engaged in unhealthy behaviours and became ill as a direct result of those behaviours is an idiot. The spouse chose to be a burden to others through his/her irresponsible behaviour and no one has a right to do that.
It's the same when one changes one's religious attitudes. Honestly, the given here seems to be: religion is wrong. Rich has just discovered this. Now what does he do?
But I reject the initial assumption as closeminded. For the sake of his family, the least he could do is investigate some more before tossing everything aside and choosing either to destroy everything he's built up or continue to live a painful lie.

Rich Perkins said...

Garnel . . . "For the sake of his family, the least he could do is investigate some more before tossing everything aside and choosing either to destroy everything he's built up or continue to live a painful lie."

I HAVE investigated and come to my current conclusions. That is the whole frustration I feel now because i do not want to throw away my family life, but at the same time i don't have any interest in OJ.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Rich, from what I've gathered from your various postings, you may have investigated but you're missed a heck of a lot.

Is your family important to you? Really? Then go check again, if they're worth it.

onionsoupmix said...

"Onionsoupmix, you have to differentiate between external and self-imposed changes."

A change in one's religious outlook is only "self-imposed" if you think that person is wrong.

Isn't that true Garnel? So if Rich was not religious at all and suddenly discovered the beauty of Judaism, you wouldn't be telling him to reconsider because he might lose his family, now would you? You'd be telling him that he and his wife can work it out, that these things need a little compromise from each party, that we can't all stay the same... Despite the fact that his new-found committment would be just as "self-imposed" as it is here.

In reality, your self-imposed vs. external construct is irrelevant. After you are married, it makes no difference if the changes you both go through are externally imposed or self-imposed. All that matters is if both people can find a way to live with the results.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Dear OnionSoupMix,

You don't know me so how dare you put words in my mouth and then berate me for them?

To wit:
> So if Rich was not religious at all and suddenly discovered the beauty of Judaism, you wouldn't be telling him to reconsider because he might lose his family, now would you?

Says who? I might encourage him to try and convince his wife but shalom bayis is very precious and trumps lots of things. Would a newly frum Rich be a better Jew if he dumped his wife and kids? I doubt it. indeed, I know couples who have split off because one partner discovered Judaism and dumped the non-observant spouse. Hardly something I would approve of.

In other words, I would say it's the same thing.

onionsoupmix said...

your post was not clear. You would advise him not to become religious if this would bother his wife, is that correct?

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

Let me be clear: there is a huge difference between one partner becoming frum and one partner becoming non-frum.
Non-frum people have no rules about eating kosher food. If one spouse suddenly announces: I will eat only kosher meat, then that spouse can go out and buy kosher meat. The non-kosher spouse still gets to eat meat.
The reverse, on the other hand, cannot be resolved because frum people do have rules against eating non-kosher meat. So what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander.
If I were asked about such a case as one spouse becoming more frum, I would advise as follows: go to a good Rav, get all the kashrus books you can, and learn every single leniency you can find that will help you to continue to be able to get along with your spouse. As opposed to those kiruvniks who advise cutting off the non-frum in one's newly religious life, I think this is harsh and, in many cases, unnecessary.
Done carefully and with understanding, and as long as both spouses are willing to make compromises that don't contravene their beliefs/halacha, it might be possible to maintain the family despite the change in dynamics.

onionsoupmix said...

Done carefully and with understanding, and as long as both spouses are willing to make compromises that don't contravene their beliefs/halacha, it might be possible to maintain the family despite the change in dynamics.

If you read my previous post, you will see that you wrote exactly like I predicted. If Rick becomes religious, they can both work it out, they can compromise, yaddah, yaddah. It doesn't matter that he's the one who changed after marriage, his wife now has to make compromises and figure out how to deal. What happened to your whole Life-is-a-Contract position? Poof, it is gone. Now life is a series of modified agreements, changing over time.

But oddly, according to you, if a spouse becomes not religious, they can't work it out? Rick has to hide his off-the-derech beliefs here because his wife will have no choice but to split up? And it will be all his fault b/c he's the one who changed.

See your double standard? See how it doesn't make sense to have it both ways? If Rick & wife can work it out in the first way, then Rick & wife can work it out the same way here.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> See your double standard? See how it doesn't make sense to have it both ways? If Rick & wife can work it out in the first way, then Rick & wife can work it out the same way here.

There is no double standard, and if you read what I wrote you'd see that.

There's nothing stopping Rich from keeping kosher at home. He's not taking on any lifestyle that says "You must eat only non-kosher food or you're violated your important beliefs". He has flexibility that a secular lifestyle affords.

Rich's wife, on the other hand, doesn't have that flexibility. She believes she must eat only kosher food. So if someone plops kosher food in front of them, no one gets offended. This doesn't happen if pork chops are offered.

Yes it's not the same but that's because one side is abandoning the old standards in favour of... well nothing, no new standards, anything goes. The other side is holding by the old standards. So of course Rich has to be the one who compromises. He doesn't lose anything by eating kosher while his wife does by eating non-kosher.

onionsoupmix said...

Compromising doesn't mean Rick forces his wife to eat treife. Compromising would mean that Rick can get a cheeseburger from McD's and the wife can get a bagel from the kosher shop and they can have a picnic in the park. Rick doesn't have to be The One to compromise- they both will. My point is that your analogy of the inflexible office contract fails completely.

kisarita said...

I see no reason why your wife should leave you simply because you don't share the same religious beliefs, as long as you agree not to make any radical lifestyle changes.

if she would, she should feel guilty, not you.

all in all I've gotton sick of this mindset that someone's theoretical beliefs are such a big deal. they could believe in the tooth fairy for all I care. If I've lived and loved this person for 10 years what the hell difference does it make.

This is just one example of how frumkeit messes normal good people up. but don't feel guilty, it's not your fault that they're like that.

Garnel Ironheart said...

But once again you don't see my point, OSM.
Rich doesn't have to have the cheeseburger. He may want it but if he insists that he needs a cheeseburger to be happy, that's idiotic.
On the other hand, Rich's wife doesn't have that flexibility. So if they have a picnic in the park, Rich doesn't really lose anything of importance by eating a kosher sandwich.
Think of it this way: Rich wants a TV, his wife doesn't. A good compromise would be to put one in the basement, or his den if he has one. Keep it in one of those cupboards he can close up when he's not watching so the kids don't find it.
Because this is the big Achilles heel with secular demands - since everything is optional, you can compromise on everything. You may not want to but turning it around on us is dishonest.

onionsoupmix said...

Garnel, I understand your point, which seems to be that the person with the most restrictions wins in that he gets to impose his rules on others. Because the one with the most restrictions is not as "flexible" as the ones with less restrictions. This is not compromise or a healthy relationship- it's just stuffing your beliefs in someone else's throat.

But you are not even consistent within your own framework. If Rich were to marry his wife when both are secular and then Rich becomes observant, you would have him run to his rabbi to find all possible leniencies, as you wrote in an earlier post. That means, practically speaking, that Rich would not be able to impose his newly-found restrictions on his secular wife. Although he may prefer for her not to eat cheeseburgers at their picnic, no rabbi will insist that he force her to comply. Instead, as you wrote, he will find all possible heterim to make the relationship work.
But alas- in the reverse situation you do not give Rich the same benefit. He has changed his outlook and become less observant. Oddly, you don't insist anywhere in your comments here that his wife run to a rav and find all the leniencies she can to continue their relationship. Why not?

No way around it- you subscribe to a double standard which is based on a) your biased opinion that Rich is wrong for changing his opinion on Orthodoxy and b)your impractical insistence that spouses stay the same as promised by the shadchan eons ago.

Garnel Ironheart said...

I would absolutely agree that Rich's wife, should she find out about his change of heart, should go to her Rav and learn exactly how much leeway she has in her observance to accomodate Rich's new loss of faith.

But you're missing an important distinction that commonly occurs in secular society. Secular society fails to distinguish between WANTS and NEEDS. In the Western world, I WANT it equals I NEED it.

That's why so many people fail in their attempts to quit smoking. They show up to the doctor and say "I wanna quit" but they don't. They know they need to, and they think it's the same as wanting to but there's a huge difference between them.

To use our well-worn cheeseburger example, Rich may want to eat one. He doesn't need to. Rich's wife may want to let him have some more freedom but she needs to observe her mitzvos.

You might say: no, she wants to observe her mitzvos but from the frum perspective, it is very much a need. And that is the essential reason why Rich has to do the compromising.

onionsoupmix said...

I'm glad that we agree that Rich's wife's next step would be to see what leniencies are available to her.

With regards to your wants/needs distinction, it is also not a useful or accurate one. In the secular world, at least the vast majority of segments with which I have had contacts, most people clearly understand the difference between basic needs like food, shelter, etc. and wants, such as luxuries. It's not such a deep concept that only our very special jewish brains can fathom. Neither is delayed gratification the exclusive purvue of frum communities.

Moreover, an argument can easily be made that this distinction is much harder to make within the orthodox lifestyle. Is a chumra a want or a need? What about a chumra that amounts to burdening others for the sake of your own piety? What if a spouse insists on eating no commercially manufactured products over pesach, including sugar, milk and the like? What if he or she imposes this standard on the rest of the family? Is that a need or a want?

It is also quite a judgment to imagine that people in a marriage will necessarily fail to understand between a want and a need when it comes to keeping the relationship together, just because they are now more secular than before. The eons of battered spouses who stay for the dim hope of a better tomorrow, regardless of having their basic needs unmet, would seem to disprove your thesis entirely.

Garnel Ironheart said...

> The eons of battered spouses

An eon is a unit of time. One can have countless battered spouses, a google of battered spouses or a horde of battered spouses but one cannot have an eon of them, no more than one can have an hour of pudding.

> who stay for the dim hope of a better tomorrow, regardless of having their basic needs unmet,

But their judgement as to what basic needs are is different from yours. You and I see a spouse in a terrible situation and it's obvious to us that he/she should get out. This person, on the other hand, due to lack of self-esteem, intelligence or knowledge of available community resources does not see a way out. So he/she stays because the basic needs he/she can identify, like shelter and food, are provided in the current situation. The person knows that he/she needs a roof over their head, but they identify dignity and a safe living environment as unatainable and therefore a want unlikely to be realized.

Similarly, you are merely stating the obvious with chumros. A chumra is a want. I want to do a little extra, I want to feel like I'm going the extra mile. I don't need to. That's why it's a chumra, not a halacha. A halacha is a need. I need to have a kosher lunch. I need to keep Shabbos. Further I would agree that if chumros are tearing a relationship apart then the person who chooses the chumra over the relationship is making a poor decision. That, in theory, is the role of a good family rabbi who would sit down with the couple and say "Listen Moishe/Faigy, I know you think such-and-such is important but it's ruining your life together and it's not an essential halacha so stop it. Keeping your family together is more important."
Unfortunately too many rabbonim are likely to look at the less chumra-prone spouse and try to convince them to reach up to their partners supposedly higher spiritual level. And too many spouses who are chumra-prone would dump any rabbi who suggested they not be so strict because clearly he's too "meikel" about everything.
But that doesn't mean the system is wrong, just the people applying it.

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