Ten months after I got married, I came in from Lakewood to Brooklyn to get together with my mother for lunch and tell her that I was getting a divorce.
She wasn’t exactly surprised at my news; I had called her many times to share my marriage woes. I, however, was the one who was surprised when she shook her head and said to me, “Nechie, no. Don’t even say that word. You can make it work.”
“You don’t know!” Tears rolled down my face and I brushed them aside angrily. “You and Ta always had a great marriage! You told me you’re like best friends! It’s not like that for us!”
“It could be, though.” My mother grasped my hand; hers was warm and in her hold, mine felt icy cold. “You just have to work at it. All marriages take work.”
I stared at my congealed shakshuka and realized: She really doesn’t know. That realization was like touching an exposed socket with my fingertip and getting a healthy shock in return; for the first time in my life, my mother did not understand me. How could she? She and my father had both come from similar backgrounds, and grown up ten blocks away from each other in Boro Park. They had been raised with the same values, wanted the same things out of life; they even had the same sense of humor.
I, on the other hand, had married Motti Jacobs, a tall, good-looking deep thinker, the youngest son of elderly parents from London—who seemed to have no sense of humor at all.
It only took until the week after sheva brachos to realize that we had absolutely nothing in common, and another week to realize that we actually clash. I cooked the requisite newlywed three-course gourmet dinners, and smiled, smiled, smiled when I stepped outside, and people told me that I had the “kallah glow.” I didn’t. If I did, it was from radiation poisoning, because my shanah rishonah closely resembled a war zone.
Motti hovered. He wanted a say in everything I did, from the chicken soup (Shouldn’t you be adding a touch more salt, Nechie?) to my shoes (Those heels are rather high for a frum girl, are they not?) to the way I kept the house (It would be easier to keep the refrigerator clean if you would wipe the bottom of the juice down before you put it away), but he would not offer to help. Oh, no. When I handed him the soup ladle and said, exasperated, “Well, then, fine, you do it,” he recoiled as if I had handed him a snake.
The roles of husband and wife were pretty much clearly defined in my own household when I was growing up, but it blurred at points, too, where it made sense. When my mother was sick, for example, my father would cheerfully don her apron (figuratively and literally). He took us to the park every Friday when I was younger, and he mopped the wooden floor in the living room before Shabbos every week, claiming that only a man could move the heavy couches.
Not so Motti Jacobs. When I was expecting and vomiting from even the smell of food, he would come home and say, “What’s for dinner, then?”
And so many more problems, too many problems, I thought, and so much fighting and arguing; and as my due date loomed closer I suddenly realized—Motti will never, ever take our children to the park—and I suddenly couldn’t stomach it anymore. I wanted out.
And here was my mother, telling me that I wasn’t trying hard enough! I was trying so hard! She just didn’t understand that some differences were insurmountable and impossible to get past. At this point, there was just too much water under the bridge—too many things said in anger, hurled at each other like small, exploding bombs that caused permanent damage.
Or so I thought.
“Your marriage definitely needs help, though,” my mother said, squeezing my hand in hers. “You should see a marriage counselor. And I know just the one for you.”
The very next day, Motti and I had an appointment with Dr. Grossman, a short chubby cheerful marriage therapist whose office was over a storefront on 13th Avenue. We spent the first session yelling first at each other and then at the doctor. The next session was calmer, cooler, and by the third session we were both in agreement about something for the first time in our marriage: We both absolutely despised Dr. Grossman.
The second thing we agreed on was a lot more helpful: that even if this was not the right therapist for us, we did need therapy.
We switched therapists four times until we found the one who was the right fit for both of us. We had many ups and many downs, but three years after that fateful lunch with my mother, our marriage was well on its way up.
While we would never have anything like my parents’ marriage—we simply did not have the ease and friendship that my parents had, and I did not know if we ever would—I learned to appreciate what I did have: stability and mutual respect, even love. And thanks to our once-a-week therapy sessions, I always knew exactly where I stood.
And that’s why, when my mother-in-law called me a week after Purim and told me that she and my father-in-law wanted to fly in and stay with us for Pesach, my heart sank into my shoes.