My friend Molly has a great blog, Postcards from a Peaceful Divorce, in which she writes about how she and her ex-husband have gone from being bickering spouses to good friends and harmonious co-parents. Her stories are ,by turns, funny, heartbreaking and inspiring. Like any successful blogger (especially one who had made it to the Huffington Post – yay, Molly!) she’s incited some not-always-so-peaceful debate. I recently re-read some of her posts to see what all the fuss was about. In a nutshell, her critics think she’s assuming that everyone can have a peaceful divorce with sufficient effort. I think they are mistaken about her message. Her essays are descriptive, not perscriptive; she’s sharing what has and hasn’t worked for her family.
At the root of her peaceful divorce (which is not without conflict, mind you) is something that is also at the heart of any peaceful relationship – a fundamental belief in the deep-down goodness of the other. This doesn’t mean believing that every single thing he or she does is good – but rather having faith in the other’s essential character. While Molly and her ex-husband learned that they could not live together in harmony, they seem to have a profound trust in one another that makes it possible to overlook, or at least tolerate, some (most?) of the “small stuff.”
This same faith has been one of the secrets (not that it’s much of a secret) to my husband’s and my successful interfaith marriage. Getting through the small stuff is always on my mind at Passover. Why? Because one of my very favorite Jewish holidays happens to be the holiday my husband can barely tolerate. And it’s often led to conflict.
I love to cook. I love to entertain. I love ritual. I love singing familiar songs with friends and family. In a nutshell, I love Passover. My husband likes steak and beer, not necessarily in that order. He would prefer to never have company. He is an atheist. He does not know Hebrew, and never heard the song Dayenu before we were married. (For this, I may envy him just a bit.) There’s really nothing about Passover that speaks to him. And while we’ve found pretty good compromises to work through these differences the rest of the year (shabbat company only once a month, for example), Passover is tough. I become much more strict about observing the dietary laws of kashrut (here’s an article I wrote for interfaith family about some of the ways we manage this year round), and I usually end up hosting both seders, which means we have company two nights in a row. Also, my husband likes (needs) to know how much we are going to spend on anything and everything approximately two years before the bills arrive (I’m not really kidding about this – he has financial spread sheets taking our family through the next five years, at least.) I never stick to our food budget on Passover, nor can I ever seem to accurately predict how much I’m going to spend on things like eighteen dollar boxes of “bread of afflicition.”
In past years, Keith would get increasingly anxious and withdrawn at Passover. I think deep down he was afraid that I was turning into a fundamentalist Martha Stewart with a spending problem. Consequently, I would get increasingly irritated, afraid he was turning into a… jerk.
Almost ten years into our marriage, we seem to have found our stride, even at Passover. My husband has faith that after eight days, things will go back to normal. This makes him a little more relaxed, and able to tolerate some of the challenges that come with this holiday. I have faith that my husband’s moodiness is temporary, and that he is still the very even-keeled, incredibly helpful and wonderful man that I fell in love with. This makes me less likely to stomp around the house banging doors. Trusting in the person we married, even when their actions don’t precisely match whom we know them to be …..that’s the secret to a peaceful relationship.
We’ve even managed some tiny steps in each other’s direction. This year, I let him keep his beer in the refrigerator instead of the garage (I sold him my chametz.) He cleaned my car thoroughly for the holiday, and even remembered to move the dog food and biscuits to the garage when I had forgotten. They might seem like tiny gestures, but to me, they are truer signs of love than flowers or jewelry.
Marriage is not easy, and I’m sure divorce is even harder. But no matter what the relationship, everyone benefits from working through the challenges as peacefully as possible. Thanks for the constant reminder, Molly!