How can the euphoria and excitement leading up to a wedding be dashed into the melancholy of a broken engagement? Why does the kallah, who was smiling with glistening white teeth at her engagement party, no longer have a white wedding gown to look forward to? What made the chassan, who was standing tall in his new suit, become humbled as he no longer sees himself standing under the chuppah? It is hard to know what happens behind the scenes of someone else’s broken engagement. Each story is different. At the same time, there are certain common threads that run through most broken engagements. The main reason for broken engagements is because their decision to get married was made without an awareness of themselves, of their partner, or both.
The following true stories shed light on different ways that a lack of clarity affected people’s decision to get engaged and resulted directly in broken engagements.
“We had such a great time talking on dates! We both felt a deep chemistry almost instantly. Based on his family background and the yeshivos he went to, it seemed that we shared the same values and life goals.”
When Ayala came to me she was engaged to Dov for around two months. They got along well and enjoyed sharing time together. The significant issues that eventually divided them came up when they had to make real decisions about where to live and how to support themselves. She and Dov did not have deep discussions while they were dating about what kind of home they wanted to build, how they would divide the responsibilities of managing their home, or how they would earn a livelihood. When it came time to make practical decisions for setting up their home, Ayala was surprised to hear how different Dov’s plans were from what she had imagined.
It took several weeks of long, heart-felt discussions between them for them to realize that, even though they liked each other, they did not share the same values and goals. Once that happened, they realised that they had vastly different pictures of how their married life would play out. Since values and goals guide a person’s life decisions, Ayala and Dov could not even come to an agreement about how to plan their first year of marriage. They broke their engagement soon after.
The best way to avoid this kind of broken engagement is to avoid making assumptions about your partner. Just because s/he went to certain schools, comes from a particular family background, or is affiliated with a specific community, does not mean that you can draw any specific conclusions about what s/he wants out of life or what her expectations are of marriage.
Discover More About Your Dating Partner
It is essential to have meaningful conversations during dating to clarify the extent to which your dating partner shares your values, goals and expectations. Ask open-ended questions to discover your partner’s short and long-term plans and share yours as well. Find out what your partner’s relationships are like with his family members and friends. Explore what your partner’s expectations are of marriage and parenthood.
Ask questions about the past as well as the future. For example: “What was your father like in his role as a husband and as a father? How would you like your (or your husband’s) role to be the same? How would you like it to be different?” and “What was your mother like in her role as a wife and as a mother? How would you like your (or your wife’s) role to be the same? How would you like it to be different? Why?” These open-ended questions can be a springboard for deep conversations that provide clarity for you to understand one another’s expectations and plans for how to build a home.
Discover More About Yourself
Often, these open-ended, deep questions can be difficult for someone to answer on the spot. If you or your partner have never thought about these questions before, you will need time to think about the answers before you share them. Contemplating the answers to these questions is the first step to you both gaining self-awareness about your vision for how you would like to build your own home and family.
Once you clarify for yourself what is important to you in marriage and in life, discussing your feelings with your dating partner can help you re-examine your expectations and clarify them even more. In this way, dating can increase your self-awareness and help you gain the clarity you need to choose the right person to marry.
Do not Outsource Your Decision About Who to Marry
“I was excited about the idea of getting engaged and married. Chava told me that she loved me and always showered me with praises. It was obvious to me from early on that Chava wanted to marry me. Yet, something bothered me about our relationship. Even though she adored me, Chava had a tendency to get upset at me really quickly. She also did not seem to share some of my religious values. Yet, our shadchan was a rabbi I respected. He kept telling me that Chava is surely going to be my wife. I have always heard that you only really love someone once you get married, so I hoped that I would eventually grow to love her. I did not want to disappoint the shadchan that I respected, or Chava. I realize now that I should have listened to my doubts and waited to get engaged until I had more clarity.”
It is important that you own your decision to get married. Do not outsource this monumental choice to any other person. You cannot get engaged because another person thinks you should. It does not matter who that other person is: your dating partner, rabbi, parent, dating coach, therapist, or friend. Seek advice and guidance from people you trust, but do not rely on them to make your decision for you.
Your advisors and mentors can play a critical role in your process of choosing a life partner, but it is irresponsible to allow them to decide who that partner is. Rather, they should help you reflect on what specifically you need to look for in a spouse. They should ask you questions so that you gain the self-awareness and clarity you need to determine if you can create a happy marriage with your current dating partner. If you find that the people you consult are telling you what to do and how to think instead of asking you open-questions to get you to think, seek out a professional who will help you reflect. The decision to marry needs to be your own. You need to feel confident and calm about your choice to get married.
Define the Goal of Dating Differently
In the Orthodox Jewish world, dating usually has one barometer of success. Does it result in marriage? The goal of dating is exclusively to find someone to marry. While it is healthy to date with the goal of marriage in mind, an essential way to stem the tide of broken engagements is to expand the goals of dating. Success in dating should not merely be assessed by whether or not you are married. Success should be measured by every achievement of self-development along the way.
Measure your success in dating by your attainment of mini-goals of self-development throughout the process of dating. Every step you take through the dating process is as an opportunity for valuable personal growth. Each time you increase your self-awareness about what you are looking for in a life partner, develop your ability to determine if the person you are dating is right for you, and enhance your relationship skills, celebrate that as a success in dating. If you look at dating as a process of self-development, you will enrich who you are as a person, and as a future spouse. That will bring you closer to the ultimate goal of becoming not just “married”, but “happily married.”
About the Author
Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, teaches courses on how to become a master of relationships, and blogs at chanimaybruch.com. To find out more about how to gain self-awareness and get dating clarity, register for her FREE E-course “Get Dating Clarity” and her upcoming online course: “Master Dating: How to Create Your Ideal Relationship.”