What Exactly is Marriage?

The Big Leap

Today, marriage seems to be a kind of evolutionary accident. After a period of getting acquainted, dating and becoming romantically and intimately involved, comes the stage of restlessness. This is where a couple confronts one of life’s most terrifying questions: Now what?  When their answer to “Where do we go from here?” is marriage, this innocent couple ends up wedged between the panic, split and run —“a part of me will always love you” routine—and deciding to take the big leap. This leap lands them under the marriage canopy vowing to share their lives—their joys and sorrows—“till death do us part.” The only thing missing is “…and they all lived happily ever after.”  Because these days, most of them don’t.

No Definition = Big Problem

Many of the obstacles that wound and even cripple a marriage are a direct result of a faulty definition of marriage. Think about friendship for a moment. If two people have different definitions of friendship, and both consider the other to be a friend, then what will transpire is a frustrating experience.  Each will have a different set of expectations and assumptions, each will invest different amounts of emotional energy and each will be caught off guard when reciprocity seems to be out of kilter.  The result will be a friendship gone bitter, and the cause will have been different views of what a friendship was supposed to be all about in the first place.  The same trap exists with marriage. No definition, or different definitions, lead to big problems. Marriage is not the creation of a permanent context for hot nights and care free days; it’s not the key to happiness or a treatment for depression, and it’s not even about the creation and training of future college graduates. What then is marriage? Jewish wisdom defines marriage as the commitment a man and a woman make to becoming one shared, unified soul—with a uniquely distinctive identity—pursuing common life goals.

Life Goals and Marriage

Jewish wisdom assesses the highest priority to clarifying life goals.  A clear idea of one’s life goals is the surest foundation for meaningful, productive, spiritual living and forms the bedrock for a deep, fulfilling and lasting marriage as well.

Marriages dissolve when two lives are pointed in different directions.  Conflicts over the color for a new kitchen can generally be resolved, but conflicts in direction often cannot. Couples rarely break up over clashes in taste, but they do break up over whose career comes first when the two conflict. Couples will break up over whether to give priority to career or family, over whether or not to have children, over the type of education to give their children, and over which religion or how much of it to have in the home. These, and other issues like them, are anything but trivial. These are life goal issues. They are issues every individual needs to carefully consider before inviting someone else to share his or her life. Two people who don’t know where they are going should never commit to getting there together.

If you want to go to the beach, you can’t share a car with someone who wants to go skiing. If you want stability in life, you’ve got to have goals. In marriage, shared goals bring stability, structure and harmony. They are also the basis for fulfillment and a catalyst for the deepest of loves and the deepest and most intimate shared life imaginable.

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Comments icon June 4, 2009



By Benny Powers on June 4, 2009 -- 1:56am

Great article. I’ve been to lots of weddings lately, so the topic’s been on my mind in a big way. Thanks for helping me get a little more perspective on things.

All the best.

By mm360 on June 5, 2009 -- 3:26am

Very good point about the expectations of marriage. Also about life goals and marriage. Communication is critical to determine that the couple is a good match.

By Dian on June 12, 2009 -- 5:18am

Thank you for sharing your ideas. It made me more realize about marriage and what should be expeted with it. Marriage now a days has a different meaning. With your article it made me realize many things. Thanks for sharing this. I will also share this to my married friend.



By life cover on September 20, 2009 -- 1:03pm

Thanks for sharing your insights. I was thinking something similar about the marriage. Every couple should be aware of their mutual goals and the purposes of their marriage. Or all will be futile.

By Sapna on October 21, 2009 -- 3:32pm

Hey enjoyed reading this post a lot, good to understand the concept of marriage.

By Leah Stein on April 15, 2010 -- 9:34pm

I’ve been having A LOT of trouble understanding the purpose of marriage and why people would ever want to do it. To me, it’s like asking for serious problems. Life on your own has enough problems, why invite more in? Additionally, each person has a purpose for their existence. Wouldn’t it be easier to achieve that purpose when you’re on your own so that you can focus on yourself and your purpose, rather than bearing responsibility for other people? Although I have all these questions about marriage, The explanation above helped me understand why people would want to get married- to be partners in achieving their goals. Can someone respond to my questions? Thanks.

By Janis on April 21, 2010 -- 2:16am

The Purpose of Marriage

Commitment to creating an intimate marriage will facilitate mutual self-discovery and a life of meaningful fulfillment.

We all know that marriage is difficult. Almost 50 percent of married couples in North America get divorced, which means that one in two couples must be so miserable, they give up. Of the couples that do stay together, how many of them are truly happy? Why would people subject themselves to this institution; what makes it all worthwhile?

I posed this collection of questions to a group of students I was lecturing to at University of Toronto. They were frustrated because they intuited that marriage is worth the effort, but they could not adequately articulate why. Family, companionship, stability and love were some of the responses they gave. While these are all valid benefits of marriage, they do not effectively explain what specifically about marriage makes it worthwhile. There are many couples that love each other but get divorced, as do those that have children, stability and companionship. A successful marriage must be dependant on other intangibles.

My rabbi taught me that to begin to understand a concept, you must first define it. The technical definition of Jewish marriage is, of course, the giving of the ring under the chuppah with the expressed intent of marriage, validated by two witnesses. This definition describes the lifetime commitment the couple makes to each other before man and God.

But what exactly is the couple committing to? A lifetime together—for what purpose?

There is another, more philosophical definition of marriage: A lifetime commitment to constantly provide emotional intimacy to your spouse, thereby uncovering your true self and, ultimately, your unique purpose for being created.

Each clause of this definition reveals the foundation of a successful marriage.

A lifetime commitment:

Marriage is meant to last forever. You are committed for the long haul; therefore figure out whatever you need to make it work. When you argue, are frustrated, tired or bored, say to each other: “We are in this together, forever. Let us get through this, because on the other side lies the happiness we both want, the happiness a successful marriage provides.”

To constantly:

Marriage takes constant work. A great marriage does not just passively unfold after marrying your soul-mate. Instead, the commitment of marriage is a lifetime of proactive “everydays:”

Everyday I will recommit myself to this person.
Everyday I will make my spouse happy.
Everyday I will communicate with my spouse.
Everyday I will make my spouse feel special.
Everyday I will make my spouse feel that I am the most blessed person in the world to be married to him/her.
Everyday I will unload his/her burden.

For a marriage to be successful, it must be the top priority in your life. You must work harder and smarter on your marriage than you do at work, parenting or other relationships, but you will find that the success of this relationship will aid you in all other pursuits. Ignoring your marriage to focus on other things will ultimately create chaos in all areas of your life, not just your marriage.

Provide emotional intimacy to your spouse:

The definition of emotional intimacy is to constantly make your spouse feel that he/she is the most important aspect of your life; it is the key to a happy marriage.

A marriage is a bank account whose currency is feelings and making your spouse feel fulfilled, happy, loved, cherished, desired and respected are deposits in the account. The emotions of distance, discontent, apathy, feeling secondary, disrespect and being critical are all withdrawals from the account. A happy marriage is one with an abundant emotional bank.

How you make your spouse feel is more important than the reality of the situation. If there is an issue that needs to be taken care of within the marriage, first deal with the feelings and then, once they have been resolved, address the issue itself.

How do you create emotional intimacy? There is an Emotional Intimacy Quotient (EIQ): (G + L) x C = EI, which is (Gratitude + Love) x Communication = Emotional Intimacy.

Gratitude is the awareness of all the kindness your spouse does for you, of which you must recognize. A daily gratitude diary is a great way to get in the habit of noticing. Everyday, add five new things your spouse has done for you and then communicate your appreciation of these kindnesses; this is true gratitude.

**continued in next comment**

By Janis on April 21, 2010 -- 2:17am

Love is the feeling you get when you focus on and appreciate your spouse’s virtues, positive attributes and character traits. Your daily gratitude diary can double as a daily love journal. Everyday, list five of your spouse’s virtues and communicate them. Express each virtue with the words, “You are… (virtue x),” while making deliberate eye contact. Each day that you communicate gratitude and love will be one in which you experience emotional intimacy.

Thereby uncovering your true self:

Emotional intimacy demands honesty and growth. You cannot be dishonest about yourself with your spouse and be truly intimate at the same time. Emotional intimacy is a growth process, where you are always working to connect at deeper and deeper levels. You need to uncover any hidden layers within you that block the emotional connections to your soul mate. You will begin a journey to places inside yourself that you have never before been challenged to reach; there you will find fears, insecurities and anxieties concealed in the crevices of your subconscious that you will have to work through to achieve greater intimacy with your spouse. Each layer that you remove uncovers more of your true self and character; an intimate marriage is the one place where you cannot hide from yourself.

And ultimately, your unique purpose for being created:

Once your true self is unleashed, your relationship to the outside world begins to change. You will discover deeper meanings in other pursuits. You will transform your environment to reflect, and be in harmony with, your inner self. Honesty and integrity will define you, as love and meaning pursue you. Personal growth will be your determining measure of success. An unbridled passion for life will radiate from you. You will find a gentle peace and begin to understand your special place in the universe. Slowly, your relationship with your Creator will begin to mirror the thriving relationship you have with your spouse.


In teaching the commandment to love God, Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher and scholar, writes that one’s love for God should parallel one’s love for a spouse, though the former should be even more intense. One should be “love sick,” thinking of your spouse “whether you are sitting or standing, eating or drinking.” The connection to your spouse should be so intense that he/she is with you in every aspect—in your heart, your mind and your soul.

Once you experience this passion through the physical realm of marriage, you have acquired the tools to connect to the spiritual equivalent and create a loving connection with your Creator. Your intimacy with the Divine will be determined by the very depth and intensity of passion you share with your spouse.

Through marriage, you have the potential to uncover who you really are and the unique qualities you possess to share with the world. You have the potential to sincerely connect with another human being without barriers, apprehensions or inhibitions. And emotional portals to connect with the Almighty with boundless passion will await you.

by Rabbi Aryeh Pamensky

Reprinted with permission from Sasson magazine.

By dantel örnekleri on August 12, 2010 -- 4:57am

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By TomB on June 14, 2012 -- 2:52pm

“Jewish wisdom defines marriage as the commitment a man and a woman make to becoming one shared, unified soul—with a uniquely distinctive identity—pursuing common life goals.”
Hey, that’s a great quote!  Now I don’t feel so bad waiting an extra decade to find one of the very few women who has similar life goals. smile

By goodoldrebel on July 15, 2014 -- 3:07am

Even orthodox get divorced. Finding a Judaic bride is no guarantee for happiness. Happiness is found within yourself. You have to feed off yourself and not emotionally depend on another for substance. I hope I can have a life with a Jewish woman. I always think of my grandmother and what a great person she was. I would like to have children with a Jewish woman and continue the tradition but in today’s society even a Judaic woman can nail you to the floorboards with child support and alimony etc. I’ve seen the orthodox fighting in family court so marrying a Judaic woman is no guarantee that family life will be good.

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