Today, I am fortunate to be celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary. Somehow, my husband, Ira, and I defied the odds. Several red flags were clearly visible on June 20, 1975. But miraculously, those obstacles did not deter me. Instead, we worked hard to find the ingredients for a long lasting marriage.
I was a spirited 18 year-old who was certain that I had found my b’shert (Yiddish: meant to be or divinely ordained spouse). Regardless of my parent’s displeasure in my choice, I was adamant that my future was with the man that I loved. After my irrational parents abruptly and without warning cancelled my elaborate August wedding, my fiancé and I chose a simpler wedding under a hand held chuppah in a traditional synagogue in Chicago.
My prenuptial dress became my wedding dress and our bridal party was dismissed from its role. Bridal shower gifts were sent as wedding gifts. We were married with minimal fanfare and received few gifts for our small Chicago apartment. Whatever expectations I had for our wedding were instantly shattered. Despite all of this tzuris (Yiddish: trouble or distress), I was happily married.
Back in those days, rabbis did not offer pre-marriage counseling or classes. One day I was a carefree, single, teenage girl and the next day I was a responsible, married woman. Adding to this tumult was a recent move back to Chicago and enrollment in an urban school combined with the stresses of having a spouse who was a first year law student. His law school peers had exceptionally high infidelity and divorce rates. At his graduation, more were divorced than married.
I was unaware of the fact that future studies would show that getting married as a teenager is the highest known risk factor for divorce. According to David Popenoe, Ph.D., of The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, “People who marry in their teens are two to three times more likely to divorce than people who marry in their twenties or later.”
That was not the only possible impediment. Ira and I were engaged just a few months after we met and married less than a year after meeting. Our relatively short courtship was intense since we lived together while attending the University of Colorado-Boulder. Ira’s eldest brother, Bruce, called it “puppy love.” We were adamant that it was the “real” thing.
Based on an Emory University Study, our lack of time together substantially increased our chances of divorce. This study states that the rate of divorce is inversely associated with the length of time a couple has dated before marriage. The research shows that a couple who dates for 3 years is 39 percent less likely to get a divorce than a couple who dated for less than one year.
Another warning flag was waved by the fact that it was another 2 ½ years before I completed my college education. According to leading marriage authorities, college educated couples have a lower chance of divorce compared to their peers with just a high school degree. Other surveys report statistics that people married in the 1970s had a greater likelihood of divorcing than at any other period of time.
It is true that statistics regarding human behavior only tell part of the story and cannot address the individual nature of people. Certain personalities have the potential of trumping the norm. Ira and I are definitely outliers who made decisions that offset the national trends.
Despite my chronological age, I was forced to mature at a quick pace when my parents arbitrarily turned their back on me as well as the man I loved. Despite multiple efforts on my part, this horrific situation was never reconciled. This major disappointment surprisingly had a positive effect on my immediate family. I could not change what had happened with my parents and 4 siblings, but I chose to bring stability to my married life and future family.
While my husband’s family could never take the place of my own family, they stepped in to fill the void. They graciously lent me money so that I could complete my undergraduate education and made me feel welcome in their family life.
I was determined to reaffirm my identity and confirm my future path. Pursuing an undergraduate degree in Jewish Studies and history put my life into a larger perspective. Not only was I linked to Ira, but now we were simultaneously adding our link to centuries of Jewish existence.
Our commitment to one another and our Judaism were set. As our husband-wife relationship blossomed, our best friend status was sealed.
We had to learn to accept the positive and negative aspects of each other’s personality and to find constructive ways to deal effectively with our conflicts. We realized that there would be times when our two paths would diverge and that we would need to be able to compromise. Oftentimes, it took considerable effort and patience to find middle ground.
Listening, waiting, and choosing words wisely became my game plan. It was vital that both of us felt valued and respected by the other. Sometimes emotions disrupted this strategy and it took longer than necessary to resolve conflicts. Nevertheless, our desire to maintain a shared vision with distinct priorities helped us remain on an even keel. Over time we realized that expressing our feelings would go a long way to having a healthy level of communication. If we couldn’t communicate honestly, our marriage would be doomed.
The childbearing years brought on a new round of stresses, but we chose to remain flexible as each of our 4 sons entered into our growing family. We readjusted our vision to include a mutually agreed upon parenting philosophy. This approach lessened the likelihood of us fighting unnecessarily about parenting decisions. Tense and unpredictable events were met with humor and lightheartedness. After all, there was no way we could predict what any of our boys would do in a wide variety of situations. Raising four boys had some “off the wall” moments. We rode the wave of parenting and are pleased with the outcome.
I would have to agree with Nora Efron (1941-2012) Z”L who once said, “When you have a baby, you set off an explosion in your marriage, and when the dust settles, your marriage is different from what it was. Not better, necessarily; not worse, necessarily; but different.” Yes, life with four sons was filled with capricious moments but at the same time it was an amazing experience. I will always cherish my role as my sons’ mom.
As the kids matured, I realized that my days as a stay-at-home mother were becoming shorter. Enrolling in two graduate school programs potentially offered new opportunities that would enhance outdated education and former work experiences. I was able to achieve my educational objectives and maintain a healthy marriage because my husband supported and respected my decision. Ira understood my desire for personal and professional growth and provided the assistance I needed. Likewise, whenever Ira chose to change jobs, I supported him. When Ira suffered his near death experience, I stood by his side and helped him undergo his tedious recuperation process.
Over the last few years, our family has been enriched by the addition of daughter-in-laws and significant others. Each one has added a new dimension to our family. While our time together as a complete family unit is limited to once or twice a year, we make the most of these rare occasions. Vivid memories of our sons’ childhoods oftentimes break the stillness associated with our empty nest household. Now that the “high maintenance years of childrearing” are behind us, we can sit back and watch as our grown children blossom into productive and ethically minded individuals. Sometimes it is difficult to remain on the sidelines. Being an observer rather than a participate is definitely an empty nester skill. Each adult child needs to pursue their own path with minimal parental intervention.
In the coming months, we will have two lifecycle events. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first grandson this fall and our third son, Aaron’s upcoming marriage.
Situations beyond my control prevented me from fulfilling my midlife career path. Ira, once again, stood by my side. Instead of dwelling on the negative, we readjusted our plan. We have used our desire to lead a healthy lifestyle, which includes a multitude of travel experiences, as a binding force. As we travel to a variety of places around the world, we have encountered novel experiences and met fascinating people. Each adventure has enhanced our relationship as well as our understanding of the world around us. Until I sort out the next chapter of my life, this blog will act as a conduit for my writing and a way to reach my audience.
Forty years ago, I doubt many people would have bet on the success of our marriage. The odds were not in our favor. While my behavior in 1975 was unconventional, I never felt that I was risking anything. I was confident that our love would prevail and offset whatever obstacles we ultimately faced as a couple. Was I a bit naïve? Absolutely. Did I eventually find the ingredients for a long lasting marriage? Indeed, I did. I look forward to the next 40 years. L’Chaim. (Hebrew: to life)
Letting Go of the Past (Momster blog on Family Circle Website)
Living Without Regrets (Momster blog on Family Circle Website)
Sandra Bornstein is the author of MAY THIS BE THE BEST YEAR OF YOUR LIFE. It is available on Amazon. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. She is a licensed Colorado teacher who has taught K-12 students in the United States and abroad as well as college level courses. Sandra is married and has four adult sons. The memoir was a finalist in the Travel category for the 2013 Next Generation Indie Book Awards, the 2013 International Book Awards, the 2013 National Indie Book Excellence Awards, the 2013 USA Best Book Awards, and received an Honorable Mention award in the Multicultural Non-Fiction category for the 2013 Global ebook Awards.