Making a Marriage: Inside Beyond the Huppah

As Beyond the Huppah 2017 approaches, we are reminded of these unique insights written and adapted by educator Judy Elkin.

Imagine it. Ten couples sitting around a table, munching on Terra Chips, hummus and carrots, mixed nuts, and Peanut M&M’s; some soon-to-be married, some already married, in their late 20’s and older, gay and straight, Jewish-Jewish, interfaith, and all, if they have children, interested in raising them as Jews. They want to start their marriages on the right foot. What that means is gaining tools for having productive and meaningful conversations on major topics, exploring how to create Jewish lives that match their values, and learning how to stay curious about each others’ lives. This is what Beyond the Huppah is all about.

One of the fun things we do in this workshop that hones in on one of the most serious issues marriages face – conflict – is becoming familiar with the 4 toxins that Dr. John Gottman identified as showing up most commonly during conflict. The toxins are: blame, defensiveness, contempt (which is the most toxic), and stonewalling. Now, we ALL do ALL of them, it’s just the degree to which they exist that is of concern. Gottman tells us that healthy couples have a 6:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. One of the best antidotes when a toxin appears (besides naming it) is to build positivity in the relationship.

One way to do this is so simple, and yet, like many simple things, is also so hard – to acknowledge and appreciate your partner, out loud, each day. Even if the something seems mundane, do it.

To learn about these toxins, we get up out of our comfy chairs and go into the lobby of Mayyim Hayyim to find the name of each toxin arranged in a square on the floor. Participants stand in each one and recall times they experienced each one. They are asked to pick their favorite and talk to others who share that experience. They then move to the one they think their partner uses most. There’s laughter, new awareness, and a deepened understanding of what transpires when they fight. Couples then sit together in a private place to talk about what they learned and how they’d like to help each other when the toxins show up.

And then we look to our tradition, where in the siddur (prayer book) before the Shema we’re reminded that each day God renews creation. The rabbis understood that we’re going to fight, AND we need to remember that tomorrow is another day, a new beginning, another opportunity to create and maintain positivity.

There are times throughout the course where we deal head-on with how Jewish tradition and practice will be woven through the fabric of our marriages. In the session on ritual, we study relevant texts about Shabbat in particular and Jewish ritual in general. Then we enact a role play where two partners are in the midst of a frustrating conversation over Shabbat observance. One partner thought they were on the same page about keeping Friday night as a night for themselves or friends, but at home in a more traditional way and not out at a restaurant. The other partner thought they were still trying to figure it out and is more ambivalent about it, and accepted an invitation from the boss to go out as a couple on the upcoming Friday night. As participants jump in to play out the relational issues, they also get clearer about the importance of Shabbat in their lives, what shape it will take, how it’s similar or different from how they were raised, and for Jews-by-choice, how they want to bring to their relationship their new commitment to Jewish life.

Beyond the Huppah is about grounding the general wisdom about relationships in our Jewish tradition and creating opportunities for couples to dig deeper on important issues than they might otherwise on their own. With this sneak-peak of experiential activities in mind, I invite you to join me for the upcoming series beginning April 20th. You can learn more and register here.

Learn more about bringing the Beyond the Huppah curriculum to your community here.

judJudy Elkin, M.Ed., PCC  is certified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC) from the International Coach Federation in both individual and relationship coaching.  In addition to her private practice in Newton MA, focused on career transitions, executive leadership, parenting and aging, Judy teaches Parenting Through a Jewish Lens for Hebrew College. She brings to her coaching a 25 year career in Jewish education and professional development.


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