My wife and I are both ba’alei teshuvah, although I grew up in a religious environment and she comes from a secular background. We made the decision to get married based on a brief, romantic, and miraculous period of very “frum” dating. We were both mutually inspired by and committed to what we saw as a true opportunity from Hashem to rebuild our lives together. Marriage has certainly had its inspired and beautiful moments, and of course still offers its luminous potential to give both of us the opportunity to raise a Jewish family (iy”H) that we so desired. We both continue to feel that we are meant for each other and that this marriage is in fact a gift from above. However, there has been this one issue which has from the beginning threatened to derail us, and I was hoping that others might comment on this from their own experiences. It is the issue of the past, and in particular its role in our life together.
While I was dating my current wife and throughout our engagement, I was never counseled by any of my religious advisers to inquire too much about my wife’s past. I allowed myself to internalize the idea that her past was irrelevant, and all the more so if I wanted to be able to put my own mistakes behind me. Yet two important factors made that all but impossible: I am an extremely curious person and my wife, G-d bless her, is the proud owner of a big mouth. This combination of her “slips” and my curiosity has led to the revelation of a host of unpleasant discoveries about her life (the details of which are of course not relevant here) which, although she has solidly put them behind her, threaten to erode my level of respect for her as a person and comfort with her in this marriage. To further complicate things, I neither want this to be the case nor do I feel the “right” to be bothered by the past, yet the feeling just seems to come up in all kinds of situations whether I want it to be there or not, the feeling that there is something unsavory about this person who I love and am committed to. I spend a great deal of my emotional and intellectual resources trying to overcome this feeling of revulsion or antipathy, convincing myself that teshuvah renders all these things irrelevant, that people change, that my own past has been less than stellar… but the underlying feelings persist. For a time I resented her (and the Rabbis and counselors who advised us before our marriage) for the fact that I couldn’t make an “informed” decision before we got married. But I have come to accept and understand that we are soulmates and that if any of these revelations were made before marriage they probably would have given me second thoughts and if not prevented the marriage altogether, at least distorted my frame of mind and not allowed me to enjoy it.
So here we are, married and with a kid iy”H on the way, and I am more or less stuck in this limbo state, accepting on an intellectual and religious level that my wife as a ba’alat teshuvah is not the container of her past experiences, but on a psychological and emotional level being mostly unable to deal with them. I am trying to find coping strategies that will work for us because I do not want these issues to be present between us once our children iy”H are in the world. I want to be able to see my wife solely as they will see her, as a proud, intelligent, committed, and beautiful frum wife and mother, and as nothing besides.
I’m writing this in public (anonymously, of course) because I can only imagine that there must be other ba’alei teshuvah struggling with these issues of the proper understanding of the past, whether one’s own or that of someone close to them and especially as it relates to marriage and the need to get on with our work down here in this world and not be chased down by ideas or images from long ago. I hope that this will lead to an honest and productive discussion. B’vracha..