The Special Challenges of the Baal Teshuvah Marriage

The Orthodox Union has just released the findings of their Aleinu Marriage Satisfaction Survey conducted online from January 15-March 31, 2009. The full report can be read here and Ezzie has posted the video here.

Amongst the various findings is a section entitled Challenges to Baalei Teshuva. It states: “The survey made clear that baalei teshuva, with their new found religious fervor, face challenges in their marriages. Their stress factors, Dr. Schnall explained, include at-risk children; conflicts regarding education; lack of communication and intimacy; religious differences; finances; and lack of social network. He emphasized that ‘in large samples, even small differences can be statistically significant — in other words, while these findings likely did not occur by chance, the absolute differences between baalei teshuva and others regarding these stressors were not huge. The bottom line is that as rabbis and mental health professionals, or even simply as caring neighbors and friends, we need to show heightened sensitivity to these issues that might especially impact on baalei teshuva.’”

Does anyone find this surprising, enlightening, obvious, off-base, something else?

19 comments on “The Special Challenges of the Baal Teshuvah Marriage

  1. To Always a BT #17: I admit, it is painful when married children who are able to come for Shabbat or for Yom Tov do not come for one reason or another, such as a perceived slight to somebody’s ego, or because it is the “turn” of the other family. Been there, felt that.

    I learned long ago to extend what I call “open” invitations, which do not force married children to feel that they “have to” do anything, which go as follows: “This is an open invitation for [Yom Tov] [Shabbat]. I would love to have you and Spouse join us and we will have a lot of fun together if you do, but I understand completely if you are not able to make it. Just let me know before such and such a date if you are coming.”

    This way, married children do not get into major arguments with spouses about “you promised your parents, but I promised my parents, etc. etc.” The key is to be completely understanding if for Shalom Bayis reasons your married child must spend that particular Yom Tov with the other side. Stay far away from forcing your child into a battle or from shoveling on the guilt trip.

    Right now one specific child-in-law is in a snit because supposedly nobody talked to that person last time s/he was over, so s/he is not coming over any more. I have no idea what this child-in-law is referring to and I hope s/he forgives us all for Yom Kippur so we can clear the air and once again invite this child, spouse and kidlets to share our future joys. Such is life.

  2. I would suggest that BTs need to consider the importance of finding communities, rabbanim, and friends who will help them integrate into a life of Torah observance without compromising the very factors that led them to a life of Torah observance. I think that it is no secret that certain communities are simply more compatible and desirable for BTs to become integrated into, regardless of whether considers the same Charedi or MO.

  3. JR (#16), that is exactly what we are hoping for, but with only 1 married child, our “building” is still in the “framing” stage. Your situation sounds wonderful in that your married kids WANT to come to you for Yom Tov, but not everyone is so fortunate. I hope that my other children pick spouses a little more ammenable to spending the occasional Shabbat or Yom Tov with us because they want to, not because they feel they HAVE to.

  4. My experience has been different from that of Always a BT (which of course does not make her viewpoint any less valid). I find after 35 years of marriage that our married children and grandchildren have become our extended family. It gives me great happiness when our married children and their spouses and our grandchildren join us for the Pesach seder and the Yom Tov seudos in the Sukkah. And of course everyone gets together for family simchos like the first grandchild Bar Mitzvah (just this past Lag B’Omer). My husband and I are the grandparents now, and our adult children are their siblings’ children’s aunts and uncles.

  5. I’m married almost 30 years & it doesn’t really get any easier. The lack of frum family becomes an issue even as I am now in the grandparent stage. BH, we have wonderful friends from whom we’ve fashioned our own sort of “family” that we share holidays and simchas with. Ironically, many of our friends are FFB, but either don’t have parents anymore, or don’t have any relatives near by.

  6. May I just remind everyone bemoaning the lack of “frum extended family” that not everyone born frum *has* parents, or grandparents – or any local extended family.

    And I would suggest that “new” BTs, still struggling to adjust their own expectations and lifestyle to this new universe are a totally different category in many relevant regards than someone already settled in a frum life before they get married.

  7. I think one problem we BT’s may encounter is that we are given a lot of bad advice. FFB’s are going to have the wise voices of their FFB parents to counteract and recognize bad advice. We BT’s don’t always get correct advice from our mentors; in fact, sometimes they advise their own children differently in private from what they tell us publicly. For instance, back in the seventies one writer said in his newspaper columns that young frum women should not attend college, yet his own daughter went to Stern. One rabbi told young men not to go to college, but to keep learning in yeshiva; after all, he managed to raise ten children to adulthood. A little extra scrutiny however revealed that Rabbi XYZ was married to the daughter of a very wealthy man, who presumably helped out quite a bit while his grandchildren were young. It also is somewhat ironic when a mechaneches or menaheles who spends about 60 hours a week on her job in Chinuch Bnos constantly exhorts her talmidos to always put their own family first, even as her own daughters are preparing supper and diapering the babies because she’s once again not there. Maybe the short answer is that FFB’s have learned all along to swallow a healthy dose of realism along with their idealism, and we BT’s just haven’t gotten it.

  8. There was a comment posted on a different thread, I believe it was in response to the article, “Are BT’s Treated Like Second Class Citizens?” which alleged that Orthodox media tend to “play up” studies that show BT marriages and kids have more problems.

    One commenter complained that she had written in rebuttal to one of these magazines that the numbers did not actually show a difference between the divorce rates of FFB and BT marriages, but that her letter was never published. In other words, there is a set opinion in the FFB world about us BTs and only studies which go along with that opinion are going to have any credence in the frum world.

    IMHO, the strains on all marriages across the board are remarkably similar: money, in-laws, control, child raising, intimacy, selfishness, communication, sharing, maturity, etc. Divorce has sadly even become a reality for “Rebbishe” and “chassidishe” marriages where the family trees go back to generations of choshuve rabbonim. We BT’s don’t have a monopoly on any of that destroy Shalom Bayis.

  9. I think the most important priority for a BT marriage (or any marriage for that matter) should be shalom bayis. I think for a BT marriage, that requires at least two things: flexibility and a significant dedication of time. Time together with your spouse and the kids, sometimes to the exclusion of the endless communal time demands that draw us away – shuirim, minyanim, etc. That’s a calculation that everyone has to make based on their circumstances. And flexibility is required to weather changes individual spouses may make in their directions in Yiddishkeit. How we start out as young, newly-married and religious people can be drastically different than where we find ourselves years down the line, espcially in the case of a BT who lacks the foundation of an observant upbringing. I don’t think a BT should be too rigid in this regard. We should be prepared to cut each other some slack and live with things that we didn’t anticipate.

  10. I agree with you TDR. If both parents are BT then there is no from bubby and zeidy, no aunts uncles, cousins, noone frum to celebrate holidays with, noone to give the couple and the kids support. If there is a child with issues it is very hard because there is little support so it could be the kid is more likely to go off the Derech. But plenty of FFB kids go off the derech too.
    I can’t stress enough how important it is for BT’s to get someone to “adopt” them. For example, I have a friend who I feel very close to who adopted me, I consider her my sister, and she and her husband have given me support all these years, more than 25 bli ayin horah.
    Regarding the other things in the article, it could be true of really new BT’s who get married very quickly. I am of the opinion that BT’s should not rush to get married so quick, as they often do due to loneliness, lack of family, etc. shabbat shalom!

  11. In a dual BT marriage myself I feel keenly the lack of logistical support from extended family. As the sick woman in the story above, I also work full-time and do most of the household/child management/cooking. I would love to be able to send my kids to their cousins for the weekend, and my sister would love to have them, but we just can’t do it.

    Yom Tov is particularly hard for me and for the kids. All their friends share Yom Tov with their cousins and my kids have noone.

  12. From what I can see in a community with a high proportion of BT’s, there’s definitely a lot of truth in this report. Lack of family support (and sometimes the clear rejection of the frum lifestyle by the BT’s parents) is a major issue. One that cannot be overcome.
    At-risk kids are just a sad reflection of BT’s trying to parent frum kids. We need parenting classes etc. Perhaps also home management classes – Chana Sarah Radcliff’s books have been fabulous in this regard.

  13. Nathan,

    There are many of people who work physically hard their whole lives and live very long lives. I don;t think we’re in a position to determine why this lady died young. May her neshoma have an aliyah.

  14. I knew two Baalei Teshuvah who married each other. The wife was a righteous person, but she was sick often, and her health never seemed to be better than mediocre all the years I knew them.

    With no Shomer Shabbat parents and no Shomer Shabbat in-laws, she always cooked for Shabbat and Jewish holidays, in addition to a full-time job. Her husband tried to help her prepare these meals, and even the guests tried their best to help, but cooking always seemed to be the task that was most difficult for her. She died of infection in her very early 30s.

    I suspect that frequent exhaustion, which was partially caused by her being the wife in two-Baal-Teshuvah marriage, was a contributing factor in her tragically early death. May her merit shield all Jews who care about Shabbat.

  15. If BT’s are more likely to have at-risk kids, I would think it’s because the kids are not stupid and know they’re considered second class.

  16. I think that the authors of the report and the OU should be applauded for discussing these issues and factors-many of which we have discussed here such as integrating BTs, the dangers of the Internet, and the pressures of time.

    Let me offer a simple case in point-there is a wonderful shiur on aspects of Jewish history offered by R D S Leiman a block from my house every two weeks. I would love to go-but on Shabbos afternoons, as opposed to Shabbos night , when the shiur is held during the winter. As someone a few years older than me pointed out to me a few years ago, I think that spending Leil Shabbos with my family takes precedence over anything, except for a major communal shiur or scholar in residence type of event.

  17. Do we know if this survey covered the entire spectrum of Orthodox Jews or only those now associated with OU shuls?

  18. I believe that most of this is statistical not causative.

    They also did say that the differences between bts and ffbs “were not huge.”

  19. Are they making any causal claims here? For instance, are the stress factors due to religious differences between husband and wife or maybe the lack of a family network? As far as “at-risk” children are they seeing problems with the “do as I say not as I did” situation or is it more of the influence of non-frum relatives? There are just so many factors at play here that, unless it is fleshed out, I’m not sure what the value is.

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