My marriage since becoming observant has been a very painful reality for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am married to a wonderful man. The painful part is that we don’t share a commitment to living a Torah life.
In the Jewish community, people often talk about the “intermarriage problem.” But marrying a Jew isn’t enough. The ideal situation is clearly to marry a Jew who shares your definition of “Jewish home,” “raising Jewish children,” and “observing Jewish law/rituals/practices” (or at least compatible, similar definition). The problem for BTs is that our definition of all those things has changed, which increases the odds that we are married to someone who isn’t frum and doesn’t want to be.
When I met my future husband, I was moving at a glacial speed towards observant Judaism (I intellectually knew Orthodox Judaism was the only sort of Judaism that rationally made sense to me, but I was living a largely secular life). My husband is Jewish, but never had much of any exposure to Judaism growing up, and our secular lifestyle suited him just fine. But after about two years of marriage, my Jewish glacier melted and became a fast moving torrent of new observances.
Of course, as you might imagine, I tried all sorts of methods to encourage my husband to take up my new found Judaism. I asked nicely, I sent web links, I bought him books, I begged, I bribed, I threatened. None of that worked, but it did bring our marriage dangerously close to divorce. Hopefully, if you find yourself in a similar situation, then you can do as I say and not as I did.
First, you should know that at least in the beginning, you are likely going to be the major (if not the only) source of Yiddishkeit in your home. Instead of bemoaning the fact that your spouse doesn’t act like a husband or wife in a traditional Jewish home, perhaps you can get to a point where you appreciate the opportunity to be such a bright light for your family.
Second, take the time to find out why your spouse isn’t interested in becoming more observant. It may be that there are things that you can do to make observing some mitzvot more comfortable for him or her. Perhaps lack of knowledge, feeling uncomfortable, or the magnitude of commitment a Torah lifestyle requires are stumbling blocks for your spouse. Look for opportunities to help your spouse participate (if he or she is willing). For example, transliterated blessings with instructions on how to light Hanukkah candles helped my husband light a menorah for the first time this past Hanukkah. He was able to do it without my help, so rather than feeling infantilized he felt empowered.
Third, you really do catch more flies with honey. You can’t force your spouse to be observant, but you can show him or her how beautiful and meaningful an observant life can be. I doubt there is a person on the planet who became frum because his or her spouse constantly criticized all the things he or she was doing that were “wrong.” But there are many among us who started becoming more observant because of someone else showing us kindness and compassion.
Fourth, it is helpful to find compromises instead of fights. If your spouse still wants to eat food from a non-kosher restaurant, then maybe you can agree that he won’t bring it into your home. Obviously you don’t want to compromise your own commitment to halacha (or that of your children, if you have them). But it’s important to your marriage that everything is not a fight.
Finally, I’ll end with what is probably my most controversial idea. If you are committed to staying married, then you will have to learn to respect the fact that your spouse may never observe Judaism the way you do. You can pray, encourage and lead by example, but you simply cannot force someone to be observant.