The Essential Dating and Marriage Book

Chana’s first book, “I Only Want to Get Married Once” was initially published in Israel by a local publisher, Gefen Publishing House.  After her book became a best seller in Israel, Grand Central Publishing (formerly Warner) picked it up and made it available for the international audience.  It is presently available throughout the world, wherever books are sold.  “I Only Married Once” is also presently being translated into Chinese and Romanian.

The following is an excerpt from the essential dating and marriage book “I Only Want to Get Married Once”, which provides practical dating and marriage advice and tips for a happy, lasting marriage.

Chapter One: Do you share the same basic goals and values?

Time has proven, over and over again, that when the excitement of a new relationship starts to wear off, when those twigs burn out, one’s goals and values suddenly become more glaring and obvious. No matter how great the initial chemistry is, if your values are on two different pages, the odds of your marriage working decrease significantly.

What is a “value”? In essence, values are our bedrock ideals. They are our convictions regarding what we believe is right or wrong, good or bad, important and desirable. Values express our highest priorities; they are our deepest driving forces. Most people hold specific values very close to their hearts. Values are intrinsic truths. That’s why people fight for their values, and some would die for their values.  Since values are an expression of one’s internal self, compromising one’s values is really, on some level, a negation of self. That’s why people experience so much backlash when they compromise their values. Endless studies have proven that value conflict is one of the most destructive elements in a relationship. The obvious question is, why aren’t people more careful? Why don’t we just check out our value compatibility, since this is such an explosive issue? The answer goes back to infatuation. When people are attracted, they are blinded.

People commonly fall into one of these four traps:

  1. They don’t know their values.
  2. They’re so caught up in the moment that by the time the dating couple talk “values” they are already too emotionally involved.
  3. They’re consciously avoiding thinking about the value conflict, because they don’t want to “lose the chemistry.”
  4. They recognize the differences in values, but naively believe that “love can conquer all,” or more correctly said, “Infatuation can conquer all.”

On December 17, 2006, the New York Times featured a very popular article entitled “Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying.” The article begins by saying that “relationship experts report that too many couples fail to ask each other critical questions before marrying.” Of the fifteen questions mentioned in the article, almost all of them are value/goal oriented.

The main topics the questions cover are:

  1. Bringing up children
  2. Financial obligations and goals, including spending and saving money
  3. How the household will be run
  4. Spiritual beliefs and needs
  5. How much religious/moral education for the children
  6. Boundaries with in-laws
  7. Where to live
  8. Commitment to the marriage bond

In the same edition of the New York Times, Eric Copage wrote an article entitled “Marriage Is Not Built on Surprises,” where he says, “For too many couples, the spouses-to-be assume that they know each other and the ground rules for their marriages, experts say. And sometimes those heading to the altar dodge important questions because they don’t want to rock the boat.” In order to create a solid foundation in a relationship, you need to spend some quality time trying to figure out your values, if you haven’t already done so. Here are eight questions to help you define your values:

  1. What are the three most important values you would want to give your children? You must limit your answer to three!
  2. List the top five areas into which you invest your time and energy. Ask yourself why.
  3. What do you think are the three most important character traits that every person should develop?
  4. Name three role models in your life. What is it about them that you look up to?
  5. If you suddenly inherited $10 million for the strict purpose of donating it, what causes would you choose?
  6. What are four things that you would want said about you in your eulogy?
  7. List four values without which a part of you would die.
  8. Name three of the most memorable experiences in your life; what values do these experiences conjure up?

 What is the difference between values and goals? Your values are the foundations upon which your goals and dreams are built. Therefore, your values are more essential than your goals. Your goals, in turn, are more essential than your interests. Remember what was clarified above: values are essential to who you are. It is important not to deny these essentials, so as to avoid the backlash of value conflict. This means that if a couple share a common goal—for instance, they both want to start a business—but simultaneously their underlying values clash, chances are that the shared goal will not be strong enough to hold them together.

Take, for another example, Susan, who came to speak with me about a relationship into which she had invested many years. She and her boyfriend always had hopes that their relationship would one day turn into a happy marriage. They spoke about marriage, but they were young and too busy to think about “details.” When they were approaching their late twenties, they began to speak seriously about marriage. All of a sudden, things looked different. Certain details they had regarded as unimportant when they first started dating now became very significant issues: the fact that they belonged to two different religions and the fact that they came from different countries (each wanted to live in his or her own birth country).

Both had spent time living in each other’s country, trying it out. Both came to the conclusion that they hated living in the other’s country. But if that was the only issue, it possibly could have been worked out. The bigger issue was religion. Susan told me that when she was younger, she hadn’t cared that he had a different religion. She wasn’t particularly religious, so what did it matter? But now, she realized that she wanted the father of her children to share and impart religious values, teachings, and beliefs similar to those with which she identified. Her boyfriend, though, had his own set of values and religious identity. They just couldn’t see eye to eye. Susan was shocked that after all these years, all of a sudden, this detail became so important. She was surprised that such strong feelings of religious identity were welling up within her and within her boyfriend as well. (She’s lucky; most of the time people realize this only after marriage. It usually hits them upon becoming parents.)

Susan began to see that it was the common interests and less significant goals that had held them together until now. The fact that they shared the same profession and eventually saw kids in the picture could no longer outweigh the “big stuff.” Although they shared common interests (art and travel), it wasn’t a strong enough foundation for building a marriage. As painful as they knew the breakup would be in the short term, they understood that the long-term pain, frustration, and anger would be many times greater were they to marry.

In his book Should We Stay Together? Dr. Jeffry Larson lists the factors that predict marital dissatisfaction based on twenty years of his own research. As far as a couple’s traits are concerned, the number one factor for marital dissatisfaction is dissimilarity. Similarity does not mean that you both like Indian food. Similarity does not mean that you agree on every topic and never have a difference of opinion. It does mean that the more profound and essential the similarities, the greater the potential for lasting happiness. This translates into values and goals, because those are the most profound and essential similarities. Larson concludes, “Similarity of backgrounds, values and role orientations in marriage . . . predicts marital satisfaction”.

Let’s face it; it’s not easy to be honest with ourselves when we have a conflict of needs. But we have to be true to ourselves because that’s the only way we will really be happy in the long run. Yes, short-term happiness feels great, but then it’s gone as quickly as it came. If your goal is lasting happiness and inner peace, then you must listen to the inner voice, the one that calls out for a reality check.

Although you might not want to bombard the person you’re dating with values questions on the second date, the discussion about values and goals needs to take place sooner rather than later. You have to be strong in order to make the right choices in life. It isn’t easy! But the alternative— ending up with the wrong person—is far worse. If you can keep this clear in your mind and heart, you will find the strength to listen to that inner voice . . . the one that knows better.

FEEDBACK ABOUT, “I ONLY WANT TO GET MARRIED ONCE”:

Dear Chana,

“There have been times in my life when I read or heard something so clarifying and meaningful, that I experienced a serious shift in the way I approached a significant area of my life. Reading your book “I Only Want to Get Married Once” was one such experience.

Let me explain. At the time, I was in the process of getting divorced from my first husband. Amongst other things, I knew that with him, I would never experience true intimacy. I wanted a chance at a true and long-lasting loving relationship. I remember telling myself “I have one life. I’m not spending it in a loveless marriage.”

However, I was stuck. I had no idea what a ‘true and long-lasting loving relationship’ looked like. After a history of heady relationships that ended in bitter disappointment, culminating in an empty marriage with little mutual respect, understanding, or shared direction, I seriously doubted my ability to find or create love in my life. “Love” as I knew it, was draining and fruitless, and the word itself had begun to lose all meaning. But I still knew I wanted it. Or something similar. Or something different. Something.

Like I said, I was stuck.

It was when I read your book that a shift began taking place. You had me hooked in your first pages where you spoke about infatuation. You gave words to what I already knew so well, but couldn’t articulate. You spoke about the headiness, what it comes with, and what it doesn’t. Yes, I knew exactly what you were talking about. You seemed to know all about the confusion I was going through. Your confirmation that that wasn’t the entire picture of love, opened up a door for hope that perhaps there was something else.

From there you went on to the 10 questions to ask yourself while dating. It was written in a way that was both eye-opening, and practical. I was able to laugh at my own mistakes and naïveté without feeling patronized.  While it offered a different way of thinking and a different approach to the process of dating, its logic and rationale were immediately apparent. It was different enough to offer the hope for something better, yet intuitive enough to be believable. 

Clarifying and discussing core values, Differentiating between seeing one’s image and one’s true self, the redefining of intimacy as knowledge of each other versus some unreliable intense feeling, and the pertinent points about respect – these were all topics that I deeply related to. Through understanding what my marriage could have been like, I began to have serious insight and words to describe the fabric of my short-lived relationships. Through the perspective that you offered, I began to be able to envision what a relationship of a totally different nature could look like. A relationship that would involve a sharing and expanding of two people, and that could incorporate the parts of the myself and a future partner that I have since learned to treasure so much – values, thoughts, feelings, secrets, and boundaries. A relationship that would be built on the foundations of respect, understanding, and acceptance. A relationship that would allow both me and my husband to be who we are, safely. 

I’m happy to let you know that I have since married. In fact, we’re almost two years in. Yes, throughout the dating process, I asked myself the questions you posed. I appreciated my feelings for him, yet still forced myself to think, and give space to my internal questions and hesitations. I talked to objective people along the way. And yes, my husband and I discussed the potentially touchy value topics – our religious and spiritual orientations, our expectations around family and children, even our expectations around dating. Seeing how scared I was to discuss it, for fear that it would sabotage the relationship, only proved to me how critical it was to clarify these issues right then and there. Ironically though, I didn’t have to bring it up. Go know – my husband had also read your book and insisted on talking through the important things regarding a potential future together almost as soon as we knew we liked each other. The result was a confidence and security that in this relationship, we could both hold on to that which is most important to us, without wondering interminably what would happen when it finally had to be discussed.

So thank you. Thank you for believing in marriage and for sharing that belief with your readers. Thank you for being real about it and for breaking it down into a practical approach, without being superficial about it. Your book gave me a solid perspective and I hope that it’ll do the same for others.”

With much appreciation,

R. F.

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