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20 Kislev 5766 - December 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

Emotional Stability

by Rebbetzin Nomi Travis


Dear Shadchente,

I enjoy your columns and wondered if you could dedicate some space to a "Readers Guide to Shidduch Lingo." Even though I have B"H married off some children, after a break of a few years, I feel like I need a refresher course in order to understand what people say regarding potential candidates for marriage. With time, I have grown more skeptical and cannot just swallow some descriptions that are common hyperbole.

The issue that bothers me most is how to find out if girl/boy are wholesome and stable people. It has even gotten to a point, where I heard some hemming and hawing from a family friend and just had to ask, "Is the fellow taking a lot of medication?" I had not been given any info about this but sensed something was being held back.

The surprising answer was, "No, he is just taking a small dosage of medicine, occasionally." We do not want to infringe on people's privacy, nor intimate that we cannot accept people who need medication for mental health problems, but I do feel, as a parent, that it is my responsibility to know basic facts about the mental health situation of a potential mate for my children. Any clues?

Thanks again for your illuminating column,



Dear SF,

Mr. And Mrs. Levi (all names changed) were pleasantly surprised that an important family like the Jacobs considered making a shidduch with them. Both Rabbi and Rebbitzen Jacobs are very well known and sought-after leaders and educators. He is a famous dayan and posek and she is the principal of a seminary. The Levis assumed that because their son is very special, the other side overlooked background differences.

The Levis were astonished when during sheva brochohs, their son sadly shared that on the night of the wedding, the kallah revealed that she suffers from a psychiatric condition. As of today, she is not fully functional and the Levis feel deeply hurt that this important piece of information was omitted . . .

I know a woman who, besides inquiries, strongly advises her children to talk about health issues on a date, before they finalize the engagement. But we have to realize that not everyone would be able to openly admit such serious issues, even though halochoh would likely expect them to do so. We can't naively sit around and wait for others to be yirei Shomaim, hoping that they will be able to stand by a psak to disclose what they so much want to keep as private as possible.

What is emotional stability?

At the same time, we do want to feel assured that the potential spouse has a general level of emotional well- being, often called mental health. From the shadchan's chair, when people ask who do I deal with, whom do I set up, my first answer is "marriageable material."

Is the person prepared and able to handle dating and marriage? I don't mean a high level of wisdom or "know-how." But there is a certain definition of a mature adult, competent, able to cope with routine and daily tribulations.

While Benny might be looking for an unusually great baalebuste and his sister Hindy for a good learner; there is something in common with all successful people. If the girl suggested to Benny is so obsessive about cleaning that it is classified as a compulsion and disrupts her other responsibilities, we know that there is a problem. If Hindy's shidduch is a good learner but completely detached emotionally, there would be an indication that he will have difficulty functioning on an interpersonal level.

The previous examples are very different but illustrate the point that despite certain positive features, one has to have what it takes to fulfill his responsibilities as an oved Hashem, spouse, parent, etc.

There is an understanding of "emotional and psychological well-being in which an individual is able to use his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of everyday life." In a broader sense, it includes appropriate thinking, communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience, and self- esteem.

I avoid the definition of normal, because within the typical range, people can be diametrically opposed, but still well- adjusted and integrated. In a more concrete level, I am referring to the consistency of study/work routine and even maintaining, as well as, cultivating relationships.

Webster further defines stability as the strength to stand or endure; firmness, as the ability to withstand force or stress. So although we have ups and downs, there is an internal ability to maintain internal balance and self- control, to persistently move ahead and do the best even when the going gets tough. Precisely this backbone aspect of being able to tolerate stress and move on will determine the possibility to face challenges, trying to overcome them.

It reminds me of an unusual compliment I heard recently. Someone mentioned that if an emergency broke out in the room where he is, Ann's chosson would be the first one called. He is a very dependable, reliable, levelheaded person. Although, there is no lack of responsibilities when one is single, building a family is extremely fulfilling but nonetheless very challenging. Where there was only `me,' a person needs to get accustomed to `we' and `ours.' This need to give is the beauty of extending oneself for his household. But it doesn't come naturally, for it needs constant work . . . especially when things do not work out as planned, or as we wished they would . . .

We all have, more often than we would like, days where we feel that the pressure builds up to an almost intolerable level. Sometimes, one thing after another just seems to go wrong. OK, one could get discouraged or despair. But we keep going . . . This balance is a very praiseworthy quality that successful people usually possess. It is what keeps a frustrated person from an angry outburst . . . It is what prevents a spouse from venting on a partner, after a hard day. Or in our subject, that's what makes one want to keep trying to find their zivug, making every effort and trying to make sound decisions . . .

Checking for Stability

An American observant psychiatrist wrote: ". . . To be fair, many fully appropriate questions are also asked: questions about schooling, aspirations, family relationships, religious commitment, aliyah, etc. I would like to believe that most families still confine themselves to these kinds of questions.

"However, when I am called about prospective mates whom I know, I am almost never asked about their chessed, how much charity they give, if they are respectful to parents and friends, if they visit their grandparents, if they are honest in business, if they pay their taxes, if they swindle the government, if they are kind, etc."

What the professional above wrote should be a lesson to all of us. Remember that unless the specific question targets what is important to you, general descriptions won't assure you that you share the same values. The same is true regarding basic information in other areas as well. If emotional stability is important for you, you have to try to inquire about it from different angles. There are factors of outward religious observance such as coming to minyan and maintaining learning partners, attending studies and holding down a job. It shows if a person is consistent. Can the person in question be dependable as well? You can ask the boss if he can count on his employee to fulfill a certain task she is asked to do. If a neighbor needs something, will s/he try to help?

Yoni had a hard time in yeshiva, but eventually got back into things. His difficulty was not major. A Rav told me that now we know that he can overcome a hard period. What about others who get everything on a "silver platter?" How will they react in a crisis? All families go through difficult periods. You can try to ask how the person deals with stress. None of us are made of iron. But I would be worried about someone who breaks at every little problem . . .

Challenges are not necessarily a mark against a person. How many orphans, for example, have developed themselves to become wonderful people! How many Holocaust survivors built healthy, wonderful homes! On the another hand, even if at face value we don't want to get into a situation that is complicated, deep down all families do have "skeletons in the closet" . . . You can't expect to find out everything about the suggestion. But at least you want basic knowledge that the person considered is a functioning, well-adjusted person.

The more you can ask people you trust, the better. Someone that is coming from your side and has a responsibility to you, hopefully will have your best interests in mind. Besides that, asking a casual acquaintance could also help as a broader view of the prospective shidduch. Neighbors often know a lot, but don't always have a close connection.

I have seen people who are constantly searching for a fitting group or yeshiva. They just can't stay put in one place. There could be a reason. For example, someone might have come from abroad and is still settling down. But if in the past two years, he went to eight different yeshivos, you need to ask why. If his future plans are very hazy and he has no idea what he is planning to do with his life, how can he drag in a future wife and a family on that adventure? Obviously, there are future variables that no one knows, but someone ready for marriage should at least have some idea of what he wants from life.

But if he is a solid ben Torah now, mature, and level- headed, you hope that wherever life takes him, he will remain loyal to his principles and make decisions carefully. I have heard of many idealistic girls whose dreams are far removed from reality and who have a hard time settling down in marriage with a man who is less than perfect, and the daily responsibilities of running a family. But if, as a girl, she had the maturity to face and handle her tasks, you hope that emotionally, she will also be able to cope and keep growing with her husband.

This balance is especially critical to check in a baal/as tshuvah or convert. They can be outstanding individuals, but they did go through changes in their lives. You will want to be assured that s/he is fully committed on the path s/he has chosen and that his/her decisions are solid and stable. Or let's consider a divorcee. Before agreeing to the suggestion, you will definitely want to know what were the reasons for the divorce. You want to make sure that he is the type of person who will be committed to doing whatever possible to make things work out in marital harmony. It definitely requires basic good traits to live under the same roof with another person, avoiding fights and building a loving family atmosphere.

The Power of Speech

I hope you will benefit from my painful memories of the misconceptions about Ber. He comes from a fine, solid American family. The parents are well known as pillars of their community. From certain information given to me about him, I thought of a possibile shidduch. Upon inquiring on basic facts, I got some leads to references that could give additional particulars. The feedback I got from more than one was that he is "strange, even weird." I asked what that was based on. The answers were vague. One person even thought he has a psychiatric problem. But the reasons were not at all conducive to such serious suspicions. I was advised to put the shidduch on hold.

Meanwhile, I met the young man. When I spoke to his mother and checked further, it came out that all sorts of rumors were being spread. I found out that, in fact, there is something unique about him. Do you know what? Since he is gifted, other people don't always understand his train of thought and mode of expression. At the same time, he does have friends and close relationships. But more than that, he has held on for a long time to a high-responsibility job that most couldn't have maintained. There were never any questions that there was any mental problem whatsoever. He functions normally.

So what disturbed the people, I asked. He is a bit socially awkward; that's noticeable. But how many of us are perfect? What is normal, anyway? We have to be so careful about we say and how we say it! We don't want to be responsible for ruining someone's reputation! In the situation above, people jumped to conclusions that were far from the truth. We have to distance ourselves from falsehood. You can consider a negative report, but you can't take it at face value as the absolute reality. It takes a certain understanding to figure out where someone is coming from.

For that reason, we have to avoid judging people and placing them into set categories. Even when our questioning might be necessary but uncomfortable for the other side, we will exercise caution and sensitivity. For even when our paths are not meant to meet, we do care about the reputation of every Jew. Yet with all the possible resources and information at hand, we still need to walk into a shidduch knowing that, beyond this, we need tremendous Heavenly Assistance!

Rebbetzin Travis has many years of experience and success in helping people through shidduchim. PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED UNLESS SPECIFIED WITH THE EXCEPTION OF WELL-KNOWN PUBLIC FIGURES LIKE GEDOLIM AND EDUCATORS. Any comments, questions and stories can be sent to: or at (02) 656-3111


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