Book Review – 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make- Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make – A Torah-Based Guide To A Successful Marriage by Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

“Even before we were put into This World, Hashem preselected the perfect partner for each of us. Your bashert is perfect for you. Together, you become a complete unit. There’s only one problem…Reality.” 

Rabbi Shafier had been a high school ‘rebbi’ for several years when he was asked to give advice to young, inexperienced working men; that advice became the Shmuz, “a cross between…an inspirational seminar and an advanced science class- all focused on a Torah perspective on life.” This advice morphed into marriage counseling- an understanding of relationships and issues, discussions with couples of their successes, failures, and- wait for it- really dumb mistakes. 

In a nutshell, here are some simple rules in a relationship:

“Rule 1: Don’t do it. Rule 2: Don’t do it. Rule 3: Don’t do it.”  

 Don’t assume your beshert, that perfect partner Hashem chose for you before you were even born, is…perfect. “Two partners come from different homes, have different upbringings, and have vastly different natures and dispositions. To find the right match for all the components that must fit requires the wisdom of…well, the wisdom of our Creator.” 

Don’t mistake infatuation for love- infatuation is fleeting, love is constant and flourishes. You can be infatuated with a spectacular pair of shoes that seemingly complete an outfit, but you certainly don’t love them when they pinch your feet throughout the simcha. (True story- gorgeous three inch black suede heels at my son’s chuppah, which pinched and tortured through the breaking of the glass, which then were ditched along with the glass shards for a much more comfortable and accommodating basic flat. I rest my case.) 

Don’t assume men and women are completely alike, enjoying loving conversations well into the night, organizing household projects with the same goals in mind (cleaning golf clubs at the kitchen sink while your spouse needs to clean dishes at said sink are  opposite goals, fyi), offering advice that you assume is most welcome to your spouse who is doing just fine on his/her own… you get the picture. Rabbi Shafier chronicles these differences and many more to help couples navigate their relationship, arriving at the “6th Really Dumb Mistake That Very Smart Couples Make: They try to change their spouse.” When you try to change your spouse, you imply they are “just not good enough.” My inanimate (though still classy) shoes fortunately didn’t have any feelings to hurt when I flung them off; my spouse (also classy if I may say so) certainly is sensitive to my words and feelings. The author urges his readers to look at their reflection in a mirror- very revealing, not ideal, hard to change ourselves and, ultimately, harder to change others. 

There are several more dumb mistakes listed and detailed: “forgetting that love is the glue of marriage, forgetting that you are best friends, criticizing your spouse”; there is the mnemonic N.I.C.E. for communicating effectively (Never in the heat of the moment, I statements only, Compliments first, Effective communication starts soft). For each dumb mistake there is a chapter and a solution, a personal anecdote to illustrate the conflict and resolution, and a sense of optimism that your relationship can be vibrant and loving. 

I’m reading this book after many years of marriage and many, many really dumb mistakes- trying to seem extremely cosmopolitan at a fancy restaurant while mistakenly shaking grated cheese rather than sugar into our coffee, thus creating a new challenge for my beshert (to drink or not to drink?) was in the top ten- and I can sympathize with those who are just starting out their relationship. My husband loves to read and navigate with maps, those impossible to refold paper illustrations with roads and rivers pointing in all different directions. I cannot read a map, nor can I refold one, nor can I navigate with one. After many years of dumb map mistakes, we’ve compromised as he navigates while I drive. Rabbi Shafier provides a roadmap for navigating marriage, offering advice and stories on relationships that, fortunately, are bound up in a book with no refolding needed. May he continue to inspire and shmuz and may we all nurture and merit loving relationships.

Randy Rubinstein lives in Sharon, Massachusetts