Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier is the founder of TheShmuz.com, a life-changing online mussar shiur. His newest book is The 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make.
Q: Would you mind telling me a little about yourself?
I learned many years in the Chofetz Chaim yeshiva, following which I worked as a high school rebbe for about 15 years. At one point, my own rebbe, HaRav Leibowitz, asked me to start a program for young working guys. These inexperienced men were all now in the workforce and they had very little association with a yeshiva. My rebbe saw a need to create a social organization for these guys in order to help them find answers to all of life’s issues, such as: having emunah and what are we doing here, etc.?
Now, what ended up happening was The Shmuz became sort of like the lightning rod to bring guys in. We did night kollel and it became its own entity. I have been doing The Shmuz for 18 years and my book The 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make is an outgrowth of these night lectures.
Q: What inspired you to write The 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make, which incidentally I thoroughly enjoyed reading?
Well, in my work at The Shmuz, I often became the rebbe of many of these fellows as their daas Torah, and in the early years when things began, it was really a very pleasant and pleasurable experience dealing with the guys who would call me up with questions and issues about life problems. But as they went on to get married, I began dealing with broader but pretty innocent questions: how to deal with my wife, my mother-in-law, etc.
As the years went on, I found that the questions became a lot more intricate, a lot more involved and the issues became a lot deeper. Soon, I found myself often involved with couples who were having very serious marriage problems. Now initially, I was ill equipped, to put it mildly. I referred those couples to marriage therapists and psychologists. I’m sorry to say that things went from bad to worse. Many of those couples were, in fact, lost and it became clear that their marriages had failed. For me personally, it meant I had failed. I was their rebbe and I had no answers. So at that point I began studying again, reading every book I could get my hands on. I read most of the popular marriage books out there and I began working with the couples and, I’ll be honest with you – some of the initial ideas and concepts weren’t exactly home runs. But after a while, you begin putting together patterns and ideas. Now after about 15 years dealing with hundreds and hundreds of couples, I feel I have a fundamental understanding of the mechanics of marriage and how to take a marriage that’s somewhat off the rails and put it back on track. And that, in fact, is what this book details.
Q: What are the messages you are trying to convey in The 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make?
The main message is that marriage, like most things in life, requires work. You don’t just wake up to a beautiful marriage. You don’t just wake up to a successful marriage. Successful marriages are made, but they’re built from the ground up. You have to know what the relationship needs. You have to know what your spouse needs. You have to know the mechanics and you have to work at it very diligently.
Life is a journey. Hashem wants us to be happy and Hashem wants our marriages to succeed. But the key is you. You have to work at it. In other words, that fairy-tale version of Hollywood boy-meets-girl and fall deeply in love, madly and passionately, forever. It’s a fairy tale that never happened, and never will. But a successful marriage can be made, you see.
They say the match is made in heaven, but it’s your job to make the marriage. What that means is doing the steps, but most of those steps are about growth and change. Hashem makes matches perfectly, but that match may not be exactly what you wanted. It may not be exactly what you envisioned, but that person is ideally suited to cause you to change, to grow, and to reach greater levels.
There’s no question that marriage is the school of middos. It is about “me” when you enter marriage. Suddenly there’s another human being in this equation, and you’re forced to deal in a real way with someone else whose needs go against your nature. Even when they’re not “things that I’m comfortable with,” even when “I know they’re dumb or stupid. Why can’t you just be like me?”
Every single couple has this incredible need to change their spouse. And because the way I do things is the way I become accustomed to doing things, the way I feel is the right way to feel. I’m so used to it and my spouse would be so much better off if he/she would just be like me. It’s incredible. But we need to understand that my job is not to change my spouse; quite the opposite – my job is to help my spouse. My job is to be a friend and a support. My job is to embrace my spouse as he or she is but not to try to change them. This is one of the most difficult life lessons to learn.
Q: Where can we pick up a copy of The 10 Really Dumb Mistakes That Very Smart Couples Make?
It’s available on Amazon, but if you go to TheShmuz.com, you get the audiobook, eBook, and the Marriage Transformation Bootcamp as a free bonus with the purchase of the book. Below is a link to TheShmuz.com.