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A Priest, A Rabbi, & A Mediator

A Priest, A Rabbi, & A Mediator

Walk into a coffee bar…

…and a Rivertown reporter asks them:

How do you maintain marriages?

Father Francis Conka, Mediator Mark Paige, Rabbi Chaim Zvi Ehrenreich.

It’s not easy,” says the mediator, Mark Paige. “It’s a lot of compromise and hard work.” “It’s not something static,” adds Father Francis Conka. “It’s dynamic. You have to build a relationship every day, over time.”

“It’s more about self-sacrifice,” says Rabbi Chaim Zvi Ehrenreich.

“If you move to the side to make space for the other, they make more space for you.”

The reporter sits back and reflects on their responses.

“Are you married?” they inquire, almost together.

The reporter shakes his head. No, he’s just looking for some perspective.

The three men have all just met each other, but it’s already starting to feel like they are on the same page. That’s fitting in a way. Despite their seemingly divergent philosophies and backgrounds, each man has devoted a part of his life to the same mission: helping couples get along. They agree that a good marriage means hard work. It takes consistent effort and a degree of self-sacrifice to maintain a healthy union. So, what does that effort look like? It’s a matter of mentality.

According to Rabbi Ehrenreich, “In popular American culture, we look at marriage as We are going to get X, Y, and Z. We are consumers. If a couple approaches a marriage as What can I give? and not What can I take?, then they are on a totally different playing field.”

“Communication, I think, is the key,” says Mr. Paige. A happy couple makes the time to talk to each other. “That’s the biggest factor to a successful marriage. You have to foster trust and put your egos aside.”

Father Francis agrees. “When parishioners come to me, my very first question for them is: How much time are you spending with each other? You need to have time for each other,” he urges. “Don’t forget you need to be each other’s number one.” A healthy couple prioritizes each other’s needs.

Ok, so what is the common thread among these answers?

“All of that brings it down to a sense of intimacy,” surmises the mediator, “and I’m not talking sex. Intimacy is a lot more than that.”

The holy men nod in agreement.

“You want to have a person you can respect, you can trust, you can tell them anything without fear of judgment. It’s a very difficult thing to do, but that’s the goal to strive to,” continues Mr. Paige.

Alright, the ultimate goal is intimacy, and a couple achieves intimacy through honest communication and dedicated empathy. Now, what does it take to establish that?

Rabbi Ehrenreich encourages troubled couples to keep a daily log of things they see their partner doing. Every day, for one month, he asks them to write down something they saw their spouse do that they really appreciated. “That can help healing, and they can see that there are things they do like about their partner.” Even small steps like that can help save a marriage. Sometimes, couples just need to be reminded why they chose each other in the first place.

“Romantic love fades,” concluded Mr. Paige. “What’s more important, in my view, is that you like the person. There is a big difference between love and like.”

Then, companionship, it seems, is the heart of intimacy. If and when passion fades, affection must take its place.

“The most beautiful love is at not at the beginning but at the end—when they comfort and support each other,” said Father Francis.

A lasting marriage is built on three things then. The will to work at it every day, the humility to understand someone else’s needs and to put those needs first, and an appreciation for your partner as a person. Marriage, these men agree, takes real effort.

“We’re living in a throwaway society,” laments Mr. Paige. “Marriages fail because people don’t want to try, and it’s easy to give up.”

“It’s like a one-time use plastic cup,” Rabbi Ehrenreich quipped.

Their solution?

“Don’t base marriage on what you see in the movies,” recommends Rabbi Ehrenreich. “It’s not a lottery where you bought the winning ticket and you’ve made it for life.”

“Commitment is the biggest factor for a healthy relationship,” said Mr. Paige. “People need to put in the work.”

“It’s about the forgetting of me because of you,” believes Father Francis. “A marriage will succeed when a couple puts their all into making it a success.”

So what’s the punchline to this meeting of the minds, who went into a coffeeshop to reflect on the maintenance of sacred unions? Perhaps it’s this: Marriage is a practical meeting of the hearts.

And, that’s no joke.

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