Your plate is pretty full right now. You’re juggling a new lifestyle, new short term life goals, a new daily schedule, and a different relationship with yourself and your sense of ruchnius. As you may have noticed, that’s a tall order. But wait, you’re not the only one leaving Kollel!
What’s that? Here’s another thought which probably won’t make you feel much better. It’s important to address, though. In fact, it’s just as important, if not more important, to address than any of those other points.
You’re not the only one who’s leaving kollel. Your wife is also leaving.
It’s an unfortunate reality that so much focus is placed on providing logistical support to the young man who’s moving on, while little or no emotional support is discussed for him or for his wife. The yungerman needs it. His wife does as well.
Let’s take a look at the experience of the average kollel wife. Similarly to the yungerman, she’s been educated to respect and love Torah, to prize its pursuit as a life goal. She dedicated her life to not just being a wife and mother, but being a breadwinner so that her husband could chase that prize, the one that’s so attainable. It’s not beyond the oceans, or in the skies. It’s right here. It’s easy. She subscribes to that belief, and diligently does her part.
All of a sudden, it’s over. Something has changed. For some reason, her husband can’t learn the same way he used to. He just can’t pull it off. Or she just can’t work the way she used to. Either way, it’s very common for one of two things to happen. She might blame herself. “If I had been better at (something), this wouldn’t be happening.” Maybe she feels she should have davened better. She may feel she should have been more attentive to his needs.
The other possibility is that she blames him. “What’s so hard? He loves learning! I remember him talking about it with such passion, with such fire on our dates! I would see him sitting with a gemara for hours during bein hazmanim! Why can’t he just keep going?” He’s identified as the killer of dreams. It’s his fault.
There may also be a combination of the two sides; a cacophonous conglomeration of self-blame and anger. This is obviously not good for the relationship, even when it’s just coming from one spouse. It’s not unlikely that he’s also experiencing some degree of similar feelings. Perhaps he blames himself, or her. Either way, these kinds of feelings are obviously not going to help anyone.
The best way to make this turbulent transition go as smoothly as possible is to start working on it early. In terms of your relationship, this means having a policy of openness and honesty with each other. Specifically, keep in mind how you’re feeling about maintaining your current lifestyle. This should not need to be said. Marriage as a successful institution has always depended on real communication, especially around the hard issues. It’s worth the reminder, though, especially when it comes to something as all-encompassing as success in kollel. This policy should be active from the beginning of your marriage.
It may be uncomfortable for a newly married couple to discuss difficulties that come up in this area, especially early on. A husband primarily wants the respect and admiration of his wife. If he perceives discussion of his difficulties as something which will detract from that, he may hold back. Many wives feel that they need to be perfect, or that acknowledging difficulty implies a lack of dedication. On both sides, there can be a fear of acknowledging your humanity. Having a regular meeting of both husband and wife together with a mentor can help with that. If meeting as a couple with your rosh kollel is something you do every couple of months, it becomes far less threatening to openly discuss difficulties with each other. It can also help you both be mindful of the idea of being in kollel as an important part of your avodas Hashem, as opposed to the endgame of it.
Both spouses should also be in touch individually with their own mentors. There may be things you don’t want to talk about together. That may be fine. Working through your feelings and concerns with a mentor can help you gain clarity in your situation, and better understand how to proceed as part of a couple. Having individual mentors can help both of you understand when you need to bring up uncomfortable topics, and how to do it when it’s needed. Working with mentors throughout your time in kollel can help pre-empt much of the challenges that pop up in relationships when leaving kollel.
This is all very well and good for someone who’s getting married and starting out now. Forewarned is forearmed. What do you do, though, if you’re already five years in, have a mortgage and three kids, and are just now forced to consider the possibility of leaving to make a parnassah? You may not have implemented these open lines of communication. How can you start now?
In a generally supportive marriage, it’s never too late to start working with a mentor. As long as the person is someone whom you both trust and respect, the mentor should be able to help you move along the path to the working world. You both care about each other, you want the best for each other. You both want the best for your family. It may take a little help to push past your disappointments, but you’ll get there. The important part is to keep in mind that this is a mutual struggle. It’s not one that either one of you has brought on the other. You’re in it together, and the only way to get through it is by working together to support each other through it. You’ll come out stronger at the end.
It’s important to be aware, though, that this is a high stress time even in the best of circumstances. Stress breeds conflict. Conflict can breed disconnection if not addressed properly. If there’s already a pattern of disconnection present in the marriage, the experience of leaving kollel will exacerbate it. This general disconnection isn’t related directly with leaving kollel, or even any other particular disagreement you’ve had in the past. Disconnection is about your assumptions about each other, and how you react to those assumptions. Those assumptions and reactions will come up regardless of what the issue is, whether it’s leaving kollel or where to go for the Yomim Tovim. The intensity will vary, but the pattern itself is the same.
This is the time to notice these patterns, and work towards developing a stronger and healthier connection with each other. You may be able to do it yourself or with a mentor. If you’re having trouble with it, your best bet is to find a qualified couples therapist. A professional can help you to gain awareness of your patterns. You can then begin repairing them.
A politician once infamously said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Leaving kollel certainly doesn’t have to be a crisis. Hopefully, it won’t be. It can be an opportunity, though. Use this opportunity to stand strong as a couple, and work towards the next chapter in your lives together.