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Banish the Honeymoon?

  • 2003 18 Feb
Banish the Honeymoon?

It's a familiar scene: the newlyweds driving off from the wedding reception, preparing to spend a romantic week or two in an exotic location such as Hawaii or Cancun.

But even if they are headed for someplace as mundane as Podunk, perhaps the whole idea is wrong. Michael Medved certainly thinks so. "Consider the underlying message this sends," Medved says. "After what is usually a very public ceremony, they abruptly escape from the very community that helped them consecrate their vows."

He's not saying that newlyweds shouldn't enjoy some time off by themselves; he only suggests they wait at least a week or so and cites a Jewish tradition called sheva brachot, or "The Seven Blessings." In this custom, a newly married couple spends each of the first seven days after the wedding at the home of a different family, usually an older, established marriage from the synagogue.

In addition to being plain fun, a movable feast of sorts, this tradition places the marriage in the context of a larger community, Medved says. In fact, each evening an additional two guests the newlyweds don't know are invited to celebrate with them, expanding the circle of friends and broadening the context of the marriage. "The missing ingredient in marriage isn't communication or leisure or sex or even equal assignment of household chores," Medved wrote in an American Enterprise article in 1996. "It is context — a feeling of higher purpose derived from the knowledge that one's marriage matters to others."

The Seven Blessings is for the community's benefit as much as the newlyweds'. Medved cites the sentiments behind a Helen Reddy song from the 1970s called "You and Me Against the World" ("One of the stupider songs of the era," he says) as sending exactly the wrong message.

"No, it's you and me joining a community of like-minded people, and we're important to all of them," he says. "When a couple breaks up, it's not just a tragedy for them and their children. What about the in-laws, what about the grandparents who suddenly have divided loyalties?

"If you enter into a marriage knowing your relationship means something to other people, you won't be so quick to say, 'I don't want this any more' and walk out," he says. "There would be an element of embarrassment, an embarrassment of consequences beyond yourself."

The tradition of sheva brachot is easily translatable to Christian churches, Medved says. "Frankly, it's always surprised me that it hasn't become more widespread in the evangelical community."

There is no set formula, but in the Jewish tradition there is a meal and a party, and a blessing is said over the couple. Perhaps couples who have been married more than, say, 20 years can provide advice to the newlyweds, or offer to be mentors. But what really matters is that they communicate that the success of the new marriage matters to them.

"I refuse to believe that the drastically lower divorce rate of 50 years ago can be explained by suggesting that husbands and wives magically got along better than they do today," Medved wrote in American Enterprise. "Human nature wasn't substantially different, but the social order most certainly was. Our grandparents understood that an entire community shared a stake in the survival of their marriages, and they benefited from support mechanisms that discouraged marital dissolution at the same time they helped couples survive the rough spots that all unions must endure."