by Devora Krasnianski, founder of Adai Ad Institute
All people who are dating for shiduchim – no matter how many people they have dated – ought to have someone “outside” their usual circles with whom they can talk about this particular dating experience. Someone beyond their parents, siblings and friends. Someone who cares about you, but is not that close to you. (In this conversation, I will use the word ‘mashpia’ to describe the role.)
Dialogue with this “dating mashpia” should be taken much more seriously than the common opinion-seeking from a list of friends and family members. This person might be a former teacher, mashpia, coach, neighbor. Someone unbiased and objective.
Why not your parents?
Of course, your parents love you deeply and want the best for you. Therapists and mashpiim have told numerous stories of parents who had best intentions, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. One parent really just wanted to see her daughter married and convinced her that her concerns were inconsequential. Another parent wanted a ‘great girl’ for his son, and pressured him into the marriage. Another thought their child ‘could do better’ and essentially harped on every single tiny flaw and made it so much larger, and the child discontinued dating that person. And yet another kept reminding her daughter how awful it would be to join that family.
And another thing to consider: Sometimes, the concerns of the adult children are related to their own parents’ marriage and they may feel uncomfortable talking about it. For example, a husband may have become hardened to his wife’s constant berating. His son doesn’t want that in his marriage. But the son doesn’t want to throw their marriage or negative traits in their faces.
Of course, it’s not all parents and all situations. However, sometimes the parents and children don’t even recognize these patterns in their conversations. If I can be bold enough to suggest … parents should encourage their dating children to also get insight from an outside mashpia.
And why not close friends?
For starters, they don’t have much experience helping others in making lifetime decisions. And they too may be too biased.
Why not the shadchen?
Most shadchanim mean well. Yet, too many therapists and mashpiim tell stories of shadchanim pushing and pressuring a shiduch. Think about it: Shadchanim are human and may be influenced by the amount of work they put into this shiduch or the possibility of shadchanus gelt. In addition to the input from the shadchen, also speak with an outside mashpia. (On a separate note: if shadchanim spent less time in the role of mashpia or coach, they would have more time for coming up with possible matches.)
So then who?
Shiduchim is very personal. Talking around shiduchim can also get very personal and intimate. In conversations with the mashpia, you will probably end up talking about your thoughts, feelings and possibly some of your past and family. So it is important to find someone who :
- Has experience with shiduchim A key thing to look out for in a mashpia is their experience with helping with shiduchim. There are many well intentioned people, but assisting with shiduchim needs more than just good will and a listening ear and someone who ‘knows you well’. You wouldn’t go to a general practitioner for heart surgery, and you ought not go to a general mashpia for shiduchim.
- You feel comfortable with You have to feel comfortable with him/ her so you can be open and honest about your thoughts, your feelings, and possibly some of your past, and not hold back important information.
- You can relate to and who you feel can relate to you. Someone who makes you feel heard and understood.
- Is nonjudgmental The more that you can let your guard down and just be your normal, natural self, the more your mashpia will be able to work with the “real you”.
- Trustworthy and will hold your story in confidence Someone who you can trust will not share your information with anyone. You have to feel comfortable to share what must be shared in order to work out your thoughts and feelings.
- Doesn’t tell you what to do, but rather through good questions helps you uncover the answers that are within yourself. And, you should feel comfortable saying: “I don’t think you understand it as I intend it; let me say it in other words.”
Speak with him/ her for at least 10 minutes to an hour to really get a feel for how and if you can work together.
What should you expect from your conversations with a shiduchim coach or mashpia?
- She will ask questions to help you uncover what is concerning you and holding you stuck.
- She might mirror back to you or summarize what you just said so you can hear your own thoughts. “So what I am hearing is that on one hand, you enjoy his company, but there is something about his trustworthiness that is niggling you.”
- She should help you come up with some next action steps, so you can tread the delicate steps of shiduchim. You may come up with some language together about how you might word a sensitive question.
- She might pass along some concerns to the other person, in a sensitive, delicate way. For example, your hesitation might be that you are concerned about what it might be like to join his family, with all their familial issues. Yet you are having a hard time asking him without dredging up uncomfortable feelings for him. The mashpia might speak with him, “As you might expect, anyone who is joining your family is concerned about your family’s situation. Did you speak about that yet?”
Where, when, how?
Some people feel that having these conversations in person is best. For others, a phone conversation works just as well or even better. Many coaches and mashpiim have expressed that people tend to open up more quickly when they are on the phone. Some people feel uncomfortable with the thought of bumping into their mashpia or coach at the supermarket and thus prefer a long distance mashpia. Additionally, some people think better while standing or walking outside; the phone conversation allows for this.
Sometimes, you may need more than a mashpia
When the expectations and outcomes of each date are not clear, when the dater is “stuck” – indecisive, anxious, or may be quickly dismissing many potential dates or mates, a consultation with a professional is in order.
Dr. Elka Jacobs- Pinson, Psy.D. has a practice in Crown Heights and works with many people around shiduchim-related issues. She discusses what a therapist can offer that is different from a trusted, smart mashpia: A mental health professional doesn’t simply consider the content of the date but considers the dater’s emotional life as it unfolds during each date and throughout the process.
The psychologist considers the broader issues – his or her expectations, family background and prior relationships, attachment needs, and so forth. To help, Dr. Elka Pinson may teach skills and give specific tasks to utilize during any particular date. For example, she may encourage a client to pay attention to thoughts as they emerge during a particular date. At other times, she may encourage quite the opposite – to NOT attend to those things but to consider other things instead, such as content or rapport. It is important to acknowledge that much (most?) anxiety is not at all conscious. The therapist can tease apart the issues and identify just what is going on and impeding a successful shidduch.
Similar to educational or business investments which are goal-oriented and individualized, a professional consultation can be an investment in a single’s future.
Talking to a mashpia is a very healthy way of thinking through your thoughts, feelings, hopes and concerns. This practice is valuable throughout your life. Especially for a decision as lifelong as your marriage.
Dr. Elka Jacobs- Pinson, graduate of NYU, is a Psychologist Licensed in NY and NJ. She divides her time between clinical practice, supervising and consulting. Currently, she offers EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy and other treatments to clients of all ages with a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and adjustment problems such as trauma, anxiety, stress, depression, and relationship problems. She has extensive experience in child custody and stepfamily matters, as well as assisting postpartum adjustment. Currently, as Clinical Supervisor with Yeled V’Yalda, she is a resource to dozens of clinicians working at counseling in Jewish schools. She is also Consulting Psychologist with Hamaspik.