PLAY IT STRAIGHT
By Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twersky
Of all the questions submitted to the Seeking Solutions column in Hamodia, the most painful ones are those regarding young people in shidduchim who have had a psychiatric problem and/or are taking psycotropic medications for conditions such as mood disorders, OCD, or panic attacks. Parents are distraught. If they reveal the problem, there is the likelihood that it will preclude doing a shidduch, but if they do not reveal it and it is discovered after the engagement or marriage, there can be very serious repercussions. Yet, although they know the latter, their desire as parents to have a shidduch for their child may affect their judgement.
I dread these questions, because I feel for the parents. Yet, there is simply no justification for concealing such information. In all the cases that I know of where this information was withheld and discovered after the marriage, the results were universally disastrous. In some cases the parents claim that they consulted a Rav who told them that it was not necessary to disclose the information. This is difficult to believe, unless they did not tell the Rav the true nature of the problem.
The cement of the marriage relationship is mutual trust. Withholding information that the other party had a right to know seriously undermines the relationship, and this harm may never be undone. In many cases, the partner feels that he/she was deceived and insists on divorce, because the marriage was based on fraudulent grounds (mekach ta’us).
Some parents try to circumvent the problem by having their son or daughter discontinue the medication. It is difficult to think of anything more foolish than this. Discontinuing the medication may result in recurrence of the condition, which is far more likely to preclude a shidduch.
A woman had two manic episodes. The parents refused psychiatric treatment because it would affect a shidduch. Each time, they sedated the young woman until the episode was over. Subsequently, they did a shidduch and did not reveal the problem.
Several weeks before the wedding, the young woman suffered a severe depression, staying in bed all day. On the day of the wedding, the family virtually schlepped her to the chuppah. The new husband thought his wife’s behavior was due to her adjustment to the marriage.
Several months later, when she was pregnant, the husband’s parents visited and realized that there was a serious problem. The truth of her history came out, and they insisted on a divorce. Beis Din said that indeed, the marriage was based on fraudulent grounds, and ordered her to accept a get. She was now a divorcee with a child, still suffering from bi-polar disorder. Her parents’ desire to “help” her do a shidduch had backfired.
In another case, the wife discovered pills in her husband’s talis bag. He told her that they were vitamins, but the pharmacist identified them as psychotropic drugs. Her husband explained that he had been on antidepressant medications for two years, but that his father had instructed him not to disclose this.
The young woman called her father, who was irate and insisted on a divorce. The woman said that she did not fault her husband because he had obeyed his father’s instructions, but that she had no use for the father who had deceived her. They broke off all contact with the husband’s family. His parents are not permitted to visit or see their grandchildren.
There is no denying that disclosing such information can preclude a shidduch, but there is no choice.
I do not believe that the shadchan must be told. However, after two or more meetings, if the parties believe that they are heading towards engagement, he or she should say, “There is something that I must tell you. I am taking medication for… Here is the name and number of my doctor, and I have authorized him to discuss my case with you. You may tell your parents if you wish, but this information should not go any further.”
One young woman said, “I have a physical disability. I know that this will discourage some shidduchim and that I must be ready to compromise.” So, too, someone with a psychiatric problem must be ready to compromise. However, when necessary, the compromise should be with a physical defect, not with a psychiatric problem, It is not advisable to have psychiatric issues on both sides.
The question may arise whether it is necessary to reveal that a family member has a psychiatric problem. I believe that keeping any secrets is counterproductive. I think that if the prospective chassan and kallah have no personal problems, the status of family members is not a significant consideration for one simple reason. It is unlikely to find a family in which there is no emotional disorder. Emotional disorders are very common, and you will do a shidduch either with a family where there was a known case of an emotional disorder, or one where it was covered up.
I told this to a father who was concerned that the young man being considered for his daughter had a history of a family member who had a depressive illness. The father of the boy said, “That’s not true! In our family there have not been any psychiatric problems.” I am bound by confidentiality, so I could not tell him that I had treated his wife before their marriage.
Sometimes there is concern that a psychiatric condition may be passed on to children. There may indeed be an increased incidence, but this may not be significant. If there is concern, a genetics specialist may be consulted.
Although many psychiatric problems respond well to treatment, the concern is understandable. With proper consultation, good judgment should prevail. However, it is of utmost importance to realize that although being completely truthful may discourage a shidduch, failure to disclose is unconscionable and invariably ruinous.