supplements 08.28.09
supplements 08.28.09

Class helps couples find bliss after they say I do

Liz Bader-Natal is afraid of letting out a primal scream. She worries that if she and her husband use an explosive shriek to vent marital anger with they’d freak out their 85-year-old neighbor in the apartment upstairs.

Leslie Ticktin

But yelling certainly worked for another couple that took “The Chuppah and Beyond,” a class for engaged or newly married couples at San Francsico’s Congregation Emanu-El. “They did the scream whenever they were stressed,” recalled Bader-Natal, who works at the San Francisco JCC. “The scream made them laugh — and I thought that was awesome.”

The one-night-a-week class is designed to help couples enhance communication (whether through screaming or normal conversation) and learn other marriage “essentials” (such as smart financial planning). The next series will run for five Thursdays starting Oct. 1, with another series slated for January.

Basically, the goal of the class is to help couples develop the necessary skills to foster a long, happy, loving relationship, according to Leslie Ticktin, the class’ instructor and the family programs coordinator at Emanu-El.

“Couples really seem to benefit most from learning more techniques on how to communicate effectively with one another,” said Ticktin, who has run the class two or three times a year since 2005. “But we also cover topics such as the Jewish wedding ceremony, the ketubah, conflict resolution, creating sacred time, in-laws and intimacy.”

David Spark and his wife, Joy Powers, on their wedding day.

After taking the class earlier this year, Bader-Natal said she developed the necessary skills to express herself so much better. “For the very first time I said to Ari, ‘I am so angry at you right now.’” Ari, of course, is her husband, Ari Bader-Natal.

Ticktin said that since the class offers a kitchen-to-bedroom primer in a fairly non-threatening atmosphere, couples are able to strengthen their relationships either as newlyweds or right before they take the marital plunge.

“The class forced us to address issues early, from what to do at the wedding to more uncomfortable issues, like financial issues,” said David Spark, a San Francisco resident who owns a custom publishing company. “But it was better to talk before [any problems arose] and then be prepared.”

Spark said the material he and his then-fiancée and now wife, Joy Powers, covered in the class was not always easy. “There was some uncomfortable stuff,” he admitted. “We were forced to do [exercises] like: Mention one thing that annoys you about your spouse or partner, and one thing you think they are annoyed about by you.”

But Spark did acknowledge that while identifying potential trouble spots in their relationship and focusing on conflict resolution was difficult, it was also beneficial.

“One of the things I learned is that it’s not about never getting into an argument,” said Spark, who put some of his “Beyond the Chuppah” education to good use when he led his own version of “The Newlywed Game” at Emanu-El’s Purim Follies this spring. “It’s knowing how to argue.”

Spark added, “Joy and I know marriage involves being more than boyfriend and girlfriend. It’s about building a life together.”

Ticktin helps couples establish that foundation by drawing on the community’s resources. Rather than just teach solo, she brings in guest speakers on a variety of topics, including financial planning and the keys to wedded bliss, featuring a couple married for nearly 60 years.

Liz and Ari Bader-Natal

Bader-Natal and Spark said that much of the learning, however, came from the other participants in the class.

Spark said he learned about what not to do when planning his wedding from a woman in the class who “looked like she no longer had control of her ceremony. It was in the hands of her mother.”

The give and take, and often unvarnished sharing, between students tend to be the most rewarding elements of the classes, Ticktin said.

“The best thing about the program is watching new friendships develop,” says Ticktin, who is married with three children and has a master’s in counseling. “My first class from 2005 still gets together. We had a reunion at our First Friday Shabbat service and dinner [a few months ago], and more than half of the group and their children joined us.”

Camaraderie in a Jewish setting was one of the reasons the Bader-Natals signed up for the class. “We wanted to meet people in a Jewish environment,” said Liz, who moved to the Bay Area from Boston a few years ago.

Sure enough, “our class bonded,” she said. She and her husband hosted both a first- and second-night Passover seder, and the guest list included two couples from the class.

They also had a couple from the class over for a recent Shabbat dinner. That get-together was a relatively quiet one, however, for successful marriages often entail not disturbing the neighbors.

“The Chuppah and Beyond”
is scheduled for five consecutive Thursdays in October from 7-9 p.m. at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco. $50 for members, $75 for non-members. Limit of 10 couples. Information: Leslie Ticktin at (415) 751-2541 ext. 167 or [email protected], or click on “Events and programs for families” at

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.