The Torah's Advice on Stoking the Fires of Intimacy

How is one to retain the excitement of a new relationship after years of marriage and of living day-by-day in the same house? After twenty-five years, how is it possible to avoid becoming too familiar with a spouse? Early in marriage, the thrill can seem to come from jumping over the divide between oneself and a stranger. But what kind of a divide can still exist when two people have lived together beneath one roof for years?

What is love? Of course, there are going to be problems defining that word when we use it to describe both our feelings for a spouse of twenty-five years and the feelings we have for a hot fudge sundae.

The love between a husband and a wife is very different. Essentially, a husband and wife are strangers from different planets. They come from different environments, meet and then begin a life together. Tomorrow they could divorce and walk away from each other and once again they would no longer belong to one another. No matter how long a couple is married and no matter how close and loving they become, they remain mysteriously different even after twenty-five years. That natural distance between them is a spiritual divide they must continually bridge. It will never go away—and that’s the secret. 

Here’s why. Because of the divide between husband and wife, the love they feel toward one another is not a calm love like the love we share with a brother or sister. Married love is fiery, passionate and intense. It is not constant; it flares up and cools down again. That’s what makes it unique and what creates the attraction. The strength of this kind of love lies in the fact that it is not constant and consistent. Were the relationship of husband and wife to become steady and unchanging like that of a brother and sister, the relationship would become stagnant, and that would be unhealthy.

When Debby was having trouble with dating life she came to me for advice. Turns out, Debby grew up in a home with only her mother, all the while craving the comfort of a sibling and the warmth and secure love of a father. I helped her realize that with each man she had dated, she had been waiting for their relationship to develop into something that would feel comfortable, warm and familial. As it happened, none of the men she had dated wanted to play the role of either brother or father.

Gaining self-knowledge is empowering, even when the knowledge is bitter. In Debby’s case, it equipped her with a desire to try again. She understood that she didn’t need to seek a man to become her emotional center. She needed to find her own emotional center and then find a man to share it with. And this time around, she wanted a bona fide, by-the-books Jewish marriage.

Another two years would pass before Debby met her future fiancé, Avi.

The question that faced Debby as she prepared for her marriage to begin was how to achieve real intimacy and how to sustain it throughout her married life.

One way to keep igniting the spark in a relationship is to recognize and honor the natural rhythm inherent in a marriage—the rhythm of the passionate rush to close a distance followed by a temporary cooling and individuation until one longs to close that distance again. That rhythm is captured and preserved in one of the guidelines the Torah lays down for marriage. It mandates a wife and husband not to be intimate during the wife’s period and for seven days following the last evidence of the menstrual flow. At the end of the separation period, the wife goes to a ritual bath, called a mikveh. She immerses herself in its waters, after which the couple resume marital relations.

The drawing apart and coming back together again provides a rhythm to married life that mirrors the rhythm between two souls: we are separate, but we reach across a distance to come together. This rhythm stokes the fiery love between a husband and a wife.

Familiarity is deadly to marriage because it fosters a sense of entitlement and nonchalance. Leaping across a divide to come together time and again keeps a marriage alive and vibrant.

Excerpt from “The Joy of Intimacy” by Manis Friedman and Ricardo Adler due to be out February 1, 2018